In this year of uprising in Egypt what does the Passover story have to say to us? What would liberation throughout the world mean?
FOR YOUR SEDER, here is a Haggadah supplement — not a replacement. If you don’t normally do a Seder, you can use this supplement as the basis for an interfaith gathering in your home on April 18, the first night of Passover, or on any of the other nights of Passover until it ends on April 26. Many people read part or all of this at any Seder they attend, sometimes going around and having a different person read each paragraph.
AS WE SIT AT THE SEDER TABLE we need to discuss how ancient liberation for the Jews can inspire liberation today for all people.
Judaism never separates spiritual and political liberation, and that is one reason why ruling elites through history always found us a troublesome people. Tikkun, the healing of the world, requires BOTH inner spiritual liberation and outer economic, political and social transformation. True, at times Jews have become so scared about offending the powerful that we’ve withdrawn from “Torah as a way of life” into “Judaism as a religion of inner transformation or of ritual obedience,” but never totally — because our most sacred story, The Torah, has most of it dedicated to the liberation from Egypt and its aftermath. And through Jewish history, the Seder became a major occasion for people to strategize struggles against whatever political and economic oppression they were facing. However, in America, as Jews sought to “fit in” and not antagonize the powerful, that tradition has receded. So the Tikkun supplement below raises issues in a way that brings back that dimension into focus.
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, the ultimate Unity of ALL with All.” It is precisely when we become the fullest conscious embodiments of who we actually are (namely, a cell in the totality of All Being, an expression of and manifestation of this God who is the Unity of All with All, of whom we are always a part, but not always conscious of the part of God we are or the part of God that everyone and everything is) 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 the transformation that is needed can I participate in?” — both in terms of personal spiritual 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 which we celebrate.
In fact, we know it is the ongoing spiritual inspiration and Jewish cultural and psychological resonance of that ancient struggle that led many Jews today to cheer on the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings against their oppressive dictatorial regimes. Yet we also know that many Jews responded with more fear than hope, a residue of the ongoing post-traumatic-stress disorder generated by 1,700 years of Christian oppression culminating in the Holocaust. The result: too often the high ethical values of the Jewish tradition can get subordinated to the fearful psychology that leads some of the most wealthy and politically powerful Jews in the world to still feel insecure and to see the world through the framework of the need to control, rather than through the religious frame of hope, love, and generosity that was a cornerstone of Jewish consciousness for many 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.
Seventy-eight percent of Jews voted for Barack Obama in 2008, and 70 percent of Jews voted Democratic in the 2010 elections. Jews have remained the most solidly Democratic block of voters next to African Americans. Despite the fact that Jewish economic circumstances make many Jews likely to face tax increases if Democrats ever fight for social justice, most Jews are so committed to a fairer and more just society as central Jewish values that they continue to support the Democrats. If white non-Jewish Americans voted like Jews, we’d have a much greater likelihood of a liberal government.
No wonder, then, that as we sit around the Passover table this year, many younger Jews are expressing a widespread disappointment at the way President Obama has moved far away from the hope for “change we can believe in.” Since the day he was elected, on issue after issue, Obama has backed away from much of what he promised or led us to believe he would fight for:
1. Human rights.
2. Ending the wars started by George W. Bush.
3. Making the economy serve the interests of working people and those who were hurt by the Bush economic collapse.
4. Saving the environment.
5. Developing a rational energy policy.
6. Providing affordable health care and pharmaceuticals.
7. Fighting for immigrant rights.
8. __________(Fill in your own at your Seder table).
In his first two years as president, Obama had an amazing opportunity to persuade the American public to reject the worldview of the Reagan/Bush years but didn’t even try. As Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman put it in the New York Times on April 11, 2011:
What happened to the inspirational figure his supporters thought they elected? Who is this bland, timid guy who doesn’t seem to stand for anything in particular? I realize that with hostile Republicans controlling the House, there’s not much Mr. Obama can get done in the way of concrete policy. Arguably, all he has left is the bully pulpit. But he isn’t even using that — or, rather, he’s using it to reinforce his enemies’ narrative … our nation needs a president who believes in something, and is willing to take a stand. And that’s not what we’re seeing.
