Occupy Passover Seders and Easter Gatherings
Both Passover and Easter have a message of liberation and hope for the downtrodden of the earth. Yet too often we fail to see the continuities between the original liberatory messages of these holidays and the contemporary need for liberation and resurrection of the dead parts of our consciousness.
Tikkun has always sought to offer resources for breathing liberatory politics and spiritual aliveness back into the celebration of holidays, from Passover, to Christmas, to the Fourth of July. This is our first attempt to craft a Seder addressing the needs of the 99 percent, without excluding those members of the 1 percent who have a generous and open heart and wish to identify with the movements to heal and transform our world toward greater generosity, democracy, equality, and caring for everyone and for the earth. We are not materialist determinists and recognize that one’s income need not necessarily determine one’s ethical commitments!
We are inviting you, our readers, to use some of the ideas below in your Easter or Passover celebration, in whatever way feels authentic to you. We’re also hoping that those of you who are neither Christian nor Jewish may use the inspiration you get from reading these ideas as a jumping-off point for creating your own rituals or liturgies to highlight the oppression we are facing in the contemporary world in a way that fits with your own spiritual or religious practice. This is not meant as a replacement for the traditional Passover Haggadah, but rather as a supplement to it.
We do not wish to downplay the importance of connecting to God, whom we at Tikkun understand in part as the Transformative Power of the Universe—the force that makes possible the transformation from “that which is” to “that which ought to be,” the force that makes it possible to transcend the tendency of human beings to pass on to others the hurt and pain that has been done to us, the force that permeates every ounce of Being and unites in one transcendent and imminent reality. In short, we understand God in part as the ultimate Unity of All with All of whom we are always a part, even if we are not always conscious of the part of God we are, or the part of God that everyone and everything is.
It is precisely when we become the fullest conscious embodiments of who we actually are (namely, a cell in the totality of All Being and a manifestation of this God) that we feel empowered to become part of the liberation story of the universe, of which the Passover celebration is at once a commemoration and a renewal. So we encourage you to always ask at every moment of the Seder, “What part of our society’s much-needed transformation can I participate in?”—both in terms of personal and psychological transformation and in terms of social, political, and spiritual transformation. In short, we are inviting you to make your Seder not only a wonderful opportunity to be with friends and/or family and/or community, but also a moment to make new personal commitments to be part of the transformation we celebrate.
Lighting the Candles
To start the Seder, light the candles for Passover. Recite:
Baruch ata Ado-nie (YHVH), Eloheynu Melech Ha’olam, asher kidshanu be mitzvotav vet zee vanu le’hadleek ner shel yom tov.
Next, bless the children. Recite:
We lift up our hands toward the heads of the children assembled here, and envision all children on the planet as well, as we send this blessing to all of them: Ye-varech-echa YHVH ve’yish’me’recha. Ya’er YHVH panav eylecha vee’chuneka. Yisah YHVH panav ey’lecha ve’yasem lecha Shalom.
(May God bless and keep you. May God shine Her face on you and be gracious to you. May God lift up Her face to you and all the world, and grant you and people peace and happiness.)
In the midst of the struggle for freedom, we must never forget the many blessings we already have in our lives. Many Jews have trouble recognizing all our blessings because we still are bearing the legacy of centuries of oppression that culminated in the Holocaust. The result: too often the high ethical values of the Jewish tradition can get subordinated to fearful psychology. This psychology leads even some of the most wealthy and politically powerful Jews in the world to feel insecure and see the world through the framework of the need to control rather than through the religious frame of hope, love, and generosity that has been a cornerstone of Jewish consciousness for centuries. Without putting down those who are still traumatized and fearful, our task is to rebuild and reaffirm a Judaism committed to building a global transformation toward a world of love, generosity, peace, social justice, environmental sustainability, and genuine caring for each other and for the planet. It is toward this goal that we assemble at our Passover table as we rejoice in our freedom and affirm our commitment to spreading that freedom to all humanity.
Liberation Today in Israel/Palestine
Unfortunately, we in the Jewish world have another major challenge. We have to face the set of distortions that have accompanied a blind and idolatrous worship of the State of Israel—distortions that are apparent whenever Jews close their eyes to the suffering of our brothers and sisters, the Palestinians. Go into most synagogues or Jewish institutions in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, or France, and you’ll find that you can denounce God, question the Torah, or refuse to follow various Jewish ritual practices, and you are likely to be met with a “ho-hum” response. But dare to question Israel and its policies, and you’ll find yourself being denounced as a traitor, a self-hating Jew, an anti-Semite, or “an accomplice of Hitler.” The blind worship of Israel has become the only contemporary religion of too many of the Jewish people, a people still so traumatized by our long history of oppression and so angry at God for not intervening during the Holocaust that we’ve come to believe in the religion of our enemies, the religion that says that we can only trust in our power, our army, and our ability to wipe out those whom we fear.
