This is meant as a supplement to a traditional Haggadah and you can introduce whichever parts you like to your Seder to provoke a lively discussion. Or you can use this as the basis for a new, alternative Haggadah. Feel free to post it online and tell your friends about it through social media.
Because the Passover Seder has been such an effective method of passing on the message of Judaism to newer generations (and according to recent polls, over 90% of American Jews attend a Seder each year), it is our strong belief that secular social change movements should come together with spiritual progressives to create a yearly celebration of the victories achieved for economic and social justice. It could be done using a format similar to a seder as a powerful way to pass on many of the stories of oppression and liberation to the next generations. To encourage such a celebration, we at Tikkun would like to edit and compile a new “haggadah” (it literally means ‘telling’) for such a celebration and invite you and any creative artists, poets, and activists you know to send us whatever you think should be in such a composition, including the actual written descriptions of these struggles. Please keep in mind that to really include all or even many of these struggles, the descriptions of them are going to have to be relatively short, but still deep enough to touch the hearts of younger people who do not know those histories. Send these to RabbiLerner.Tikkun@gmail.com. And spread the idea to any social justice movement of which you are a part and invite them to participate in this creation of a new inclusive ritual for liberation – perhaps it could actually happen!
A Note to Non-Jews: You are very welcome at our Seder! Jesus was a Jew and the Last Supper was a Seder. Our supplement affirms the liberatory message that is part of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and is also found in many other religious and spiritual traditions. You may find some of this ritual helpful if you create your own rite to celebrate the key insight of Easter or of any of the spring holidays of the world: that rebirth, renewal, and transformation are possible, and that we are not stuck in the dark, cold, and deadly energies of winter. Judaism builds on that universal experience of nature and adds another dimension: it suggests that the class structure (slavery, feudalism, capitalism, or neoliberal imperialism) can be overcome, and that we human beings, created in the image of the Transformative Power of the Universe (God), can create a world based on love, generosity, justice, and peace.
A NOTE TO EVERYONE:
We understand God 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 all 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. And you are, of course, welcome at our Seder even if you think all of this makes no sense and there is no God. You don’t have to share this belief to be a welcome participant in this celebration.
Here is why we talk about God at our Seder, even though the God we are talking about is not a big all-powerful and judgmental super-man in heaven: 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 of transformation and healing) that many of us 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 or Easter celebration not only a wonderful opportunity to be with friends, family, and community, but also a moment to make new personal commitments to be part of the transformation we celebrate and which our society and the planet earth so badly need. If “God talk” distracts you from connecting to the transformative and loving energy of the universe and recognizing your inner resources for being part of that universal energy, then skip anything in our Seder that distracts you in that way. Our goal is to help you connect to the transformative and loving energy of the universe, not to sell you on any particular approach on how to make that connection. Tikkun magazine has secular writers and thinkers (including militant atheists) as well as writers who embrace some variant of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and many other religions as well, so we don’t want you to think that our Seder is restricted to people who believe in the often patriarchal, judgmental, and sometimes even obnoxious stories about God that have been at times associated with many religious traditions, including Judaism, in the past. Yet there are deep spiritual and universal truths and wisdom embedded in these religions, and we don’t want to discard those truths and wisdom even as we do seek to discard the patriarchal, homophobic, and “we are better than everyone else” elements in many of the religious beliefs, rituals, practices, and stories of the past. Nor do we minimize the way some people claiming to represent those religions today end up demeaning others who do not share their religious approach, or incorporate and promote racist, sexist, homophobic or xenophobic teachings and attitudes, or sometimes kill others in the name of their religion. Yet today, in virtually every religion on the planet there are other voices emerging that explicitly reject those kinds of teachings, embrace the equal value of every single person on the planet, and are engaged in the struggles for liberation and environmental sanity. Our Network of Spiritual Progressives, and Tikkun magazine bring those voices together to work for a world of justice, nonviolence, love, generosity, caring for each other and caring for the planet.
Our Hasidic masters pointed out that the Hebrew word for Egypt (mitzrayim) could also be understood as the narrow place of consciousness. To be a slave is to see only the small picture placed in front of you by the powerful. Understood in that way, the liberation struggle is a process that must continue from generation to generation.
When faced with the enormity of the environmental crisis that advanced industrial societies have played a major role in creating, the temptation is to take a little piece of the crisis and see what we can do to fix it. Recycle here, stop fracking there, or oppose a new oil pipeline. Yet for every struggle won, the dynamics of capitalist economies – which must continually find new raw materials and create new markets – guarantee that larger forms of destruction will continue. This ongoing destruction will eventually wear many of us down and lead to a despairing passivity.
That’s why Tikkun and the Network of Spiritual Progressives have advanced a more comprehensive plan, the Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (ESRA), which would require public funding of all state and national elections and ban every other source of money (e.g. donations from individuals, corporations, and political parties) and require the largest corporations to prove a satisfactory history of environmental responsibility in order to do business or sell their products or services in the United States. Read it at www.tikkun.org/esra.
In addition to the thousands of local projects to save the planet, social change movements and activists need to campaign for a New Bottom Line so that all our social, economic, and political systems and institutions are judged “efficient, rational, or productive” not to the extent that they maximize money and power (the Old Bottom Line) but to the extent that they maximize love, generosity, environmental sanity, sustainability, and enhance our capacity to transcend a narrow utilitarian or instrumental attitude toward each other by treating one another as embodiments of the sacred and toward Nature with awe, wonder, and radical amazement, cherishing it rather than primarily trying to find a way to turn its land, animals, oceans, water, air, and minerals into commodities for sale in the economic marketplace.
Unrealistic? Yes. Just like every other liberation struggle and attempt to move beyond the narrow consciousness of what is possible that has been drummed into our heads by the Pharaohs of every age. Passover must become the time to replenish our energies to become the agents of an expanded consciousness that can envision and create a world that lives in harmony with planet Earth – God’s gift to us.
Unrealistic? Yes. Just like every liberation struggle and every attempt to move beyond the narrow consciousness of what is possible that has been drummed into our heads by the Pharaohs of every age. Passover can become the time to replenish our energies to become the agents of an expanded consciousness that can envision and then create a world that lives in harmony with planet Earth. Whatever makes these kinds of transformation possible is an important part of what we mean when we talk about God. Our experience leads us to realize that many (not all) of the people who fill up our churches, synagogues and mosques don’t really believe in this God — they utter the words but then when they go back into the world they accept as fixed the basics of a world of oppression, injustice, inequality, selfishness, materialism, and war and mass incarceration and racist and sexist realities. Too many of them are cynical about those who think that something fundamental can be changed — and they preach to spiritual progressives that we are too idealistic and completely unrealistic to take seriously the Bible’s call for loving the stranger and redistributing wealth every fifty years and loaning money without interest to those in need and not holding grudges and not speaking negatively about others but instead recognizing the God in each person on the planet. Conversely there are those who proclaim their atheism or agnosticism who nevertheless become activists in the world, willing to commit time and energy and money to transformation, acting as though it really is possible to build fundamental change toward a world of justice, peace, nonviolence, generosity, social and economic justice, and environmental sanity, and who respond to Nature with awe and wonder. From our standpoint, these are the people – together with spiritual progressives in every religious community — whose actions are testifying to the God which we celebrate on Passover.
A quick note on pronunciation of our transliterated Hebrew: when you see the letters ‘kh’ together, they are now the current way of writing the sound chuh (not like ch in chopped liver, but a more guttural sound, as in simcha, l’cha’im, or Chanukah, that in Hebrew is the letter chet). We’ve left the ‘ch’ many places, however, and only put ‘kh’ in places where we think it likely the ‘ch’ might be mispronounced.
Lighting the Candles
To start the Seder, light the candles for Passover. Recite:
Bruckha at Yah, Shekhina, Ru’akh ha’olam, asher kidshanu be’mitzvoteha, veh tzee vanu le’hadleek ner shel yom tov.
Barukh ata Ado-nai (YHVH), Eloheynu Melekh Ha’olam, asher kidshanu be mitzvotav veh’tzee’vanu leh’’hadleek ner shel yom tov.
(On Sabbath say: Baruch ata Ado-nai (YHVH), Eloheynu Melekh Ha’olam, asher kidshanu be mitzvotav vet zee vanu le’hadleek ner shel Shabbat ve yom tov.)
Next, bless the children (any children at the Seder, but also all the children on earth). 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-varekh-eckha YHVH ve’yish’me’rekha. Ya’er YHVH panav eylekha vee’khunekha. Yisah YHVH panav ey’lekha ve’yasem lekha Shalom.
(May God/Shekhinah bless and keep you. May God/Shekhinah shine Her face on you and be gracious to you. May God/Shechinah lift up Her face to you and all the world, and grant you and all people peace and happiness.
We also want to invite into our Seder the spirit of all those who are precious to us but who are no longer on this planet – family members, friends, teachers, students, or others who inspired us, even those we didn’t know personally (e.g. the prophets Jeremiah or Isaiah, Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Martin Buber, Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Joshua Heschel, the Dalai Lama, Rosa Luxemburg, Simone De Beauvoir or anyone else with whom you’d love to share this experience). Close your eyes for a moment and bring their energy and spirit into this room.