Some will say Obama was never who he said he was, that he was always just a clever manipulator of our hopes while actually being a centrist corporate-oriented politician, and that is why he chose advisers such as Geithner and Summers as soon as he was elected, and why he chose to retain Bush’s secretary of defense, rather than balancing his cabinet with people like Paul Krugman or Robert Reich and representatives of the GLBT, environmental, human rights, immigrant rights, peace, and women’s movements, and the other progressive movements that made his nomination possible in the first place. Nothing external stopped him from making those choices.
Others will suggest he had no options, that he couldn’t do more than he did (and some will then say that he should have told the truth about what was happening if he felt constrained by the dynamics in Washington — and that he should have stopped trying to appeal to the people on his right while failing to appeal to his own base).
Still others will say the whole idea of a U.S. president being able to stand up to the complex of corporate interests, military-industrial powers, insurance and health care companies, pharmaceutical firms, fossil fuel promoters, environmental polluters, and their banks and investment companies was ludicrous from the start.
Some will argue that to counter such forces Obama would have needed to mobilize his own constituency, from the first moments of his presidency, into an independent movement present in the streets and in the balloting — a movement able to go door to door to advocate for a new kind of social and economic order and willing to push him away from the temptation of betraying his highest vision through backroom deals.
Today, some in the NSP and the Tikkun world are even talking about the need to run a set of candidates in the Democratic primaries to challenge the Obama capitulation to the Right, arguing that, without such a challenge, the liberal and progressive voices in the Democratic Party will receive no public attention and a whole new generation is growing up thinking that what liberals and progressives believe is the pro-capitalist, pro-militarist rhetoric that the supposedly “liberal” (and Tea Party activists even label him “socialist”) president spouts in public without any counter voice.
Where would this next generation ever get to hear an alternative, unless they are lucky enough to have someone in their family turn them on to Tikkun, the Nation, AlterNet, Truthdig or a few scantly read progressive websites? Most liberals and progressives are worried enough about the fascistic tendencies in the right-wing of American politics to not want to contribute to Obama’s defeat and hence are unlikely to want a third party challenge in the general elections. But many are convinced that a challenge in the primaries (with different candidates in each state heading up a progressive slate to go to the national conventions of both the Republican and Democratic parties) might give some public presence to progressive ideas that otherwise will remain invisible in the 2012 elections. What do you think?
Well, that’s the kind of discussion that is needed on Passover this year — because Passover is not meant to be merely a celebration of the Jewish victory for liberation in our past, but is rather meant to stimulate us to extend that liberation to the whole world. Such liberation would bring an end to the destruction of the environment. It would bring an end to the cheapening of cultural life by the dominance of an ethos of “looking out for number one.” It would bring an end to rampant materialism and our society’s belief in salvation through mechanical objects and technological fixes.
It is not only a new kind of president that we need but also a new kind of movement. We need a movement that has a spiritual dimension and affirms and builds on what the 2008 election revealed: the deep yearning of Americans (and really all people on the planet) for a world in which love, kindness, generosity, ethical and ecological sanity, awe and wonder at the grandeur of the universe, and commitment to a higher meaning for our lives are valued over the pursuit of money, power, sexual conquest, and fame, which have been extolled as central values by corporate media and enshrined in the workings of the global capitalist system. At the Seder table, we invite you to ask how you can help get this kind of spiritual consciousness introduced into the discourse of secular liberal and progressive social change movements, NGOs, and liberal political parties. We invite you to make this discussion a central part of your Passover Seder this year.
Solidarity with Contemporary Egyptians Seeking Democracy
Ever since the victory over the dictator of Tunisia and the subsequent uprising in Egypt, Tikkun’s email has been flooded with messages from Jews around the world hoping and praying for the victory of the Egyptian people over their cruel Mubarak regime. And when he was actually toppled, liberal and progressive Jews joined in welcoming the possibility of a democratic and human rights-respecting regime to replace the repression of the past.
A small segment of Jews have responded to right-wing voices from Israel that lament the change and fear that a democratic government would bring to power fundamentalist extremists who wish to destroy Israel; this small segments fears that Egypt’s new leaders could abrogate the hard-earned treaty that has kept the peace between Egypt and Israel for the last thirty years. The majority of Jews, however, are more excited and hopeful than worried.