To be sure, that celebration of violence and hurt against our enemies has always been there in the Jewish tradition and is present in the famous song that Moses’s sister Miriam is said to have composed while watching Pharaoh’s army drown in the Sea of Reeds. But that chauvinist triumphalism was the compensation for our powerlessness, an empowering fantasy that made it possible for us to believe that no matter what those who hated and oppressed us were doing to us, no matter how bitter their treatment of us, we would survive because there was a Force of Healing and Transformation in the universe: God. We believed that God would ultimately be there for us as God had been there for us in Egypt, when we had been utterly degraded as slaves. To see God as redeeming us when we could see no rational path to self-protection had a positive value. But today these very same thoughts have a very different meaning when it is we who are powerful, and when our Jewish community aligns itself with the State of Israel, even as Israel uses its power in heartless and cruel ways against another people over whom it rules. Israel’s approach is structurally cruel because on the one hand it denies Palestinians the right to vote in Israel, but on the other hand it denies Palestinians the freedom to create their own state and run their own affairs free of Israeli military presence.
Our Torah understood the potential of this problem, which is why its most frequently repeated command (mitzvah) is a variant of this: “When you come into your land, do not oppress the stranger. Remember that you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Indeed, it commands us positively: thou shalt love the stranger.
We cannot turn this Seder into a meaningless ritual by ignoring the ways in which we, the Jewish people, have been acting as Pharaoh to another people.
Yet we also have to approach these issues with a high degree of compassion, both for Israelis and for Palestinians. The two peoples have co-created the current mess.
As Jews, we have a special responsibility for Israel’s role as long as we allow Israel to claim to be “the State of the Jewish people,” and as long as we allow American Jewish organizations to give blind loyalty to whatever policy is presented to the world by the Israeli government. Unless each of us has actively involved ourselves in building organizations like Tikkun, J Street, Jewish Voice for Peace, Peace Now, or some equivalent, we must share some of the blame for what other Jews have done in building organizations and media that express blind loyalty to the Israeli government. Many of us say that we are pro-Israel but not pro-its-current-policies. But unless we’ve put our money and our time behind efforts to create an alternative voice, we share some of the responsibility for what is being done in our name by the leadership of the American Jewish community and by the State of Israel.
But while Israel’s oppression of Palestinians is unacceptable to us as Jews, a fuller account points to horrific acts of violence and human rights violations by Palestinians as well. We should not accept attempts by others to make Israel the sole villain in this story without acknowledging the ways that Palestinians, surrounding Arab states, and the entire world have acted irresponsibly and sometimes cruelly toward the Jewish people, and how that has contributed to the political intransigence and self-destructive and immoral policies of the government of Israel. In critiquing Israel, we do not seek to delegitimize its existence or its many humane accomplishments in other spheres and important contributions to the well-being of people around the world. Nor will we play into the notion that Israel is the worst human rights violator on the planet—it is not, though sometimes others talk as though it were.
Yet, since we are Jews celebrating Passover, and we do feel a special responsibility for Israel, it becomes appropriate to not hide behind the unfairness of others—our task is still to fight for liberation for all peoples, and that includes the liberation of the Palestinian people from the domination inflicted upon them by Israel.
Let’s acknowledge that both sides are suffering from a post-traumatic stress disorder so acute that they cannot recognize the humanity of the other, nor can they see their way to the peace and justice both legitimately seek. Both have been victims of a horrendous history of oppression. So while we as Jews have a responsibility to challenge our own people’s distorted vision, we have to mix that challenge with a high level of love and caring for our people, and recognize that our people need healing, not just chastisement.
We have to acknowledge that some Israeli intransigence is rooted in genuine fear that has been reinforced by terrorist attacks and by Hamas’s bombing of Israeli cities, just as much Palestinian intransigence is rooted in the daily violence imposed on Palestinians by the Israeli Occupation, as well as by Israel’s targeted assassinations, its killing of hundreds of civilians, and its jailing of tens of thousands of Palestinians, who are often imprisoned without formal charges. Because our people has vastly more military power than the Palestinians, we must mix our compassion with a firm commitment to end the Occupation. Its inevitable consequences of human rights violations and its hatred-generating behavior have, in turn, already ensured that there will be generations of Palestinians who will feel justified in acts of terrorism and hatred against our people. Both peoples need healing, and that can only happen when there is both a genuine peace accord that brings justice to the Palestinian people and also a fundamental change in the dominant paradigm of thought so that our people become the embodiment of Torah values of love, generosity, repentance, and forgiveness. We must escape the “blame game” of who did what to whom and focus on how we can embody more love and compassion for both sides of this struggle.
How We Find Security
What is really needed is a revolutionary transformation in our way of thinking and in our economic, political, and social arrangements. America will find security when it is perceived by the world as caring not merely for its own well-being, particularly that of its most wealthy citizens and global corporations, but also caring genuinely for the well-being of all of the people on the planet. Instead of relying on domination, we know both from our holy texts and from our real-world experience that it is generosity, kindness, compassion, and caring for others that will be the key to our success and survival.