In the midst of the struggle for freedom, we must never forget the many blessings we already have in our lives. Not only do we live at the top of the food chain, as evidenced by the delicious food we have here tonight, and not only do we live in one of the most affluent countries of the world, but we also live at a moment when we have the benefit of the experience and wisdom of a thousand generations that went before us and left us a legacy from which we can draw. That legacy teaches us about the importance of treating every human being as created in the image of God. Building on that insight, our tradition goes on to emphasize the importance of creating a world of social justice, peace, environmental sanity, love and kindness, forgiveness, and generosity – not only for ourselves, but for everyone else on the planet as well. At times the task seems overwhelming, and we can get exhausted and momentarily overwhelmed or even pessimistic, but as Rabbi Tarfon taught some two thousand years ago, “it is not incumbent upon us to finish the task, but neither are we free to desist from the best possible effort to make it happen.”
And yes, this is a blessing. To inherit the wisdom of our prophets and sages, and to live at a moment when we can also feel secure enough in our own heritage to be able to be open to the wisdom of all the religious and spiritual traditions of the human race, and all the secular liberation traditions including the teachings of Marx and Freud, Marcuse and Sartre, the feminist movement and the GLBTQ movement, and teachers like Thich Nhat Hanh, Sister Joan Chittister, Ella Baker, Howard Thurman, Maya Angelou, James Cone, Rev. Brian McLaren, Fannie Lou Hamer, Judith Plaskow, Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Uri Avnery, Sami Awad, Vincent Harding, and Father John Dear. And Pope Francis, whose environmental teachings offer the world inspiration even as we urge him to move his church toward full equality for women – to honor their choices about their own bodies and support birth control so that every child is wanted and we reduce the numbers of human beings born each year to a level that the earth can sustain and who can grow up with adequate food, shelter, health care, and love.
What a glorious moment when the wisdom of all peoples and the information provided to us by science and the humanities all combine to provide us with a glorious feast of wisdom from which we can draw whenever we have time to do so!
And while this is also a moment of enormous environmental challenges, we are also blessed to be able to draw upon the scientific and technological knowledge which can, in the hands of those who approach our current reality with a spirit of generosity and caring equally for all of the world’s people, be a powerful resource to heal and repair our planet. We pray that this accumulated knowledge will help us eliminate Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, strokes, heart attacks, and many other debilitating conditions, and we believe that this can and will happen – may it be quickly in our own lifetimes! We have seen many miraculous developments when science and technology are harnessed not solely or primarily to maximize corporate profits but to solving the needs of all humanity.
So yes, this is a moment to acknowledge our many blessings, and also to thank the many people who have given their life energies as schoolteachers, writers, poets, painters, musicians, artists, philosophers, social theorists, nurses, doctors, practitioners of alternative health care methodologies, child care workers, scientific researchers, social change activists, community organizers, agents of the public sector, rabbis, priests, ministers, spiritual leaders, teachers of meditation or yoga, and progressive political activists, along with all the many others who have used their intelligence and creativity to serve their fellow human beings and to advance the liberation of all humanity from physical, psychological, and spiritual suffering! To all of these we offer our gratitude, even as we offer our gratitude to the spiritual force of the universe that Jews have traditionally called Yud Hey Vav Hey or Adonai, which has been translated into English as “God.” So take a moment now to shut your eyes and let come into your consciousness something in your life for which you are truly grateful, and then share that with others at this celebration.
Many Jews have trouble recognizing all our blessings because we still bear 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 fear – manifesting as a need to control – rather than through the religious framework of hope, love, and generosity that has been a cornerstone of Jewish consciousness for centuries.
Instead of putting down those who are still traumatized and fearful, we must have deep compassion for the distorting impact of their fears and memories. Our task is to help them heal from those psychic wounds without validating their way of thinking about the world. We at _________ (name here of your own community, synagogue, havurah, church, mosque, ashram, or other community from which you draw spiritual strength, whether that be the Network of Spiritual Progressives, Beyt Tikkun Synagogue-Without-Walls, or some other community) seek to rebuild and reaffirm a Judaism (or whatever other religious, spiritual, or secular humanist community you are part of) 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. (We invite people from other religious communities to take any part of this supplement which you find useful and use it to build a celebration of your own, drawing upon the spiritual riches of your own heritage or spiritual community.)
Around your Seder table, take turns reading aloud the paragraphs below
Sing the order of the Seder:
Kadesh, Urchatz, Karpas, Yachatz, Magid, Rachtsah, Motzi Matza, Maror, Koreych, Shulchan Orech, Tsafoon, Barech, Halel, Nirtzah.
Please note: the Seder is not over when we eat dinner. There is a second part, the third and fourth cups of wine or grape juice, the welcoming of Elijah the Prophet who is to announce the messianic era, and much more singing. Please stay later than you planned to stay!
Please fill the cup for Elijah
Occupy Elijah: a poem written by Beyt Tikkun member Renna Ulvang during the Occupy movement, Passover 2012
Elijah: Who are you?
Are you the fiery, feisty, blustery prophet of God?
Or the one to whom God appeared, not in a storm, not in a fire, not in an earthquake but as a still small voice?
What could you possibly bring to our Seder, tonight?
You, The One who rates a seat at our table and yet never occupies
The One for whom we fill a wineglass which sits as an undrunk void
The One for whom we wait at the open door, gazing hopefully into the darkness,
Looking for a holy sign
That never shows itself
But wait: what if we were able to feel your presence changing us?
The wine glass an invitation to go inside ourselves and find spaces yearning to be filled by God
As you did so long ago
And the empty chair,
All the places in ourselves and in the world we long to occupy
The invitations we want to send to our own dear, lost selves,
Come! Sit down we would say to the vanquished parts of us, our courage, stubbornness, outrage, ferocity, sweetness
And what if we stood at the door
And instead of darkness we saw our own and the fragile beautiful face of every living thing
Reflected in the silvery light of the moon
And what if we stopped waiting
And became you
And transformed our plangent reticence
Into a force to do God’s work
And we would be filled
And we would be occupied
And we would be still
And we would receive the Holy Word
And we wouldn’t have to wait anymore
Because we would BE the Mashiach we are waiting for.
Before blessing the wine, read together:
We are the descendants of a people that have told a story of liberation from slavery and placed that story at the very center of our religion, most of our holidays, and the Torah read each Shabbat. We took upon ourselves the task of telling the people of the world that nothing is fixed, that the world can be fundamentally transformed, and that together we can build an economic, political, social, and cultural reality based on love and generosity, peace and nonviolence, social and economic justice, and caring for each other and the world. That is our inherited calling as the Jewish people.
We Jews remember ourselves as having been slaves who then managed to revolt against the existing order and free ourselves from bondage. 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 make people in every generation become passive, despairing, depressed, or resigned to an oppressive reality.
Yet in every generation there is a different voice, the voice of the Force of Healing and Transformation, Yud Hey Vav Hey, Adonai, 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 – whatever it is about the universe that makes it possible to overcome the internalized oppression we all carry, so that we are able to participate in the struggles to heal and transform the world. 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.
Yet as much as we must celebrate the victories of the past, we are also sadly aware of the oppressive realities of the present. For that reason it is crucial that Passover and Easter not become hollow celebrations of past victories and past resurrections of hope. Instead they should be occasions to remind ourselves of the present depraved social reality on this planet that allows 2.5 billion people to struggle to stay alive on less than $2 a day, 1.5 billion of whom live in horrible conditions 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 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. But many people mistakenly conclude that now that these outlandish realities have been widely publicized, somehow they’ve been taken care of. But they have not – and the suffering continues.
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 millions of people in our jails and prisons (facing brutality at the hands of police), the underemployed, the African American and Latino young men who are often targets of random violence from police or others, 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 raise the fees of public education, those whose lives are burdened by huge debt accrued to pay for college or graduate or professional school tuitions, or those who are likely to lose their jobs in the next few years when trade pacts encourage corporations to move their resources abroad and socially irresponsible corporate leaders seek to evade taxes, safety and health regulations, and environmental regulations by closing or reducing their operations in the advanced industrial countries and instead employing workers in the global south and east who will work without these protections and for much lower wages.
While some of us don’t suffer from the forms of deprivation described above, all of us do suffer from a spiritual and psychological deprivation generated by the ethos of the global capitalist system. Many of us 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. The psycho-spiritual suffering generated by the way people internalize and then act out with others the materialism and selfishness that are at the core of the ethos of global capitalism guarantees that almost everyone, even those who materially benefit from this system, are also its victims. The deprivation of love and generosity crosses all class lines — so in a way everyone is part of the downtrodden, psychological and spiritual casualties of the very same system that puts others out of work, makes them jobless, homeless, hungry, desperate, or scared that they will soon be among the economic casualties of this system. 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. One of the reasons people have shown so much anger and rage at establishment-oriented candidates in all major political parties is they correctly sense in the global capitalist system and its media a fundamental disrespect toward them and their needs, and don’t know how they could possibly get this system and the people whose consciousness is shaped by this system to ever see them as who they really are — beautiful manifestations of the spiritual reality of the universe. They hunger for what Peter Gabel calls “mutual recognition” — the ability to be seen not for what they can do for others but as beings who elicit from others caring, empathy, and genuine emotional and spiritual connection. In some places, the rage that this generates manifests in terrorism, in other places in emotional depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, television or Facebook addiction, and you can name other forms of escape from the pain and loneliness and lack of loving community that too many people experience as their daily reality.
Pause here for a moment to look around and see the beauty of everyone at this Seder!
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 through retelling the story to their children, and just as the early Christians who encountered Jesus’ 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, rejecting those who preach “being realistic.”