Of course, the worriers have a point. Israel has allied itself with repressive regimes in Egypt and has used that alliance to ensure that the borders with Gaza remain closed while Israel attempts to economically deprive the Hamas regime by denying Palestinians the food and equipment needed to rebuild after Israel’s devastating attack in December 2008 and January 2009. If the Egyptian people take over, they are far more likely to side with Hamas than with the Israeli blockade of Gaza.
Yet it is impossible for Jews to forget our heritage as victims of another Egyptian tyrant — the Pharaoh whose reliance on brute force was overthrown when the Israelite slaves managed to escape from Egypt some 3,000 years ago. That story of freedom retold each year at our Passover “Seder” celebration, and read in synagogues in the past month, has often predisposed the majority of Jews to side with those struggling for freedom around the world. To watch hundreds of thousands of Egyptians able to throw off the chains of oppression — and the legacy of a totalitarian regime that consistently jailed, tortured, or murdered its opponents so overtly that most people were cowed into silence — is to remember that the spark of God continues to flourish, no matter how long oppressive regimes manage to keep themselves in power, and that ultimately the yearning for freedom and democracy cannot be totally stamped out, no matter how cruel and sophisticated the military and financial elites may be.
Many Jews have warned Israel that it is a mistake to ally with these kinds of regimes, just as we’ve warned the United States to learn the lesson from its failed alliance with the Shah of Iran. We’ve urged Israel to free the Palestinian people by ending the Occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza. Israel’s long-term security will not be secured through military or economic domination, but rather by acting in a generous and caring way first toward the Palestinian people, and then toward all of its Arab neighbors. Similarly, America’s homeland security will best be achieved through a strategy of generosity and caring, manifested through a new Global Marshall Plan such as has been introduced into the House of Representatives by Congressman Keith Ellison.
In normal times, when the forces of repression seem to be winning, this kind of thinking is dismissed as “utopian” by the “realists” who shape public political discourse. But when events like the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt occur, for a moment the politicians and media are stunned enough to allow a different kind of thinking to emerge, the kind of thinking that acknowledged that underneath all the “business as usual” behavior of the world’s peoples, the yearning for a world based on solidarity, caring for each other, freedom, self-determination, justice, nonviolence, and even love and generosity remains a potent and unquenchable thirst that may be temporarily repressed but never fully extinguished.
It is this recognition that leads many Jews to join with the rest of the world’s peoples in celebrating the uprising, in praying that it does not become manipulated by the old regime into paths that too quickly divert the hopes for a brand new kind of order into politics and economics as usual, or into extremist attempts to switch the anger from domestic elites who have been the source of Egyptian oppression onto Jews or Israel which have not been responsible for the suffering of the Egyptian people. Such extremists could easily be marginalized if Israel were to take definitive action to accept the peace terms offered by the Palestinians in 2007-8 (terms known to the world through the release of relevant documents by Al-Jazeera) and if the United States in conjunction with Israel were to announce a Global Marshall Plan applied first to the Middle East. Such a plan has been developed in some detail by the Network of Spiritual Progressives.
We hope that Egyptians will hear the news that they have strong support from many in the Jewish world. And when we celebrate the end of our own slavery in Egypt, we will continue to pray for the freedom of the contemporary Egyptian people, all Arab peoples, all Muslims, all Jews, all Christians, all Buddhists, all Hindus, all secular humanists, and all the rest of us on this planet! The struggle has many dimensions, and any way you are willing to contribute to it will carry forward the message of Passover!
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 our enemies.
To be sure, that celebration of violence and hurt against our enemies was always 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 the military presence of Israelis.
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. Both 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.” But we believe that a fuller account would point to horrific acts of violence and human rights violations by Palestinians as well. Nor should we 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 delegitimate 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.
So lets 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. And 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 own people, and recognize that our people needs healing and 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’ bombing of Israeli cities, just as some Palestinian intransigence is rooted in the daily violence imposed on Palestinians by the Israeli Occupation, as well as by the targeted assassinations, the killing of hundreds of civilians, and the 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 with its inevitable consequences of human rights violations and its hatred-generating behavior, which in turn has already ensured that there will be generations of Palestinians who will feel justified in acts of terror 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 loving 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 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.
We are gathered here tonight to affirm our continuity with the generations of Jews who have kept alive the vision of freedom in the Passover story. For thousands of years, Jews have affirmed this vision by participating in the Passover Seder. We not only remember the Exodus but actually relive it, bringing its transformative power into our own lives.