Telling the ancient story reminds us that the same Power in the Universe (YHVH or, in English, “God”) that made the Exodus possible can, at this very moment, make it possible for the world to be transformed and liberated from all forms of oppression. No matter how overwhelming the global order of materialism and selfishness might seem at this moment, the power of God’s goodness can again be enlivened in all of us, and we can act together to transform the world, just as the ancient Israelites did in their struggle with Pharaoh.
Inviting God’s goodness to be enlivened within us takes inner work, as well as political organization. First and foremost, we need to overcome ego, quiet our minds, affirm pleasure for our bodies, rejoice in our opportunity to serve God and humanity, and recognize that beyond the self, beyond family and country, we are part of the ongoing unfolding and evolution of the consciousness of the universe as it moves toward higher and higher levels of self-knowledge, partly through us. So we pause now to close our eyes, to envision the universe and our place in it, and to affirm the meaning of our human mission as partners with God in the healing and transformation of all that is.
Sing the order of the Seder:
Kadesh, Urchatz, Karpas, Yachatz, Magid, Rachtsah, Motzi, Matza, Maror, Koreych, Shulchan, Orech, Tsafoon, Barech, Halel, Nirtzah.
Kadesh—Opening Blessing over the Fruit of the Vine (Grape Juice or Wine)
Before the blessing over the first cup of wine or grape juice, say:
This Passover is the celebration of the liberation of our forefathers and foremothers from Egypt some 3,200 years ago. We Jews remember ourselves as having been slaves who then managed to revolt against the existing order and free ourselves from that slavery. That process of liberation required us to overthrow the internalized messages of the oppressive order: “Be realistic—you don’t have the power to overthrow the existing system,” “You are not worthy or deserving enough to be free,” “If you dedicate your time to transformation, you’ll be setting yourself up for even worse oppression by the powerful,” “You can’t really trust other oppressed people—they are unlikely to really be there for you when things get tough, so protect yourself and your family by not getting too involved,” and “Nothing ever really changes, so accept what ‘is’ and make the best of it.” These are some of the crippling messages that passivize people in every generation, yet in every generation there is a different voice, the voice of the Force of Healing and Transformation, Yud Hey Vav Hey, Adonie, Yah, the God of the universe that makes possible the transformation from that which is to that which ought to be—a voice that continually asserts itself in the consciousness of human beings. This is what we are talking about when we talk of God. Had there been no liberation, there would never have been a Jewish people, a Moses, an Isaiah, a Jesus, a Mohammed, a Freud, a Marx, a Betty Friedan, or many of the liberatory movements to which they gave rise. Jesus’s “Last Supper” was a Passover Seder and was celebrated as such by many of the Early Christians until the Catholic Church’s Council of Nicaea in 323 ce decided to forcibly separate Christianity from its roots in the Jewish tradition.
Yet as much as we must celebrate the victories of the past, we are also sadly aware of the oppressive realities of the present. So Passover and Easter must not become hollow celebrations of past victories that ignore the present depraved social reality that allows 2.5 billion people to struggle to stay alive on less than $2 a day, 1.5 billion of whom live in the horrible condition of living on only $1 a day or less. In our own country, tens of millions of people are struggling. Millions are without homes, many more are without jobs, still more have jobs that do not pay a living wage, and many have jobs that are only part-time or that do not give them an opportunity to use their full intelligence and skills. The Occupy movement has highlighted the plight of the downtrodden and the immoral social and economic policies that have resulted in their condition, benefiting the rich at the expense of the 99 percent.
Today it’s important to understand that the “downtrodden”—those who are hurt by the materialism and selfishness built into the very ethos of global capitalism—are not only the homeless, the jobless, the underemployed, those working more than one job in order to help support their families, those whose mortgages have inflated to levels that they cannot pay, those who can’t afford to attend college or university as states are forced to raise the fees of public education, or those who are likely to lose their jobs in the next few years.
The downtrodden are also those of us who find ourselves surrounded by others who seem endlessly selfish and materialistic or by people who see us only in terms of how we can advance their interests or perceived needs. No—it’s not just strangers. People today increasingly report that even their friends, spouse, or children seem to see them through the frame of the question, “What have you done for me lately?” or “What can you give me to satisfy my needs?” No wonder people feel unrecognized, disrespected, and very lonely, even when they are in a family or a loving relationship. These are also the downtrodden, a part of the 99 percent, victims of the very same system that puts others out of work, makes them jobless, or homeless, or hungry, or desperate, or scared that they will soon be among the economic casualties of this system—a system that teaches us to close our eyes to their suffering. The spiritual distortions of the contemporary capitalist society are transmitted daily through each of us to the extent that we ourselves and others around us look at each other and the world through the framework of our own narrow self-interest and fail to see the holy, the beauty, the uniqueness, and the commonality of all human beings. These distortions become part of our daily reality so that we ourselves pass on to others the distorted consciousness that keeps us enslaved and powerless.