We do not come to this task with the arrogance implicit in suggesting that we already have lived a life that fully embodies these values. Ruling elites grew fearful and hostile toward Jews because they were afraid we would spread our message that the world can be fundamentally changed. As a result, they attempted (with frequent success) to spread hatred toward Jews among their own peoples and their co-religionists. At many times in the past twenty centuries, it was unsafe to be a Jew. As a result, many Jews have run away from our highest spiritual vision and instead try to be “a nation like all other nations.” In the process, some of us have ended up working with and benefitting from the institutions of exploitation and oppression. This occurred in the Middle Ages, when Jews were offered very limited job options and some ended up as tax and rent collectors and thus the most visible face of the feudal lords whom we served. And it is also true in the modern capitalist period, in which some of our brethren have become the moguls of Wall Street, investment bankers, corporate lawyers, media tycoons, and political operatives serving the status quo of Western imperialism and justifying the huge inequalities in wealth and power in the U.S. and around the world.
Yet there has also been a core of our people who have managed not to allow fear to dominate our consciousness, and who in various ways have tried to remain true to the liberation vision of Judaism. We are proud that even at a time when some Jews preach that our narrow self-interest should lead us to support a preemptive war against Iran and a solidarity with the rich and super-rich (the top 1 percent of wealth holders), the overwhelming majority of Jewish people in the Diaspora continue to vote for liberal or progressive candidates for public office who, when they are at their best, provide a bulwark against the most reactionary forces in our world. These voting patterns have made Jews the most reliable electoral ally for people of color in Western societies, in spite of the fact that those Jews who vocally espouse racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia continue to get disproportionate media attention.
As we lift our cup of wine to say the prayers for sanctification of this joyous holiday, we recommit ourselves to the struggle for a world in which our society’s “success” is judged by how much our economic, political, and social systems tend to increase the amount of love, caring, kindness, generosity, and awe and wonder at the grandeur and mystery of the universe.
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 peoples are truly free.
Recite the following and drink the first glass:
Brucha at Yah Shechinah, ru’ach ha’olam, boreyt pree ha’gafen. Barukh ata YHVH, Eloheynu Melekh Ha’olam Borey pree ha gafen.
Barukh Atah Adonai, Eloheynu melekh ha’olam, asher bakhar banu eem kol am, ve’romemanu eem kol lashion, ve’keedeshanu be’mitzvotav. Va’tee’teyn lanu YHVH eloheynu be’ahavah et yom (on Sabbath add: ha’Shabbt ha’zeh veh’et) chag hamatzot ha’zeh, z’man khey’ru-teynu, meekrah koe’desh, zeykher leh’tziyat Mitz’rah’eem. Kee vanu vakharta, ve’oe’tanu keedashta eem kol ha’ameem, u’moe’adey kod’shekha beh’simkha u’v’sa’sone heen’khaltunu. Barukh ata YHVH, meh’kadesh Yisra’eyl ve’ha’zma’nim.
Barukh ata YHVH Eloheynu melekh ha’olam, sheh’hechee’yanu, veh’keeyeh’manu veh’hee’g’ee’yanu la’zman ha’zeh.
(Drink the first cup of grape juice or wine.)
Though we are here to celebrate our liberation from Egypt as Jews, we are also here to celebrate the liberation struggles and victories of all people on the planet. Sadly, most of the stories of such liberation struggles have been lost because those who served the ruling elites mostly wrote the history of our human experience — and those elites had no interest in preserving the memories of such struggles. Still, we can rejoice at the freedom experienced by millions of people when slavery was replaced for many by a form of feudalism that gave some rights and entitlements to peasants who worked the land for the powerful land owners; and the freedom experienced by millions of people when feudal arrangements were replaced by capitalist societies who gave legal rights to people which may have been violated in practice but nevertheless were real advances. We can celebrate also the victories of freedom achieved, however limited, when the U.S. freed itself from English domination, when the French Revolution overthrew the ruthless monarchy of the past, and when subsequent revolutions in Europe allowed the Jews to come out of the ghettoes and become equal citizens with Christians in the last half of the 19th century. We can celebrate the end of slavery in the U.S., partial and flawed as the subsequent segregation was, just as we can celebrate the victories of national liberation struggles in South and Central America, Africa, and Asia in the 20th century when determined peoples overcame colonial and imperial regimes. We can celebrate the victory to end apartheid in South Africa, the victory to end British rule over much of Ireland, the victory of the Vietnamese people to overcome the harsh regimes created by the French and then by the U.S. We can celebrate the freeing of serfs in Russia and the overthrow of the rule of the Czars, the toppling of feudal realities in China and the partial liberation of hundreds of thousands of peasants. And yet, in every case, including our own liberation from Egypt, when we look carefully we see that what followed often had new and different forms of oppression, but also new possibilities for future struggles to overthrow those new forms of oppression. So we invite YOU, the people at our Seder, to now call out other liberation struggles, like those of our own people, that you want to honor tonight, even though you know as do we that every struggle has been only partial, and that the struggle for liberation must continue everywhere on our planet including in our own country. So call out the struggles of all peoples and all nations that we should be honoring. And if anyone here has a song that was sung by people in such a struggle and you are wiling to share it with us, or a poem connected to that struggle, please share it now!
As we wash our hands, we imagine washing away all cynicism and despair. We allow ourselves to be filled with the hope that the world can be transformed in accord with our highest vision of the good. We wash away our own sense of powerlessness – because powerlessness corrupts.
The irony of systems of oppression in the contemporary world 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 frameworks 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.
Here are some ideas that keep us oppressed:
*** 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, drug addiction, and also to quiet acquiescence of 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 true 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).
*** The belief that racism has died out because more people of color have entered the middle class, received college, university, and professional school educations, or even acquired positions in the media, politics, and some corporate board rooms. Yet for large parts of minority communities, these victories have been very partial, not impacting the disproportionate number of minorities that can’t get employment, health care, quality education, or affordable housing. There are also many forces seeking to reverse what gains have been accomplished (e.g. making it more difficult for African Americans and Latinos to vote). Tonight we stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in all of the minority communities in America, in solidarity with those fighting against racism and the way police often single out minorities for special levels of brutality on the streets and in our prisons, with those who rightly try to remind everyone that Black Lives Matter, and with those who are championing the rights and needs of the homeless, the undocumented, and all the refugees both in the U.S. and around the world.
Can we commit ourselves to a different path that includes demanding that our political representatives challenge, rather than glorify, the values and ethos of global capitalism, embrace the demand for a living wage (not just a minimum wage) for all working people, and embrace the Global Marshall Plan www.tikkun.org/gmp and the ESRA and even create a public discussion of what democratic control of the economy might look like? As we wash our hands, let us wash away all the parts of us that collaborate with or remain silent in the face of systems of oppression or are cynical of the possibility of fundamental change!
(Hand washing without a blessing — pass around a bowl and a pitcher of water and pour the water on each hand.)
We eat a vegetable and celebrate spring and hope, rejoicing in the bountiful blessings of the earth as it renews itself. We are all too aware that environmental damage is increasing rapidly. The free market, in a relentless fury to amass profits, has generated tens of thousands of corporate ventures and products that, as a whole and with some notable exceptions, have combined to do incalculable damage to the life-support system of the planet even as they provide electronic games, Facebook and social media, and other sometimes pleasurable distractions from the loneliness that a commodity-accumulating society generates. While some have falsely come to believe that individual acts of earth-caring can change the big picture, the reality is that the life-support system of the planet can only be saved through a transformation of our entire economic system. We need to create an economic system that no longer relies on endless growth or promotes the notion that our well-being comes from accumulating and owning things and experiences, and that each of us should be maximizing our own well-being without regard to the global consequences of our personal actions.
Ecological sanity cannot be achieved without global economic justice. We can be inspired by the Torah’s call for a redistribution of wealth every fifty years (the Yovel or Jubilee) and for a Sabbatical Year (every seventh year in which everyone stops work for a year and the earth has an opportunity to refresh itself and all of us in our society have an year to refresh our spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and physical selves). Unless we can overcome our capitalism-induced fantasy that the world cannot survive unless we produce new apps and new updates every year to our automobiles, computers, cell phones, clothes, and endless other gadgets, and hence that we cannot as a society stop this process which “must” go on, we have scant chance of avoiding the coming environmental crisis.
And there is a resource in all humans that could make it possible for us to overcome the capitalist conditioning to which we’ve all been subjected. There is a hunger in most human beings for a sense of meaning and purpose to our lives that cannot be achieved by material accumulation or consumption of endless new technologies, no matter how entertaining they may be. People hunger for loving communities, a sense that they are being cared for and loved not only for what they can achieve in the competitive marketplace but also simply for who they are as a human being, and hunger too for a connection to the mystery and majesty of the universe, seen not as something to be exploited by humans but as a magnificent and awe-inspiring reality.
As the prospect of an ecological catastrophe that will cause an end to nature and the life-support system of the planet seems to be seeping into our consciousness, more and more people are regaining the capacity to experience Nature the way the supposedly “primitive” peoples of the past experienced it — as alive and as feeling the pain that human “progress” has inflicted upon Mother Earth.
Some of us are exploring ways to see the earth as having rights that we must respect, others of us are feeling the deep depression that the earth must be feeling as it gets closer to being further devastated by the destruction of its forests, its oceans, its waterways, its farm land — and that depression unconsciously impacts every one of us! While many succumb to despair, growing numbers of the younger generations are inspired to save the earth, though few have yet understood that doing so requires a transformation of our economic and political system and not just recycling or installing solar panels or eating organic foods or stopping fracking, important as all those really are. A first step is to help people develop a new consciousness in which we look at the world not solely as a resource to fulfill human needs, but also 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 as though they were a bottomless cookie jar, and instead care for the earth with awe and reverence. This is why the Network of Spiritual Progressives promotes the idea of a New Bottom Line (see spiritualprogressives.org/covenant) and why it promotes the ESRA (Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution) as a way to open a discussion about the kind of world we want.