The Hebrew word for Egypt, mitzrayim, means “narrow straits.” Traditionally, mitzrayim has been understood to mean a spiritual state, the “narrow place” of confusion, fragmentation, and spiritual disconnection. Liberation requires us to embrace that which we have been taught to scorn within ourselves and others, including the split-off parts from our own consciousness that we find intolerable and that we project onto some evil Other. The Seder can also be a time to reflect on those parts of ourselves.
Israel left Egypt with “a mixed multitude”; the Jewish people began as a multicultural mélange of people attracted to a vision of social transformation. What makes us Jews is not some biological fact but our willingness to proclaim the message of those ancient slaves: (say together) The world can be changed, we can be healed.
Tonight we join with the millions of Jews around the world and our non-Jewish allies who celebrate our liberation from Egypt and also celebrate liberation from all forms of oppression. We rejoice this year in the uprisings in the Middle East, initiated by the immense courage of large numbers of people in Tunisia and Egypt, and pray that they may actually lead to a new democratic, human rights-observing, and peace-oriented society for all the inhabitants of those countries, and inspire tens of millions of others to take the same risks for liberation.
We are the latest embodiment of the people of Israel, and tonight we invite into our Seder all the past generations who have kept faith with the vision of a world healed and transformed. We rise now to say Kiddush — in solidarity with all the generations of Jews throughout history who have kept alive this sacred moment, retold the story, and accepted upon themselves the central mitzvah of Passover: to see ourselves as though we personally had participated in the liberation from Egypt.
Blessing over the first cup of wine. The kiddush is found in most Haggadot.
Baruch atah adonai eloheinu melech ha’olam.
Shecheyanu v’kiy’manu v’higyanu lazman hazeh.
We wash our hands, without saying the blessing. Each person washes the hand of the person next to her (pouring it over a bowl). Imagine that you are washing away all cynicism and despair, and allow yourself to be ﬁlled with the hope that the world could be really transformed in accord with our highest vision.
The saltwater on our table traditionally represents the tears of the Israelite slaves. The green vegetables we dip in the water suggest the possibility of growth and renewal even in the midst of grief.
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 will focus on acknowledging that we already have enough; we need to stop exploiting our resources and instead care for the earth.
We are descended from slaves, people 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 task may seem more overwhelming to us today than in previous moments. Today there is no longer some easily identifiable external evil force playing the role of Pharaoh. Instead, we live in an increasingly unified global economic and political system that brings well-being to some even as it increases the misery of others.
We are in the midst of a huge spiritual and environmental crisis. Our society has lost its way. Yet most of us are even embarrassed to talk about this seriously, so certain are we that we could never do anything to transform this reality, and 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.
The Exodus story teaches us to see that all this could be changed.
We are the community of Tikkun, the Network of Spiritual Progressives 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. 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:
a. Recognizing each other as allies in that struggle, and supporting each other even though we see each other’s flaws and inadequacies, and see our own as well.
b. Pouring out love into the world, even when we don’t have a good excuse for giving that love to others, even when it seems corny or risky to do so — breaking down our own inner barriers to loving others and to loving ourselves.
c. Rejecting the cynical view that everyone is out for himself or herself, that there is nothing but selfishness. Instead, we will allow ourselves to see that we are surrounded by people who would love to live in a world based on love and justice and peace if they thought that others would join them in building such a world.
d. Taking the risks of being the first ones out in public to articulate an agenda of social change — even though being that person may mean risking economic security, physical security, and sometimes even risking the alienation of friends and family.
e. 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 story of Passover is about our people learning to overcome the “realistic” way of looking at the world. Tonight 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 and transform the world we are in.
Affirming that, we dip the greens on our Seder plate in joy at the beauty and goodness of this earth and its vegetation, and recommitting ourselves to do all we can to stop those processes in our society that are contributing to the destruction of the earth.
Dip the greens in saltwater and say blessing.
(from this point on you can eat anything on the table that is a vegetable or vegetable-based)
Break the middle matzah on the matzah plate.
We break the matzah and hide one part (the Aﬁkomen). We recognize that liberation is made by imperfect people, broken, fragmented — so don’t be waiting 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 to not engage in social/political transforemation. 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 getitng involved in social movements any more.