Yet the message of Passover and Easter is that we are not stuck; that liberation and transformation are possible; and that we should celebrate the partial victories of the past in order to gain both perspective and hopefulness about the future. No, not the hope that some politician is going to save us, but the hope that we ourselves can become mobilized to engage in tikkun olam (the healing, repair, and transformation of our world). Just as the Israelites who were emancipated from slavery in Egypt (celebrated on Passover) became mobilized, and just as the early Christians who encountered Jesus’s liberation message for the poor started rejecting the injustice around them, we can begin to live as witnesses to the possibility of a different world.
The Occupy movement has made a great contribution to collective consciousness by helping popularize the notion of the need to resist the class war that has been perpetrated against the 99 percent for the past three decades by the 1 percent and their enablers in both major political parties, the media, the economic structure of our society, and those who popularize the mythologies of the powerful. However, we have far to go beyond the progress we have made toward consciousness so far.
As we drink the first cup of wine or grape juice, we bring to mind all that we as the human race have accomplished against existing systems of oppression, and we joyously affirm our intention to continue the struggle until all our people are truly free.
Recite the following and drink the first glass:
Baruch ata YHVH, Eloheynu Melech Ha’olam Borey pree ha gafen.
Ur’chatz—Washing the Hands
Before washing hands, say:
The irony of systems of oppression is that they usually depend upon the participation of the oppressed in their own oppression. Rather than challenging the system, people accept their place within it, understanding that they may lose their jobs or worse should they become known to the powerful as “disloyal” or “dissidents.” In capitalist society, it is not just external coercion but also the internalization of worldviews of the powerful that make the oppressed willing participants in the system. As we do the Ur’chatz on Passover, we symbolically wash our hands of this participation in our own oppression.
The mythology of upward mobility and meritocracy (“You can make it if you really try and if you deserve to make it”) leads people to blame themselves for not having achieved more economic security—a self-blame that often leads to emotional depression, alcoholism, or drug addiction, and also to quiet acquiescence to the existing class divisions. The realization that only a small minority of people will ever rise significantly above the class position into which they were born rarely permeates mass consciousness, because each person has been led to believe that she or he is the one who is going to make it.
The belief that democracy levels the playing field between the powerful and the powerless also pervades our society. We celebrate the victories of democracy for good reason—what democracy does exist is the product of long struggles of ordinary working people against oligarchy. But in the twenty-first-century world, democracy is severely limited by the power of corporations and the rich to shape public opinion through their ownership of the media and their ability to pour huge sums of money into the coffers of “viable” candidates (namely, those who support their interests). Without the economic means to buy the television time or employ the large campaign staffs necessary to make a third or fourth party effective, dissenters often end up channeling their energies through the two major political parties, which have repeatedly demonstrated their loyalty to the powerful—thereby dissenters unintentionally re-empower the very forces that oppress them.
Karpas—Dipping Fresh Greens or Other Vegetables in Salt Water
Before the blessing over the greens, say:
The rebirth of the earth each spring reminds us that things that appeared dead can be resurrected and returned to life. Yes, the salt water represents the tears of suffering, but the vegetables represent the return of spring and symbolize hopefulness.
The greens on the table also remind us of our commitment to protect the planet from ecological destruction. Instead of focusing narrowly on what we may “realistically” accomplish in today’s world, we must refocus the conversation on what the planet needs in order to survive and flourish. We must get out of the narrow place in our thinking and look at the world not as a resource, but as a focus for awe, wonder, and amazement. We must reject the societal story that identifies success and progress with endless growth and accumulation of things. Instead we should focus on acknowledging that we already have enough; we need to stop exploiting our resources and instead care for the earth.
We are in the midst of a huge spiritual and environmental crisis. Our society has lost its way. Yet most of us are embarrassed even to talk about this seriously, so certain are we that we could never do anything to transform this reality. We’re also fearful that we will be met with cynicism and derision for even allowing ourselves to think about challenging the kind of technocratic and alienating rationality that parades itself as “progress” in the current world.
Dip the greens in salt water and say a blessing. From this point on, you can eat anything on the table that is a vegetable or vegetable-based.
Yachatz—Breaking the Matzah
Break the middle matzah on the matzah plate and say:
We break the matzah and hide one part (the aﬁkomen). We recognize that liberation is made by imperfect people, broken and fragmented—so don’t wait until you are totally pure, holy, spiritually centered, and psychologically healthy to get involved in tikkun (the healing and repair of the world). It will be imperfect people, wounded healers, who do the healing as we simultaneously work on ourselves. Close your eyes for a moment and let come to mind some part of you that is broken and needs healing. Resolve to work on that part, but not use that brokenness as an excuse not to engage in social/political transformation. Then, let come to mind some others who are broken and hence less perfect than you would wish. Accept their brokenness as the consequence of their having faced the psychological, cultural, intellectual, economic, and political distortions of the modern world, and then tell yourself that you resolve to work with them to heal our world rather than to wallow in the excuse of their imperfections as the reason that you can’t see yourself getting involved in social movements anymore.