We are in the midst of a huge spiritual and environmental crisis. The global capitalist economic system can create prosperity for some, but it also cultivates greed, fraud, and a selfish looking-out-for-number-one mentality. 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.
We approach the earth not only as our sustainer, vital to our personal survival, but also as a sacred place worthy of our respect and awe. Jewish tradition gives us a set of practices to enhance our ability to overcome the narrow instrumental approach to nature and to strengthen our capacities to stop the struggle for survival or domination of nature and turn to the celebration and awe of nature. The first is the weekly practice of Shabbat – twenty-five hours in which we turn off our computers, telephones, and television, refuse to use money or credit cards, refrain from shopping or working, and just focus on celebrating the grandeur and awesome reality of the universe. Shabbat is also a moment to celebrate our freedom (every week a mini-Passover) and focus on joy, awe, and pleasure. Yes, Judaism is pro-pleasure, and once a week is given over to the spiritual and physical immersion in permitted pleasures, including good, healthy, vegetarian food and love-based sexuality.
Dip some parsley or celery or some other green vegetable into the salt water, symbolic not only of our past suffering from oppression, but also of our tears for the suffering of the earth, and the suffering of all on this planet who are caught up in systems of oppression: Brucha at Yah Shechinah, ru’ach chey ha’olamim, boreyt pree ha’adamah.
Adamah, veh’ Shamayim
Adamah, veh’ Shamayim Chom Ha’esh, u’Tslil Ha’Mayim, Ani margish zeh beh’gufi, ruchi veh nishmati
Love the earth, love the sky, heat of fire, drop of water, I can feel it in my body, in my spirit, and in my soul – Heya heya heya heya heya heya heya ho
Celebrate and love each other, build a world of peace and justice, we can do it in our lifetime, we can save our planet earth. Heya heya …
Bottom line: awe and wonder, love and kindness, social justice. End the suffering of our planet, be God’s love, be God’s peace. Heya Heya …
[It now becomes appropriate to eat anything vegetarian, including vegetarian chopped liver, baba ghanoush, hummus, vegetable soups, and rice dishes (following the Sephardic custom). The idea of starving ourselves until the first half of the Seder is completed is a distortion that has no legitimate foundation in Jewish law. Let us eat fully of the vegetarian dishes so we can be fully present to the Seder’s messages.]
We break the middle matzah in half, acknowledging our own brokenness and recognizing that imperfect people can usher in liberation. [Take the larger part of that matzah, wrap it in a napkin, and hide it–it will be the Afikoman which must be eaten before the meal is completed and we go on to the second half of the Seder after eating.] There’s no sense waiting until we are totally pure and psychologically and spiritually healthy to get involved in tikkun (the healing and repair of the world). It will be imperfect people – wounded healers – who heal and transform the world, even as we simultaneously commit to doing ongoing psychological and spiritual work on ourselves. Whenever we fail to do this inner work, our distortions paralyze our social transformative movements. And whenever we tell ourselves that we have to postpone being involved in social transformation work until we are the fullest embodiment of our most ideal and healthy selves, we are voting to allow the status quo to continue, because that state of perfection will never come except as a result of working on both the psycho-spiritual level and the institutional change level at the same time.
The broken matzah may also be seen as symbolizing the need for the Jewish people to give up the fantasy of running and controlling all of Palestine, when in fact what we need is a two-state solution or one state with equal rights for all.
We cannot celebrate this Passover without acknowledging the biggest distortion in Jewish life today – the often blind worship of the State of Israel in an era when Israel has become for the Palestinian people the current embodiment of Pharaoh-like oppression.
Israel, which describes itself as “the state of the Jewish people,” has failed to embody the highest values of the Jewish tradition in the way it treats our brothers and sisters, the Palestinian people. This treatment includes the human rights violations and the slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza, the seizing of Arab and Bedouin lands, the imprisonment of thousands of Palestinians without a trial by their peers.
While both many Jews around the world and many Americans are in denial about the brutality of Israel’s occupation and the suffering caused by its blockade of Gaza, the revelations by Israeli soldiers themselves of acts of brutality they personally witnessed their peers committing in Gaza and the West Bank, and assaults on random West Bank Palestinians and the destruction of their olive trees, all documented by B’Tselem (the Israeli human rights organization), Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel, and the soldiers’ organization Breaking the Silence, cause many Jews to be deeply saddened and outraged at Israel’s behavior. These are not isolated incidents. They are the inevitable consequence of imposing and enforcing occupation.
Instead of listening to this information, the government of the State of Israel seeks to demonize those who are documenting and talking publicly about these unholy activities and policies and the resultant oppression of the Palestinian people (and other non-Jewish refugees). Instead, members of the Knesset and the Israeli government label as “traitors” and “self-hating Jews” and “anti-Semites who are worse than Hitler” those who reveal this information. We are very aware that this demonization of fellow Jews has led some to feel justified in killing or physically attacking these “traitors” (e.g. the murder of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, whose attempts to implement the Oslo Accords were similarly denounced as acts of a “traitor” and even “Nazi”). We watch and are stunned that the free speech and robust debate that used to be Israel’s pride are now being challenged and dramatically reduced both for Palestinians and for ethically sensitive Israelis.
We are not Jews who reject Israel or think that it is the worst human rights violator on the planet. It is NOT! The United States’ role in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, supporting dictatorships in South and Central America, seeking to overthrow progressive regimes (and not so long ago in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos), the genocide in Darfur, the repression of Buddhism in Tibet and systematic denial of basic human rights in China, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and many other Arab states, and the horrendous deeds committed by the Islamic State (ISIL or ISIS) are moral outrages of equal or greater proportion (and you can add others to this list). And we are aware that the attempt by Hamas to bomb the cities of Israel in the summer of 2014, though provoked by Israeli acts and by the intransigence of the Israeli government in refusing to end the Occupation of the West Bank and in blockading Gaza and causing much suffering, contributed greatly to an electoral victory of the hard-right-wing in Israel, which is unlikely to allow either Palestinians equal rights or a Palestinian state to emerge. And we have great compassion for Israelis who fear that the violence of the Islamic State, only a short distance from Israel, might spill over to Palestinians. But the way to prevent all this is to end the conflict with Palestinians and create a lasting peace by manifesting a spirit of generosity and seeing the spirit of God in the Palestinian people as it is in all people including even the most reactionary Israelis.
We do not accept any account that one-sidedly blames the Jewish people or the Palestinian people for the development of this conflict. We recognize the role of centuries of Christian oppression of Jews that eventually led Jews to believe that we desperately needed a state of our own. We understand the role of European colonialism and American imperialism in creating the map of the Middle East, arming elites who would sell oil to the West while repressing those who wanted the revenues for those sales to be shared with the people of the region, overthrowing the first democratically elected regime in Iran in 1953, supporting Iraq’s war with Iran in the 1980s, then later invading Iraq and creating torture centers so shameful that the U.S. government still refuses to let its citizens see the photos and detailed information of what the CIA and U.S. Army did. No wonder many Middle Eastern Muslims came to feel outrage toward the West in general and toward Israel in particular (insofar as they perceived Israel as little more than an extension of Western power).
But none of this justifies the anti-Semitic rhetoric that has become popular in many Muslim countries and the teaching of hatred in some mosques against Jews whether or not they support Israel’s oppressive policies toward Palestinians and who do not accept the very existence of the State of Israel and spread horrendous calumnies against all Jews. And no wonder many Jews, learning about this growing anti-Semitism, instead of urging Israel to change its policies, fear they may need a safe place to escape and hence give blind loyalty to the State of Israel. We urge those who embrace any story that portrays either side of this conflict as “the righteous victim” and the other side as the “evil other” to read Embracing Israel/Palestine: A Strategy for Middle East Peace (which you can order at www.tikkun.org/eip) to get a more balanced view. Even as we recognize that at this moment it is Israel that has the vastly greater power and hence the greater responsibility to make dramatic concessions, it is also important to see the ways in which both sides have legitimate claims and both sides have been unnecessarily hurtful, provocative, and violent, lacking compassion and empathy for the other side. Demonization of Israel may make some Americans on the Left and some American Jews feel they are “doing something” in the face of the frustration they feel at not having been able to win the majority of Americans to recognize the humanity and human rights of Palestinians, and we share that frustration, but it is actually counterproductive to building the psycho-spiritual preconditions for Israelis to change their policies. We who support reconciliation have not even won a majority of Americans to our perspective, so even the most liberal or progressive candidates for public office tell us that they dare not support any demand on Israel that would be considered “anti-Israel” by the supporters of Israel’s most extreme right-wing government, which de facto means that they cannot support any public criticism of Israel. We have a lot of educating work to do in the American public before we can be effective in pushing our government to push Israel to a more compassionate and humane policy.
Once there is a will to find a solution, the steps are well known. Two states, living in peace with each other, sharing the water and economic resources, creating a common market among themselves and with the other Arab and Muslim states of the region, getting help from the U.S. and Europe to help provide reparations to Palestinians who were forced from their homes, and Jews who fled from rising anti-Semitism in Arab lands, and to help resettle Palestinian refugees in the Palestinian state and 20,000 to 30,000 a year in Israel (in exchange for Israeli settlers being allowed to remain in the West Bank but ONLY as citizens of the Palestinian state who have renounced their Israeli citizenship and agreed to live according to the laws of the Palestinian state as Palestinians living in Israel must live according to the laws of Israel). An appropriate concession from Israel could entail its commitment to enthusiastically assist the Palestinian people’s creation of an economically and politically viable Palestinian state in almost all of the West Bank and Gaza. Doing so in a spirit of generosity and repentance would be a fulfillment of the Torah’s command to “love the other/stranger.”