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 year 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, and providing decent housing and food for those who are in need. Instead, we live in a world in which we try to build barriers to protect ourselves against the poor and the homeless, 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–where it was impossible for someone to argue that they had to reduce what they were giving to the poor of today in order to insure that they would have more to give in the future. Our Jewish 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, much less that they have to get less now because we have a theory that by giving more to the rich now that they will eventually expand their wealth and it will trickle down to the rest. Oy, the contortions people go through to justify selfishness!
So when we say “hah lachmah anya — this is the bread of affliction, let all who are hungry come and eat,” we remind ourselves that it is this spirit of generosity that is the authentic Jewish spirit. It is meant to be a contrast to the messages of class society, which continually try to tell us “there is not enough” and therefore that we 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 Network of Spiritual Progressives proudly proclaim: there is enough, we are enough, and we can afford to share.
FOUR QUESTIONS: THE ADULT VERSION
Discuss as a group or in pairs at the Seder table:
1. Egypt, “mitzrayim” in Hebrew, comes from the 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 see the big picture? What concrete steps could you take to change that?
2. Do you believe that we can eventually eradicate wars, poverty, and starvation? Or do you believe that no one really cares 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 by becoming an advocate for nonviolence or for the strategy of generosity and the Global Marshall Plan or for the ESRA (Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution)? 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 (TELL THE STORY):
Tell the story of the Exodus, and identify the Pharaohs in your life today.
Blessing over the second cup of wine.
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 trouble-maker 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 other people at the table keep their eyes closed and try to imagine that it is you who are going through this experience, you who have the doubts about Moses and the possibility of a radical transformation, and you who finally is able to take that leap of faith. And allow yourself to feel what that must feel like when you can do that in your own life today!
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 closer to your highest spiritual self?
MATZAH: The Torah tells us that the Israelites had to take the 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. But 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, homosexuals, 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 still persists in our own time in the use of double standards in the judgment of Jews, in acts of violence against Jews, and in refusing to acknowledge the history of Jewish suffering as equal to the suffering of other victims of oppressive social regimes in Christian, Islamic, and some secular societies, as well. 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. Both 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 every night as you eat: bring God and God’s message of love, generosity, peace, social justice, ecological sanity, and caring for others into every meal that you eat.
Enjoy the meal. Following the meal, say a blessing expressing thanks to God for the food and by 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 we eat and enjoy a tasty meal. After you have eaten, dance to some music — or move around the table and talk to people whom you don’t know.
Find the Aﬁkomen, symbolizing part of you that was split off and must be reintegrated into your full being to be a whole and free person. Each person eats a bit of this Afikomen.
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 2nd 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 and 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 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. Others use the violence done to us as an excuse to be insensitive to the violence done to others — as though our pain was 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 did individual acts of saving Jews and gypsies and homosexuals who were targetted 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, anti-Islam, 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.
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 makes 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.
Eliyahu ha navee Eliyahu HaTishbee Eliyahu
Eliyahu Eliyahu HaGeeladee
Beem heyrah beyameynu, Yavoe eyleynu eem
mashi’ach ben David
Miriyam Ha nivi’ah Oz vezimrah beyadah
Miriyam Miriyam le taken ha’olam
Beem heyrah beyameynu Tavoe eileynu eem
Now let us build together a communal vision of what messianic redemption would look like.
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.
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!
Blessing over the fourth cup of wine.
Sing songs of liberation!
If you like the kind of Judaism represented in this Haggadah supplement, please read Rabbi Lerner’s book Jewish Renewal and his Fall 2011 book Embracing Israel/Palestine. And/or please donate to Tikkun and/or join Beyt Tikkun Synagogue. You may also send a check to Tikkun, 2342 Shattuck Ave., #1200, Berkeley, California, 94704, 510-644-1200. Or send us an email.
We hope to publish a complete Tikkun Haggadah with Hebrew and English text as well as some of the ideas in this supplement–keep in touch by reading our magazine online at www.tikkun.org (or even better, becoming a subscriber so that we can continue to produce work such as this).
YOU ARE INVITED TO USE THIS SUPPLEMENT IN YOUR OWN HOME FOR PERSONAL SEDERS. FOR INSTITUTIONAL USE, PLEASE SEEK PERMISSION FROM RABBI LERNER. COPYRIGHT 2011 BY MICHAEL LERNER.