Ha Lachma Anya—The Bread of Affliction
Raise the middle matzah so that everyone can see it and say:
This is the bread of affliction. Let everyone who is hungry come and eat. But when saying that traditional line—“let all who are hungry come and eat”—we must also recognize the stark contrast between the generosity of the Jewish people expressed in this invitation and the actual reality in which we live.
In the past years, the U.S. Congress has passed tax legislation that will return hundreds of billions of dollars to the well-to-do, and yet our country has no money to deal with the needs of the poor, the homeless, and the hungry. We should be taking those hundreds of billions of dollars and using them to rebuild the economic infrastructures of the impoverished all around the world, providing decent housing and food for those who are in need. We at Tikkun’s interfaith action arm, the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP), have developed a very concrete way to do this—the Global Marshall Plan—and we invite you to download and read the full version of it at spiritualprogressives.org/GMP.
We live in a world in which we try to build barriers to protect ourselves against the poor and the homeless, a world which demeans them and blames them for the poverty they face. Debates about “the deficit” switch the traditional Jewish focus on how to care for the poor and those who are economically unstable to how to protect what the rest of us have now. Imagine how far this is from the spirit of Torah; in our sacred text, it was impossible for people to argue that they had to reduce what they were giving to the poor of today in order to ensure that they would have more to give in the future. Our Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and secular humanist obligation is to take care of the poor right now, rather than explain to them that they may have to get less from us because of our calculations about the future or because of our theory that if we give more to the rich now, the wealth will trickle down to the rest. Oy, the contortions the apologists for inequalities go through to justify selfishness—and oy, how easily many of us fall for that line though the expected “trickle down” has rarely been enough to lessen the distance between rich and poor!
So when we say, “Ha lachmah anya—this is the bread of affliction; let all who are hungry come and eat,” we remind ourselves that this spirit of generosity is meant to be a contrast to the messages of class society, which continually try to tell us “there is not enough” and that we therefore can’t afford to share what we have with others. We are the richest society in the history of the human race, and we may be the stingiest as well—a society filled with people who think that we don’t have enough.
We who identify with Tikkun and are part of the NSP proudly proclaim: there is enough, we are enough, and we can afford to share.
Mah Nishtanah—The Four Questions: The Adult Version
Discuss as a group or in pairs at the Seder table, at your Easter celebration, or at whatever other celebration of spring you participate in:
1. The word Mitzrayim (Egypt) comes from the Hebrew word tzar—the narrow place, the constricted place. In what way are you personally still constricted? Are you able to see yourself as part of the unity of all being, a manifestation of God’s love on earth? Are you able to overcome the ego issues that separate us from each other? Can you see the big picture, or do you get so caught in the narrow places and limited struggles of your own life that it’s hard to envision it? What concrete steps might you take to change that?
2. Do you believe that we can eventually eradicate wars, poverty, and starvation? Do you believe that people don’t really care about anyone but themselves, and that we will always be stuck in some version of the current mess? Or do you think that such a belief is itself part of what keeps us in this mess? If so, how would you suggest we spread a more hopeful message and deal with the cynicism and self-doubt that always accompanies us when we start talking about changing the world?
3. What experiences have you had that give you hope? Tell about some struggle to change something—a struggle that you personally were involved in—that worked. What did you learn from that?
4. When the Israelites approached the Sea of Reeds, the waters did not split. It took a few brave souls to jump into the water. Even then, the waters rose up to their very noses, and only then, when these brave souls showed that they really believed in the Force of Healing and Transformation (YHVH), did the waters split and the Israelites walk through them. Would you be willing to jump into those waters today? For example, you might jump into those waters by:
- Championing nonviolence and a new foreign policy based on the strategy of generosity embodied in the Global Marshall Plan, which calls for the dedication of 1 to 2 percent of the Gross Domestic Product of the United States every year for the next twenty to once and for all end—not just ameliorate, but end—domestic and global poverty, homelessness, hunger, inadequate education, and inadequate health care and repair the global environment.
- Advocating the elimination of private money in politics and requiring corporate environmental and social responsibility as embodied in the NSP’s Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment (ESRA) to the U.S. Constitution (read the latest version at tikkun.org/ESRAtext).
- Taking up the call for economic justice put forward by the Occupy movement and then moving beyond occupations and tent cities to insist on this agenda for your elected officials and for public media. Would you let your political leaders know that you refuse to vote for any “lesser-evil candidate”?
- Embracing the NSP’s “Spiritual Covenant with America” (read it at tikkun.org/covenant). Would you go to speak about this to your elected representatives? To your neighbors? To your coworkers? To your family? If not, what do you think holds you back, makes you pessimistic, or makes you feel embarrassed to talk to others about transforming our world?