Too late for a Palestinian state? Ok, then Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza should be offered “one person, one vote” participation in Israeli democracy, but only in a context in which Israel eliminates all discrimination on the basis of nationality or religion, separates synagogue from state, and gives full and equal rights to everyone living within its borders.
Most importantly, there is a pressing need for societal healing of Israelis from Holocaust PTSD and the fear generated by acts of terrorism against random Israelis. Palestinians also need to recover from the trauma not only of the Nakba in 1948 but from the daily oppression, harassment, and killings of Palestinians. One thing is clear: Israel’s current Occupation of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza is unsustainable without causing deep harm to the Jewish people and deep distortions within Judaism. As a people we cannot allow our liberation tradition to become a cover and a distraction from the ways that Jews today are acting as oppressors toward other peoples.
What’s your vision of the path the Jewish people should pursue this year, next year, and the year after that, consistent with our own highest values flowing from the Torah’s teaching that every human being is created “in the image of God” and hence deserving of deep respect and caring from us? Turn to two people around you and share your thoughts. And don’t let anyone tell you that the path of peace is “unrealistic” – because the whole message of our tradition and of Passover is that what appears to be unrealistic from the standpoint of the powerful can become very realistic when people come to be infused with the liberation spirit of YHVH, the Force of Transformation and Healing in the universe. Continue this discussion later, during dinner.
We now lift the matzah and proclaim: “This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat. Whoever is hungry, let her or him come and eat! All the people who are needy – let them come and celebrate Passover. Now we are here, next year may we be in the Land of Israel. Now we are slaves, next year may we be in a world of true liberation.” Ha lachma anya dee achalu ahavatana be’arah deh’mitzrayeeem. Kol deechfeen yeytey ve’yey’chol, kol deetz’rekh veytey ve’yifsach. Hashatah hachah, leShanah Haba’ah beh’ar’ah deYisrael. Hashatah ovdey; le’Shanah Haba’ah beh’ney choreen!
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.
The U.S. government has spent a trillion dollars on a war in Iraq and Afghanistan that ended up providing Sunni extremists from ISIL with sophisticated weapons that they have used to dominate and brutalize parts of Iraq and Syria. We should be taking that level of funding 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 tikkun.org/gmp.
We live in a capitalist society in which we are taught to build psychological and physical barriers to protect ourselves against the poor and the homeless, a society that 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 discuss instead 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 convince 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.
Sharing what we have with everyone in need is meant quite literally. This is the spirit of generosity that is the authentic Jewish spirit, so we must reject all those who tell us that “there is not enough” or that “we cannot afford” to end global and domestic poverty, hunger, homelessness, inadequate education, and inadequate health care. There is enough, we are enough, and we can afford to share.
We are also aware that the hunger today for a life of spiritual meaning and purpose is at the heart of human reality, and that when we say “let all who are hungry come and eat,” we mean to include those who are hungry for spiritual nourishment.
We tell the story of our liberation struggle with embellishments! First we let the children – or the child within all of us – ask the four traditional questions.
A. Mah Nishtanah ha-lie’lah ha’zeh mee kol haleylot? Sheh’bechol haley’lot anu oach’leen chameyzt u’matzah, ha’lie’lah ha’zeh, ha’lie’lah ha’zeh kuloe matzah
Why is this night different from all other nights? On all other nights we get to eat leavened or unleavened food, but tonight only matzah!
B. Sheh’bekhol halyelot anu oach’leen she’ar yerakot, ha’lie’lah ha zeh ha’lie’lah ha’zeh kuloe ma’ror
On all other nights we eat all kinds of veggies, but this night we especially eat bitter herbs!
C. Sheh bechol haleylot eyn anu mat’bee’leen afeeloo pa’am achat, ha’lie’lah hazeh ha’lie lah hazeh sheh’tey pe’ameem
On all other nights we don’t dip our food in salt water even once, but this night we dip twice!
D. Sheh bechol haleylot anu oach’leen beyn yoashveen u’veyn mesubeen, ha lie lah ha’zeh, ha’lie l ha’zeh koo’lanu mesu’been
On all other nights, we can sit straight at the table, but tonight we are all supposed to be leaning back or down and relaxed
Answer (that the adults sing to those who are asking): we were slaves in Egypt, in Egypt, now we are free, compared to that. [Rise and dance around the table]
Avah’deem hayeenu, hayeenu, Atah beh’ney khoa’reen, beh’ney khoa’reen. Avah’deem hayeenu, atah atah beh’ney khoreen beh’ney khoreen.
Then we ask these four additional questions for the adults (and discuss our answers in small groups before going on):
E. Mitzrayim (the word for Egypt in Hebrew) comes from the word tzar, which means narrow. Egypt was the narrow place, the constricted place. All of us have aspects of our lives and consciousness that are still somewhat narrow or constricted. In what ways are you 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 issues that separate us from each other, so that you really experience the pain of others and are deeply moved by that experience and motivated into action to alleviate that pain? Or is it hard for you to go beyond your personal struggles and really involve yourself in the struggles others are facing? What concrete steps are you willing to take to change any ways in which you are stuck in the narrow place, your own personal mitzrayim?
F. What experiences have you had that give you hope? Describe a struggle that you were personally involved in to transform something that actually worked. What did you learn from that?
Moses leads the Jews across the Red Sea. 3rd century CE fresco from Dura-Europos Synagogue, Syria. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
G. 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, according to the Midrash, the waters continued to rise right up to their noses, and only then when these brave souls showed that they really believed in the Force of Healing and Transformation by staying in the water till it reached their noses did the waters split and the Israelites walk through them. Would you be willing to jump into those waters today? In what ways? For example, would you be willing to talk to your neighbors or coworkers or friends or family about the power of love and nonviolence to overcome hatred and fear? Or explain that the New Bottom Line of love, caring for each other and caring for the earth must become our societal criterion for rationality, productivity, and efficiency? Or explain to them how a Strategy of Generosity as manifested in the Network of Spiritual Progressives’ Global Marshal Plan (read it at tikkun.org/gmp) might begin to thaw out the icy fears of people who have previously experienced the Western capitalist countries as primarily self-interested, manipulative, and exploitative? Would you be willing to challenge the global ethos of capitalism with its glorification of the lone individual maximizing his or her own money or power without regard to the well being of everyone else on the planet? One way to do this is to urge organizations and social change movements to endorse the ESRA (Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution). No, it’s not likely to pass in the near future, but just as the Equal Rights Amendment never passed but the struggle for it played a major role in raising consciousness about sexism and patriarchy, so the struggle for the ESRA could yield a major transformation in consciousness about the desirability of having democratic mechanisms to control corporations and the super rich. Or would YOU develop other concrete ways to teach others about the ideas that are fundamental to bring healing and transformation to our global economy, politics, and society? And would you be willing to support candidates for public office who are outside the mainstream media’s view of “realistic” or “likely to win”–and if so, how does that play out for you in the current political reality of the US or whatever country in which you live?
H. For many decades Jewish social change activists have sought to change Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, yet today those policies are harsher than they have been in the past. A recent poll indicated that 48% of Israeli Jews would favor expelling Palestinians from Israel! There are some activists who have joined the movement initiated by Palestinians to seek a global boycott of Israel. This movement calls itself BDS or Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions to compel Israel to change its policies. Some in that movement seek a “one state” solution in which Israel and Palestine would be merged. Others in that movement seek to boycott all Israeli institutions, including academic and cultural institutions. Tikkun magazine has adopted a modified version of this approach, seeking to boycott the Israeli settlements in the Palestinian’s West Bank, and to boycott non-Palestinian firms that operate in the West Bank and firms/corporations that produce equipment or other goods that are used to sustain the West Bank Israeli settlements or to implement the destruction of Palestinian homes by the Israeli occupying force in the West Bank, but NOT to boycott those institutions or cultural or academic institutions which are in the pre-1967 borders of Israel and do not participate in strengthening Israel’s hold on the West Bank. Do you favor either of these forms of BDS, or do you oppose any form of BDS? Some American institutions and politicians have suggested that any form of BDS is necessarily anti-Zionist, anti-Israel, or even anti-Semitic. Do you agree? Discuss this issue either now or over dinner, and follow the discussion in Tikkun magazine where we present many different approaches to this issue and to the fundamental question of how best to support the peace, justice, and human rights movements in Israel and Palestine.
Continue this discussion over dinner and with your friends during and after Passover, Easter, or whatever spring holiday you celebrate.
Now we turn to telling the story of the Exodus and include the recitation of the plagues as we dip drops of wine or grape juice from our cups in remembrance of the suffering of our brethren the Egyptians.
We start by acknowledging the central role of women in the liberation.
It has always been important for our community to repair some of the damage done to all of us, both men and women, through the patriarchal practices that many times marginalized women’s role in Judaism. We start that in our Seder by acknowledging that the Torah tells the story of the first act of rebellion against Pharaoh – the refusal of the Jewish midwives Shifra and Pu’ah to participate in the genocide that the Pharaoh had devised by calling on them to kill the first-born males whose births they facilitated. These midwives’ refusal to participate in the Pharaoh’s nefarious scheme was the first crack in his rule, and it set the precedent for other women to refuse to go along with the genocide that Pharaoh’s followers were implementing. These two brave women are really the first heroes of the liberation struggle.