Magid—Telling the Story
Before the blessing over the second cup of wine, say:
We are the community of Tikkun, the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP) of all faiths—the religious and spiritual community formed around the ancient Jewish idea that our task is to be partners with God in healing and transforming our world. We know that the world can be healed and transformed—that is the whole point of telling the Passover story or the Easter story. Our task is to find the ways to continue the struggle for liberation in our own times and in our own circumstances. Some of the steps include:
- Recognizing each other as allies in that struggle and supporting each other even though we see each other’s flaws and inadequacies as well as our own.
- Pouring out love into the world, even when we don’t have a good excuse for giving that love to others and even when it seems corny or risky to do so, thus breaking down our own inner barriers to loving others and to loving ourselves.
- Rejecting the cynical view that everyone is out for himself or herself, that there is nothing but selfishness—and instead allowing ourselves to see that we are surrounded by people who would love to live in a world based on love, justice, and peace if they thought that others would join them in building such a world.
- Taking the risk of being the first ones out in public to articulate an agenda of social change—even though being those people may mean risking economic security, physical security, and sometimes even the alienation of friends and family.
- Allowing ourselves to envision the world the way we really want it to be—and not getting stuck in spiritually crippling talk about what is “realistic.”
The stories of Passover and Easter are about our people learning to overcome the “realistic” way of looking at the world. On this day, we want to affirm our connection with a different truth: that the world is governed by a spiritual power, by God, by the Force of Transformation and Healing, and that we are created in Her image, we are embodiments of the Spirit, and we have the capacity to join with each other to transform the world we live in.
Affirming that, we dip the greens on our Seder plate with joy at the beauty and goodness of this earth and its vegetation and recommit ourselves to do all we can to stop those processes in our society that are contributing to the destruction of the earth.
We are descended from slaves who staged the first successful slave rebellion in recorded history. Ever since, our people has kept alive the story of liberation and the consciousness that cruelty and oppression are not inevitable “facts of life,” but conditions that can be changed.
The Haggadah reminds us that the primary obligation of Passover is to experience ourselves as though we personally went out of Egypt. So now, let someone at the table tell the story of our enslavement, of the genocide against the firstborn Hebrew males, of the way Moses was saved and grew up in the palace and then came to identify with his own people, the slaves. Let someone tell of how Moses killed an Egyptian policeman who was beating an Israelite slave and then fled to Midian, how Moses heard God’s voice through a fire that was burning inside him and returned to Egypt, how his demand to “let my people go” was met by the Pharaoh with an escalation of oppression of the Israelites, how his own people shunned him as a troublemaker who was only making things worse, and how God brought forth a set of environmental disasters. Let someone tell of how Moses was able to convince the Israelites and the Pharaoh that these disasters were intentional plagues from God, how the Israelites eventually came to accept that they could use those plagues as cover to leave Egypt, how 80 percent of the slaves couldn’t make that leap and so decided not to leave with Moses, and how joyful a celebration it was for those who did leave by making a huge leap of faith in believing that transformation was really possible.
While this story is being told, let all the people at the table keep their eyes closed. Try to imagine that it is you who is going through this experience, you who has the doubts about Moses and the possibility of a radical transformation, and you who finally is able to take that leap of faith. Allow yourself to experience what it must feel like to do that in your own life today!
Yet liberation struggles often require major sacrifices and struggle. We mourn the losses of our own people, who struggled out of the crematoria and gas chambers of Europe and went on to create the State of Israel. And we mourn the losses of the Palestinian people, whose struggle against the English colonialists got diverted into a struggle with the newly emerging Jewish state. We mourn the crippling of the dream of an Israel that could be the embodiment of Jewish ideals, and we mourn the distortions that have taken place in the Jewish people as so many have twisted themselves and their thinking in order to provide justifications for Israeli behavior that should have been critiqued and opposed. We mourn the distortions in American society and the ways that noble ideals have been transformed into oppressive and even violent behaviors.
We dip our fingers into the wine and withdraw some of the wine. Our cup of joy cannot be full when we are the cause of the suffering of another people. And we pray to live to the day when our own freedom and liberation will no longer be linked to the suffering of others. Recite:
Dam, tzfardeyah, keeneem, arov, dever, shecheen, garad, arbeh choschesh, makat bechorot. And now we commit ourselves to a struggle for liberation based on nonviolence.
Loe Yisah Goy
Loe Yisah goy el goy cherev loe yilmedu ode milchamah.
(Let every one beneath her vine and fig tree
sit in peace and unafraid,
and into ploughshares beat their swords,
nations shall learn war no more.)
Down by the Riverside
I’m going to lay down my sword and shield
down by the riverside (x3)
and study war no more.
I ain’t going to study war no more. (x3)
Ode yavoe shalom aleynu (x3)
ve’al kulam Salaam.
Aleynu ve’al kol ha’olam,
Three Symbols of Passover
Pesach (the Bone or Beet): Our Seder plate includes a symbol of the ancient Passover sacrifice, which was brought each year to the Temple in Jerusalem. The Hebrew word for sacrifice is korban, which comes from the root meaning “near.” What could bring you nearer to your highest spiritual self?