For that reason, we have not only the traditional cup of wine for Elijah but also a second cup for Miriam, Moses’ sister, filled with water
The wine with which we fill Elijah’s Cup anticipates the bliss of a future messianic age. The water we place in Miriam’s Cup celebrates life itself, the miracle of joy in the present, and the basic fact of Jewish survival. A people need both, but water comes before wine, and it was Miriam who was credited with finding and sustaining the water when the Israelites were in the desert just as she had used water to save her infant brother when she followed baby Moses in the tiny little ark made by her mother and assisted in getting her mother to become his “wet nurse” when he was saved from the waters by Pharoh’s daughter. Without water, there can be no wine. Without Miriam, we would have had no messianic dream because we would have had no future.
An Orange on the Seder Plate
You may have heard this story before: Jewish studies Professor Susannah Heschel was giving a lecture when she was interrupted by one of her audience members. “A woman belongs on the bimah like an orange belongs on the Seder plate,” he allegedly yelled – and a tradition was born. Suddenly, oranges began appearing on Seder plates as a means to assert women’s equality within Jewish customs and roles.
This origin story is false, though the orange is indeed a symbol of inclusivity. The real story is that Dr. Heschel was inspired by a feminist Haggadah which suggested adding a crust of bread to the Seder plate in support of Jewish lesbians (to show we can make space for bread at a Seder just as we make space for the LGBT community in Judaism). Because bread, as chametz, is in violation of Passover, Heschel changed the representative object to show that gay and lesbian voices do not violate Jewish custom. The orange was entirely Heschel’s idea — not a man’s, as the first story suggests.
The tradition is now widely embraced and, as Heschel writes, included “in recognition of gay and lesbian Jews and of widows, orphans, Jews who are adopted, and all others who sometimes feel marginalized in the Jewish community.” At some Seders it is customary to take the orange seeds and spit them out, embodying our rejection of homophobia. Further, the orange shows that the community can only be whole when each slice is present and accounted for. Just as we welcome one and all to our Seder tables, so too can our Seder plates embrace inclusivity, making room for an unexpected burst of orange.
P.S. to McPhee
By Juliana Lunde
Last week I read Oranges by John McPhee.
He told me how they are grown out of the seeds
and picked from the trees, collected
like orange diamonds; a currency of suns.
He told me how they eat them in Bolivia,
slicing them in two, to suck out the juice;
how they squeeze them out in India, for flavor;
how in America, we have a fresh cup with brunch.
McPhee does not mention my mother’s orange,
how it is sits between karpas and beitzah;
proud, like a woman should be, proud
like it was grown for this.
He doesn’t say how an orange rectifies a wrong,
how it is a signal of hope, a song
written under the peel; a sign that reads
you are home, and you, too, belong.
The command to see ourselves as personally going out of Egypt
The traditional Haggadah (the official guide to the Passover Seder to which this is meant to be a supplement and not a replacement) reminds us that the primary obligation of Passover is to experience ourselves as though we personally went out of Egypt. And all those who elaborate on this story are to be praised!
Sing: Be’chol dor va’dor chayav adam leerot et atzmoe keh’eelu hu yatza mee meetrayeem
So now, let someone at the table tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt. Let it include the following elements:
- How we went from being outsiders to becoming integrated into an oppressive society in which we helped the ruling Pharaoh, and how we eventually became so integrated that we forgot our own traditions.
- How a new Pharaoh arose who saw us as potential enemy, the “other,” or the “geyr,” and found it easy to convince his own people to join in enslaving us.
- How we lived for hundreds of years as an enslaved people.
- How eventually yet another Pharaoh saw us as so dangerous that he ordered genocide by seeking to kill the firstborn Hebrew boys.
- How the women resisted this process, first by the midwives Shifra and Pu’ah saying “no” and then by Moses’ mother Yocheved saving her son by putting him into a little ark, which she sent down the Nile until he was found and rescued by the righteous daughter of Pharaoh and raised in the palace.
- How Moses grew up in the palace and then came to identify with his own people, the slaves.
- How Moses killed an Egyptian policeman who was beating an Israelite slave and then fled to Midiyan.
- How Moses heard God’s voice through a fire that was burning inside him and returned to Egypt.
- How Moses’ demand to “let my people go” was met by the Pharaoh with an escalation of oppression of the Israelites.
- How Moses’ own people shunned him as a troublemaker who was only making things worse.
- How God brought forth a set of environmental disasters.
- 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.
After the visualization: We so rejoice in our liberation. Dayenu! If the Force of Transformation and Healing, which is the part of our reality that makes liberation possible had only done this once, it would have been enough. But God is doing this over and over again, and not just for Jews but for every people on the planet. She is taking all her children out of Egypt again and again and again. And every year She is renewing for us the possibility of transformation.
Eelu hotzi’ hotzi anu, hotizi’anu mee Meetz’rayeem, ve’loe natan lanu et ha’Shabbat die-eynu. Die, die-eynu, die die-eynu, die die-eynu die-eynu die’eynu
Eelu natan natan lanu , natan lanu et ha’Shabbat ve’loe natan lanu et ha Torah, die-eynu. Die, die-eynu, die die-eynu, die die-eynu die-eynu die’eynu
Eulu natan natan lanu, natan lanu et ha’Torah natan ve’loe heekh-neesanu le’Eretz Yisrael, die-eynu. Die, die-eynu, die die-eynu, die die-eynu die-eynu die’eynu
If we had only been given this incredibly beautiful earth on which to live, Dayenu (it would have been enough)!
If we had only been given the freedom to no longer be slaves, Dayenu!
If we had only been given God’s Torah and its message that the world could be built on love, Dayenu!
If we had only been given God’s Torah and its injunction to build a world of justice, Dayenu!
If we had only been given God’s Torah and its injunction to love the stranger (whoever is seen as the “other” in our particular historical moment and geographic context) Dayenu!
If we had only been given God’s Torah and its message that every human being is created in God’s image, Dayenu!
If we had only been given three thousand years of spiritual growth, but not had Hasidic wisdom, Kabbalah, and now the Jewish Renewal movement whose ideas and approach are increasingly seeping into all the various “denominations” of Judaism, teaching us all to serve God through joy, humor, and humility, Dayenu!
If we had the wisdom of our Torah, the wisdom of all the world’s literatures and cultures, and the wisdom of science, and we all could share it, and yet had not been given the opportunity to live in the heart of one of the world’s most oppressive contemporary societies, at once benefiting from the highest level of material wealth that the world has ever seen and having the opportunity to join with others to change the global system by being so close to one of its most important nerve centers, Dayenu!
But we do live in this incredible situation, in a world that needs the wisdom that has been made available to us. We have the opportunity to change this world and heal it, and to know from our own tradition that the healing can in fact take place. We as the Jewish people have the task of testifying to this possibility by telling the story of our own liberation from Egypt! And we (both Jews and non-Jews at this table) have the opportunity to become part of the interfaith and secular-humanist-welcoming Network of Spiritual Progressives to work together with thousands of others in this awesome and at times seemingly overwhelming task without despairing. So we can indeed thank, praise, and sing to God for all that She has made possible for us. Dayenu!
We are also blessed to have had our struggle for liberation serve as an inspiration to African Americans in their ongoing struggle to achieve equality and dignity in the United States. As long as they need to launch struggles to insist that Black Lives Matter, we in the Jewish world must be reliable and consistent allies. In honor of that, we sing:
When Israel was in Egypt’s land, let my people go. Oppressed so hard they could not stand, let my people go. Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt’s land. Tell ol’ Pharoah, to let my people go!
Follow the Drinking Gourd
When the sun comes back and the first quail calls
Follow the drinking gourd
The old man is waiting for to carry you to freedom
Follow the drinking gourd
Follow the drinking gourd
Follow the drinking gourd
For the old man is waiting for to carry you to freedom
Follow the drinking gourd
Riverbed makes a mighty fine road
The dead trees will show you the way
And it’s left foot, peg foot traveling on
Follow the drinking gourd
The river ends between two hills
Follow the drinking gourd
There’s another river on the other side
Follow the drinking gourd
Follow the drinking gourd
Follow the drinking gourd
For the old man is waiting for to carry you to freedom
Follow the drinking gourd
I thought I heard the angels say
Follow the drinking gourd
The stars in the Heavens’ gonna show you the way
Follow the drinking gourd
Follow the drinking gourd
Follow the drinking gourd
For the old man is waiting for to carry you to freedom
Follow the drinking gourd
Follow the drinking gourd
Follow the drinking gourd
For the old man is waiting for to carry you to freedom
Follow the drinking gourd
Sadly, 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. What an amazing thing for a people so deeply traumatized to be able to so quickly build a new home for themselves. 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 homeland. 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, even as we affirm the fundamental goodness of the Jewish people. We mourn the distortions in American society and the ways that noble ideals have been transformed into oppressive and even violent behaviors, torture, and war making, even as we affirm the fundamental goodness of the American people. We mourn the distortions in every religion and every ideology and every anti-ideology and every anti-religion or secular humanist movement, even as we affirm the fundamental goodness of all who have been engaged in these enterprises, and in fact, the fundamental goodness of all humanity.
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.
Call out each of these in Hebrew or English as you take a drop of wine or grape juice from our cup of joy: Dam, Blood – tzfardeyah, Frogs – keeneem, Lice – arov, Insects – dever, Cattle Plague – shecheen, Boils – barad, Hail – arbeh, Locusts – khoschekh, Darkness – makat bechorot, Death of the Firstborn Sons
Each person can now take a turn to call out whatever modern plague we witness and regret, as human beings allow the global capitalist system to continue to destroy the environment in a frenzy of growth and consumption without regard to the future survivability of human life on this planet. We see these plagues as stern warnings to the human race to quickly change our direction and repent. 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 everyone 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. (x6)
Ode Yavoe Shalom
Ode yavoe shalom aleynu (x3)
ve’al kulam Salaam.
Aleynu ve’al kol ha’olam,
Imagine (Tikkun Version)
Imagine there’s all goodness … 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, 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, 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, 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!
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 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 some of the first ones in public to articulate an agenda of social change based on love – 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.
The oppressive ancient Egyptian regime in which Jews lived as slaves was overthrown. The Passover story reminds us that in every age we must continue the struggle for liberation, which Jews first experienced on the first Passover some 3,200 years ago.
For the second cup of grape juice or wine, let’s drink to that commitment to continue the struggle for liberation in this time and with our own life energies: Baruch atah YHVH Eloheynu Melekh ha’olam, borey pree haGafen. Blessed is the transformative power of the universe that creates the fruit of the vine!
A second hand washing —t his time with the blessing: Brucha at Yah Shechina, ru’ach ha’olam, asher kidshanu be’mitzvoteha veh’tzivanu al neh’tee’lat yada’yim
Blessed are you, the feminine energy of the universe, that brought us insights for individual and public health through washing our hands!
We hold up a substitute for the Pesakh sacrifice of a lamb. As we hold up this vegetarian substitute for the shank bone, which may be a roasted Pascal Yam or Pascal Beet, we remind ourselves to draw closer to the spiritual reality of the universe – a process that in ancient days was supposedly facilitated by animal sacrifice. We remember the courage of our ancestors who took the holy animal of Egyptian religion, the lamb, and sacrificed it, put its blood on their doorpost to signify to God and to the Egyptians their intention to be free, and then ate the lamb as the first Passover meal. While we no longer wish to sacrifice animals, we can still identify with the courage to say ‘no’ in this very public way. While it is against the law to burn the American flag, and we do not want to deny all that is good in our society or trample on the symbols of anyone’s national identity, there may be some other public way that we can put a symbol of saying “no” to the distortions of our society on our doors each Passover. Any ideas?
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 chameytz (Hebrew for the expansive yeast that makes bread rise), which symbolizes false pride, absorption in our individual egos, and grandiosity. Every time we eat the matzah during the eight days of Passover, we will remind ourselves of our spiritual commitment to overcome ego and let go of pretense so that we can see the world and ourselves as we really are.
Baruch ata Adonai (YHVH) eloheynu Melekh Ha’olam, asher kidshanu be’mitzvotav ve’tsivanu al achilat Matzah. We channel your blessing (YUD HEY VAV HEY) the Force of Transformation and Healing in the Universe, who has brought sanctity into our lives by teaching us, through the eating of matzah, to experience and never forget our humble beginnings as slaves.
Brucha at Yah Shechina, Ruach chey ha’olamim, Ha motsee’ah lechem meen ha’aretz – Blessed are You, Goddess, the Life force of all universes, who has created a world that has enough delicious food for everyone, and to whom we now recommit ourselves by affirming that we will do all we can to transform our global economic and political arrangements, nonviolently and in an environmentally sustainable way, to ensure that the food gets redistributed so that everyone has enough to eat.
We eat the bitter herbs. As we eat the horseradish or other bitter vegetables, we remember that the struggle for liberation is not a party. If we insist that it always must “feel good,” we will remain stuck in the oppressive reality of today, because the 1 percent and those who work for them can always guarantee (through their armies, police forces, homeland security, and spying forces) that there is much pain in store for us, including loss of livelihood, jail, or assassination.
Say the following blessing and then eat the horseradish or other bitter herb by itself, without anything mitigating the experience, and through eating this bitter herb symbolically allow ourselves to experience the pain of slavery: Baruch ata Yud Hey Vav Hey, the Transformative and liberating Power of the universe, who leads us to acknowledge the bitterness of slavery in all its many forms – asher kidshanua be’mitzvotav, ve’tsivanu al akh’ee’lat maror.
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 historical enslavement of Africans and the oppression of Armenians, LGBT people, women, people of color, and many others. We mourn the suffering of the people of Tibet struggling under the cruel occupation by China. We mourn the suffering of the Syrian people struggling to free themselves from the oppression of the Assad dictatorship without allowing a cruel version of Islamism to take its place. We mourn the suffering of the millions of children subjected to sexual slavery. We mourn the suffering of the 1.5 billion people living on less than a single dollar per day and the many who are slowly dying of malnutrition or related diseases. We mourn the suffering of the world’s estimated 80 million refugees desperate to escape oppression in their home countries yet finding no welcome elsewhere. We mourn the suffering of young girls kidnapped from their own families and forced to marry Islamic jihadists. We mourn the suffering of people who have lost friends or family members to the drones and other forms of bombing that the U.S. continues its misguided war on terrorism, in the process creating ever more jihadis. 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. That distortion, being acted out by the government of Israel in its treatment of Palestinians as well as in its treatment of refugees from Africa, might, for the first time in history, create an antagonism toward Jews based on the actual behavior of those Jews who allow Israel to call itself “THE Jewish State” while simultaneously violating the command of our Torah to “love the stranger” (the Other). To counter this, we must evolve a global Judaism that compassionately embraces the Jewish people and all other peoples.
On a bit of matzah, we put the bitter herbs together with kharoset. What can sweeten our lives and relieve the burden of bitterness? Perhaps the sweetness of the apples, nuts, and wine. And perhaps the reason we read the Song of Songs on the Sabbath of Passover is in recognition that the greatest sweetener of bitterness comes from the love we can experience with a loved one!
Shulchan Orech: The Meal
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. We only wish that they would embrace the Global Marshall Plan.
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 us feel God’s presence 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.
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 not 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.
Do you really have to leave right after the meal? Pretend this is a hot date with God that got out of hand and you just can’t tear yourself away – you’ll still survive tomorrow even if you don’t get home till after midnight!
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 and no dessert after that!
Barech: If you’ve eaten and been satisﬁed, thank God for all that we have been given.
Below is the Beyt Tikkun free associational mystical/spiritual translation of the blessing after the meal. It starts with a Sheer Ha’ma’a lot, a song of ascending, a psalm which was written by Jews returning from Babylonian exile circa 500 BCE who thought they would never be able to return to their homeland. It became a testimony to the power of faith in what otherwise seemed unrealistic hope. Feel free to add your own insights and feelings to this prayer.
Birkat Hamazon: The Blessing After the Meal
Sheer Ha’ma’a’lot … when God led us back to Zion it was as if we were dreaming. Then our mouths were filled with mirth and our tongues filled with rejoicing. Then they said among the nations, “the Israelite’s Transformative Power (YHVH) has done great things for them.” Yes, God has done great things for us.
Return us Yud Hey Vav Hey to our liberation, like desert streams gushing with water. Frustrating and uncertain are our struggles for liberation, yet they will soon let humanity reap in joy. Just as the farmer wants to weep when burying the precious seeds, but in the future s/he will return filling her arms with full-grown grain.
The praise of Yud Hey Vav Hey shall my mouth speak, and all that is living strives to praise her name. And we who live shall praise God/dess, from this time as long as we can, Hallelu Yah! Give thanks to Yud Hey Vav Hey, for S/he’s the source of universal love, her compassion should pour through us forever, spreading kindness through the world.
Blessed is She and Blessed is All Being evolving to manifest Her Love.
We Bless You, Yud Hey Vav Hey, our source of transformation. In a world of abundance you helped us to know there is enough for everyone! We must share the food with everyone – end hunger and poverty. And care for mother earth, air, water and all the animals, and keep our planet strong so none will lack healthy sustenance. As the big picture unveils itself, we see more clearly the relatedness of all, how the earth itself can sustain and feed all, if environmental justice and generosity prevail. We bless you Yud Hey Vav Hey, who provides food for all. Baruch ata Adonai ha-zan et ha-kol.
Nodeh lecha. We give thanks to you, Yud Hey Vav Hey, for teaching us that we need to restructure our world’s economic and political arrangements so that they facilitate the emergence of a society based on caring for each other and caring for the planet, repair of the damage we’ve already done to the earth, encouraging the recognition that our well-being is intrinsically tied to the well-being of everyone on the planet and the well-being of the Earth, and in the process ensuring that the food and material resources are redistributed so that everyone has enough to eat and live on. Kakatuv ve’achalta, ve’sava’ta, u’veyrakhta et Adonai Elohecha. As it’s written in your Torah: You shall eat, you shall be satisfied, and you shall bless Yud Hey Vav Hey, your source of transformation, for the good earth. We channel your blessings Sheh’chinah, for the miraculous earth we live on and for the food. Brucha at Yah Shechinah al ha’aretz ve’al ha’mazon.
Have mercy, Shechinah, on the people Israel (whom we identify as those in all religions who take on the responsibility of healing the human race from its history of accumulated pain and cruelty and instead build a world of love and compassion for all, even those who we are mistakenly taught to think of as permanent enemies).