Matzah: The Torah tells us that the Israelites had to take uncooked dough with them, “for they had prepared no provisions for the way.” Symbolically, the matzah reminds us that when the opportunity for liberation comes, we must seize it, even if we do not feel fully prepared—indeed, if we wait until we feel prepared, we may never act at all. If you had to jump into such a struggle tomorrow morning, what would you have to leave behind?
The matzah also stands in contrast to chametz (Hebrew for the expansive yeast that makes bread rise), which symbolizes false pride, absorption in our individual egos, and grandiosity.
Maror (the Bitter Herbs): The suffering of the Jews in Egypt has been matched by thousands of years in which we were oppressed as a people. Our insistence on telling the story of liberation and proclaiming that the world could be and should be fundamentally different has angered ruling elites. These elites often tried to channel against the Jews the anger that ordinary people were feeling about the oppression in their own lives.
Jews are not the only ones to have suffered oppression and violence. We think of the genocide against native peoples all around the world, including in the United States. We think of the enslavement of Africans and the oppression of Armenians, LGBT people, women, and many others. Yet, tonight it is appropriate for us to focus also on the suffering of the Jewish people and to affirm our solidarity with victims of anti-Semitism through the ages. Anti-Semitism persists in our own time in the use of double standards in the judgment of Jews, in acts of violence against Jews, and in refusal to acknowledge the history of Jewish suffering as equal to the suffering of other victims of oppressive social regimes in Christian, Islamic, and secular societies. Meanwhile, we Jews need to acknowledge the ways that this suffering has at times distorted our consciousness and made it hard to fully grasp the pain others feel. We must evolve a global Judaism that compassionately embraces the Jewish people and all other peoples.
The Haggadah says, “Let all who are hungry come and eat.” Traditionally, this is understood to mean not only literally feeding the hungry, but also offering spiritual sustenance to those in need. The two must go hand in hand. We live in a society of unprecedented wealth, yet we turn our backs on the hungry. Even the supposedly liberal and progressive political leaders are unwilling to champion any program to seriously address world hunger and homelessness.
There is also a deep spiritual hunger that must be fed. Though the cynical proclaim that those who accumulate the most toys win, our tradition teaches that money, power, and fame cannot sustain us. Our spiritual tradition teaches us to be present to each moment; to rejoice in all that we are and all that we have been given; to experience the world with awe, wonder, and radical amazement; and to recognize that we already have enough and are enough.
Not just during the Seder, but also at every meal, it is incumbent upon us—the Jewish tradition teaches—to speak words of Torah, to study some section of our holy books, or to in other ways make God feel present at our table. Try this: bring God and God’s message of love, generosity, peace, social justice, ecological sanity, and caring for others into every meal that you eat.
Shulchan Orech: Enjoy the meal. Following the meal, say a blessing expressing thanks to God for the food and expressing a commitment to do what you can to redistribute food on this planet so that everyone will have enough. Of course, as you know, the Seder is only half ﬁnished—the second half begins after we ﬁnd the Aﬁkomen and begin the after-dinner section of the Haggadah. Meanwhile, have a very good meal. Be’tey’avon!
Now eat and enjoy a tasty meal. After you have eaten, dance to some music—or move around the table and talk to people you don’t know.
Tzafun: Find the Aﬁkomen, symbolizing part of you that was split off and must be reintegrated into your full being so that you will be a whole and free person. Each person eats a bit of this Afikomen.
Barech: If you’ve eaten and been satisﬁed, thank God for all that we have been given.
Sing together the blessing over the third cup of wine.
We pause in our celebration to remember the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (which began on the second night of Passover), the Holocaust, and the ways that those in the present who choose to testify to the possibility of transformation become the focus of everyone’s anger, their displaced frustrations, and eventually their murderous rage. Being a spiritual or moral vanguard is risky. No wonder it’s easier to assimilate into the celebration of money and cynicism about the contemporary world.
Tonight we remember our six million sisters and brothers who perished at the hands of the Nazis and at the hands of hundreds of thousands of anti-Semites—many of them Germans, Poles, Croatians, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Romanians, Hungarians, Austrians, Italians, French, Dutch, Russians, etc.—who assisted those Nazis throughout Europe. We remember also the Jewish martyrs throughout the generations—oppressed, beaten, raped, and murdered by European Christians. And we remember tonight with pride the battle of the Warsaw Ghetto and the tens of thousands of Jews who resisted, fought back, joined partisan units, or engaged in acts of armed violence against the oppressors.
It is not fashionable in some circles to speak about these atrocities, particularly because some reactionary Jews use these memories to legitimate human rights violations against Palestinians—as though they were still fighting the Nazis, as though shooting Palestinians angered by expulsion from or Israeli occupation of their homeland could somehow compensate for our own failure to have taken up arms soon enough against the Nazi oppressors. Some use the violence done to us as an excuse to be insensitive to the violence done to others—as though our pain were the only pain—or to legitimate a general “goyim-bashing” attitude based on a total distrust of non-Jews. But though the memories of past oppression are sometimes misused to support insensitivity to others, it is still right for us to talk about our pain, what was done to us: how unspeakable, how outrageous.