On Shabbat/Sabbath add: And cause us to inherit this Shabbat to become more fully aware of the grandeur and mystery of the universe, the full beauty and nourishing energy of all creation, and remember our task of teaching others that the world can be transformed just as you transformed us by liberating us from slavery in Egypt. And on this Shabbat let there be no upsets, no tsuris, no sadness, but only joy, pleasure, and celebration of the grandeur and mystery of Your creation, of which we are an intrinsic part.
May the All Merciful One help us to rebuild Jerusalem to be in fact a city of peace, and an embodiment of the highest values of our people. Let us speedily see God’s quality of rachameem/mercy/enwombedness/compassion – return to Zion. Let us channel your blessings, YHVH, who will help us rebuild Jerusalem as a city of compassion and generosity. Baruch ata YHVH, boneh berahamav yerushalayim. Amen.
Blessed are You, YHVH – the universe seen from the standpoint of its evolution toward greater love, awareness, kindness, creativity, playfulness, humor, generosity, ethical and ecological sensitivity, awe and wonder, and the unity of matter and spirit. Our life task both as individuals and as a community is to aid in the process of a fuller realization of this consciousness and to help rebuild a Judaism of Love engaged in the tikkun-ing of the world, in the process overcoming every form of Jewish and American chauvinism. And we witness: There is enough, we are enough, all is good and we are blessed to be able to see that. Bruchah at Yah Shechina, ha-tova ve ha meyteevah la kol.
May the All Merciful One (Harachaman) send us Eliyahu the prophet, and Miriam the prophetess with her strength and her music, and let them bring us good news of the coming of the messianic era, which we shall help create through acts of love and generosity.
May the All Merciful One heal all people on this planet from the hurts, humiliation, oppression, and spiritual suffering that lead to anger, violence, or indifference to the suffering of others, so that all may be blessed with lives filled with love, kindness, and generosity.
May the All Merciful One bless the State of Israel to have a full and total reconciliation with the Palestinian people so that Israel and Palestine may live in peace with dignity, security, and justice for all. And may Israel become an example of a society based on love of neighbor and love of the Other, the stranger, the powerless, and the refugee, thereby becoming one of many lights to the nations of the world.
May the All Merciful One help us replace wars and violence with love and kindness, support our efforts to eliminate hunger and global and domestic poverty, and let environmental sanity, justice, generosity, and caring prevail on earth.
May the All Merciful One bless all members of (… name your community here. Ours is Beyt Tikkun Synagogue-Without-Walls and the Network of Spiritual Progressives), and all those in every part of this planet who are part of movements for peace, social and economic justice, human rights, and environmental sanity. May the All Merciful One bless them and all their friends and family and all who truly love them – and may we all be blessed with humility, kindness, and a powerful sense of humor. Harachaman, send physical, psychological, and spiritual healing to all those in need.
Harachaman May the All Merciful One (let each person fill in here his or her blessing or request and let the community respond “amen”)…………………………………….
On Shabbat: HaRachaman hu yan’cheeleynu yom sheh’kuloe Shabbat u’meh’nucha leh’chayey ha’olamim
Harachaman, hu yizakeynu lee’mot ha’mashiach uleh’chayey ha’olam ha bah. May the All Merciful One make us worthy to experience the messianic era and have a taste of what it might be like in the world to come!
Migdol yeshu’oat malkoe ve’oeseh chesed leemschee’khoe le’Daveed uleh zar’oe ad olam. You who make peace in the heavens, make peace on this earth for us, for Israel and for all humanity, and for our planet too. Amen.
(Anyone who is able, please rise and put your arms around the people nearest to you and sing more ya-la-la stanzas and dance to the music).
Stand in awe of Goddess, S/He is so good, there is no lack for those in awe.
Those addicted to material things will always be hungry for more, but those who build love, compassion, and kindness will always understand there is enough. Potey’ach et yadecha umas’bee’ah lechol ch’ai ratzon. You open your hands to all who are seeking and satisfy all who are spiritually alive. Hoe’du ll’Adonai kee tov, kee le’olam chasdoe. Thank God for her goodness, for she is compassionate forever. Adonai oz le’amoe yeeten, Adonai ye’varech et amoe ba’shalom, God will bless all peoples with peace, Goddess will help us to build a world of love.
Sing together the blessing over the third cup of wine or grape juice or whatever other substance or meditation produces a state of altered and joyous consciousness within you, and say the same blessing we used for the second cup of wine. Smoking of marijuana is now legal in several states and may aid this process for some, but most of us are able to get high without any external stimuli.
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, among others – who assisted those Nazis throughout Europe. We also remember 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 legitimize 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 legitimize 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 khamatkha al ha’goyim asher loe 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, 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 have been the beneficiaries of so much human goodness expressed both in daily life and in acts of remarkable courage.
Al nah tomar heeney darkee ha’achrona
Et or ha yom heesteeru 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
Fill, but do not yet drink, the fourth cup of wine or grape juice
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. 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, solidarity, 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.
Eliyahu ha navee, Eliyahu HaTishbee
Eliyahu, Eliyahu, Eliyahu HaGeeladee
Beem heyrah beyameynu
eem Mashi’akh ben David (x2)
Miriyam Ha nivi’ah, Oz vezimrah beyadah
Miriyam, tirkode eetanu le takeyn 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 mind. Then, open your eyes and share with others your picture of the world we want to build together.
Bless the fourth cup of wine or grape juice. Brucha at Yah Shechina, Ru’ach Chey Ha’olamim, boreyt pree haGafen. Drink the fourth cup!
Count the Omer (second night of Passover only): use the traditional haggadah.
Hallel: Sing songs of liberation! If you don’t have one in mind, try the NSP song.
Study the Song of Songs – the traditional reading for Passover.
And also sing:
Adir Hu: use the traditional haggadah
Echard Mee yo’dey’ah: use the traditional haggadah
Chad Gay Yah: use the traditional haggadah. But it is a song filled with power struggles and violence. So we added an English version with a very different ethos:
Non-Violent Chad Gadya By Rabbi David Wolfe-Blank (z’l)
CHORUS: One kid, just one kid my parents bought for two zuzim. One kid, just one kid. Chad Gadya, Chad gadya. Then came a cat and meowed to the kid:
CHORUS: Chad gadya, Chad gadya!
Then came a dog and played with cat that meowed to the kid: CHORUS.
Then came a stick and drummed for the dog that played with cat that meowed to the kid: CHORUS.
Then came a fire that danced before the stick that drummed for the dog that played with cat that meowed to the kid: CHORUS.
Then came water and calmed the agitated heart of the fire that danced before the stick that drummed for the dog that played with cat that meowed to the kid: CHORUS.
Then came an ox and bathed and played in the water that calmed the agitated heart of the fire that danced before the stick that drummed for the dog that played with cat that meowed to the kid: CHORUS.
Then came a shokhet (ritual slaughterer or butcher) and treated the ox to a sensitive massage, the same ox that bathed and played in the water that calmed the agitated heart of the fire that danced before the stick that drummed for the dog that played with cat that meowed to the kid: CHORUS.
Then came the angel of transformations who lovingly guided the shokhet to a logical, rewarding, life-enhancing career change, that shokhet who had treated the ox to a sensitive massage, the same ox that bathed and played in the water that calmed the agitated heart of the fire that danced before the stick that drummed for the dog that played with cat that meowed to the kid: CHORUS.
Then came the Holy One, Blessed be He and She, who healed the heavy heart of the angel of transformations who lovingly guided the shokhet to a logical, rewarding, life-enhancing career change, that shokhet who had treated the ox to a sensitive massage, the same ox that bathed and played in the water that calmed the agitated heart of the fire that danced before the stick that drummed for the dog that played with cat that meowed to the kid: CHORUS.
Nirtzah: Chasal sedar Pesakh ke’hil’kha’toe. The Seder has been completed according to the traditional requirements. May we be worthy to see the messages of liberation expressed tonight at our Seder become actualized to a far greater extent in the larger world in this coming year. And when we sing “next year in Jerusalem” we refer to the higher Jerusalem, the Jerusalem that becomes an embodiment of the highest vision of our people for love, generosity, peace, and justice in every corner of this planet. Then everywhere will be Jerusalem. Sing and dance to this vision of Jerusalem!
Leh Shanah ha’ba beh’Yerusha’la’yeem (3) le shanah habah be Yerusha’la’yeem shel shalom.
If you wish to build a spiritual community that supports the values and orientation in the above Haggadah, please join the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP) at spiritualprogressives.org/join and subscribe to Tikkun magazine at tikkun.org/subscribe (though if you join the NSP at $50 or more you get a free subscription to Tikkun for one year). Help us build a Tikkun community/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 formal positions – we encourage a diversity of views in Tikkun, including some with which we strongly disagree. You can feel some of that vibrant discussion for free if you also subscribe (at no charge) to our Tikkun Daily Blog tikkun.org/dailydigest (though these articles do not represent our editorial perspective and are generally not edited by us). And, if you live in the Bay Area, you can also join Beyt Tikkun Synagogue-Without-Walls (beyttikkun.org) and actually do this seder with us next year! And if you happen to be in the SF Bay Area for this Passover, it’s not too late to register for the Liberation Seder led by Rabbi Lerner and Cat Zavis on second Seder night, April 23rd (details at www.tikkun.org/passover5777 ).
This Haggadah was composed by Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun and rabbi of Beyt Tikkun synagogue-without-walls. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rabbi Lerner is the author of eleven books, including two national bestsellers — The Left Hand of God and Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healing and Transformation. His most recent book, Embracing Israel/Palestine, is available on Kindle from Amazon.com and in hard copy from tikkun.org/eip.