Permitting ourselves to articulate our anger—rather than trying to bury it, forget it, or minimize it—is the only way that we can get beyond it. So, tonight it is appropriate to speak about our history, about the Holocaust, and about the ways that the American government and peoples around the world failed to respond to our cries and our suffering. What was done to us was wrong, disgusting, an assault on the sanctity of human life and on God.
It is with righteous indignation that Jews have traditionally called out, “Shefokh Chamatkha ha’goyim aher lo yeda’ukha”—“Pour out your wrath, God, on those people who have acted toward us in a way that fails to recognize Your holy spirit within us as it is within all human beings.” But also pour out your love on the many people who stood up for us when we were facing annihilation, for people around the world who mobilized against the Nazis, for Europeans who committed individual acts to save Jews and gypsies and LGBT people who were targeted for extermination. The goodness of so many non-Jews played an important role in our survival as a people. And pour out your love, too, on all those who have taken risks to fight against racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia in all its various forms; against war; against cruelty to animals; against abuse between human beings; and against environmental irresponsibility. We as a human race have been the beneficiaries of so much human goodness expressed both in daily life and in acts of remarkable courage.
Tonight we reaffirm our commitment to the messianic vision of a world of peace and justice in which inequalities have been abolished and our human capacities for love and solidarity and creativity and freedom are allowed to flourish, in which all people will recognize and affirm in each other the spirit of God. In that day, living in harmony with nature and with each other, all peoples will participate in acknowledging God’s presence on earth. We remain committed to the struggles in our own time that will contribute to making that messianic vision possible someday. Sing:
Al nah tomar heeney darkee ha’achrona
Et or ha yom heesteru shmey ha’ananah
Zeh yom nichsafnu lo od ya’al veyavo
Umitz adeynu ode yareem anachnu poe.
(Do not say that we have reached the end of hope
Though clouds of darkness make it hard for us to cope
The time of peace, justice, and loving is still near,
Our people lives! We proudly shout that we are here.)
Welcoming the Possibility of the Messianic Age
We open the door for Elijah—the prophet who heralds the coming of the Messiah and a world in which all peoples will coexist peacefully—acknowledging the image of God in one another. To deny the possibility of fundamental transformation, to be stuck in the pain of past oppression, or to build our religion around memories of the Holocaust and other forms of suffering is to give the ultimate victory to those who oppressed us. To testify to God’s presence in the world is to insist on shifting our focus from pain to hope and to dedicate our energies to transforming this world and ourselves. We still believe in a world based on love, generosity, and openheartedness. We continue to affirm the Unity of All Being. Sing:
Eliyahu ha navee, Eliyahu HaTishbee
Eliyahu, Eliyahu, Eliyahu HaGeeladee
Beem heyrah beyameynu
eem mashi’ach ben David (x2)
Miriyam Ha nivi’ah, Oz vezimrah beyadah
Miriyam, Miriyam le taken ha’olam
Beem heyrah beyameynu, Tavoe eileynu eem
meymey ha’yeshua (x2)
Now let us build together a communal vision of messianic redemption.
Close your eyes and let some picture of messianic redemption appear in your minds. Then, open your eyes and share with others your picture of the world we want to build together. Sing:
Imagine there’s all kindness; it’s easy if you try—
No hell below us, above us only sky.
Imagine all the people living for today …
Imagine there’s no countries; it isn’t hard to do—
Nothing to kill or die for, and no oppression too.
Imagine all the people, living life in peace.
You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.
I hope someday you’ll join us … and the world will be as one.
Imagine no possessions; I wonder if you can—
No need for greed or hunger, a sisterhood of man.
Imagine all the people, sharing all the world.
You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.
I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.
Imagine love is flowing, no scarcity of care—
Holiness surrounds us, the sacred everywhere.
Imagine awe and wonder, replacing greed and fear.
You may say we’re all dreamers, but we’re not the only ones—
Tikkun and Spirit soaring, and the world will live as one!
Recite the blessing over the fourth cup of wine or grape juice and drink it.
Hallel: Sing songs of liberation! Study the Song of Songs—the traditional reading for Passover.
If you wish to build a spiritual community that supports the values and orientation in the above Haggadah, please join the NSP at spiritualprogressives.org and subscribe to Tikkun magazine at tikkun.org. Help us build a Tikkun community and/or NSP chapter in your area by creating a monthly study group of the articles in Tikkun’s print version or the articles on the Web. Remember, though, that only our signed editorials represent our position—we encourage a wide diversity of views in Tikkun. This Haggadah was composed by Rabbi Michael Lerner, chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, editor of Tikkun, and rabbi of Beyt Tikkun synagogue-without-walls (which means we don’t have the money to buy our own building).
Lerner, Michael. 2012. Occupy Passover Seders and Easter Gatherings. Tikkun 27(2): 5.