THE PALMS & PASSOVER: An Interfaith Healing Seder for the Earth

Avi Katz: Matzah / Globe

Ten Plagues, Ten Healings


“I felt as if my legs were praying.”
— Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, coming back home from the voting-rights March in Selma, Alabama, 1965
“Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehoods.”  — Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, 1970


The people gather at a central point, perhaps a synagogue or  church. Each takes a frond of the palm tree, and in pairs they bless each other, each tapping the other on the shoulder with a palm frond, saying:

May the Holy One Who interbreathes all life, breathe life between you and this palm branch, between the forests of the Earth and our communities.

The people move into the streets. Chanting and singing as they go, carrying a portable large-sized globe of Planet Earth, waving the Palm branches, they walk toward a Pyramid of Power of our own day: perhaps an office of Exxon or BP, or a coal-fired power station, or a bank that invests in a coal company that is destroying the mountains of West Virginia,  or a religious or academic or governmental institution which they could call on to end its investments in Big Carbon and invest in renewable energy companies instead.

And as they walk they sing:

 We’ve got the sun and the rain in our hands,
We’ve got the wind and the clouds in our hands,
We’ve got the whole world in our hands.
We’ve got the whole world in our hands!

We’ve got the rivers and the mountains in our hands,
We’ve got the lakes and the oceans in our hands

We’ve got you and we’ve got me in our hands,
We’ve got the whole world in our hands.

We’ve got everybody here in our hands,
We’ve got everybody there in our hands,
We’ve got everybody everywhere in our hands,
We’ve got the whole world in our hands.

We’ve got trees and tigers in our hands

We’ve got our sisters and our brothers in our hands

We’ve got our children and their children in our hands/


As they arrive at the point they have chosen, they share in this reading, each person reading a passage and then passing it on to another:

“Rabbi Jesus and his companions called upon their followers to “Occupy Jerusalem, ” “Challenge the money-changers,” “Lift high the Green faces of God, the Palms of Possibility.”

“Gather,” they said, “on the eve of Passover to recall the fall of Pharaoh. For in every generation there is a Pharaoh who arises to enslave us and destroy us. In every generation we must all see ourselves: It is we who must go forth from slavery to freedom, not our forebears only.” [Quotation from the Passover Haggadah]

 Defenders of the status quo told Rabbi Jesus to tell his followers to shut up.  

And the Gospel  (Luke 19:40) says: I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep silent, the very stones will cry out.”  

In our own generation, the stones are crying out.

The frozen stones we call glaciers are groaning as they melt. 

The rivers cry out by flooding one-fifth of Pakistan and the entire City of New Orleans, by washing out the sturdy bridges of Vermont and flooding the subways of Manhattan.

The rains cry out in silence as they fail to fall, bringing unheard-of droughts to central Africa, Australia, Russia, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Iowa.


As the planet scorches

and the corn parches,

the price of food climbs.

Those who were hungry, starve.

The children whose bellies swelled from hunger,

whose voices wailed from famine,

grow silent.

Dying.  Dead.


And all these silent, silenced voices call on us to speak.

Not only to speak but to act.  

To act against the money-changers,

the corrupt banks and other corporations

that are not human beings, persons:

are NOT created in the Image of God. 

The Caesars of our day,

The Pharaohs of our day.

The Pontius Pilates and Abu-Jahls of our day—

The Empires of Oil, Tar, Coal, Unnatural Gas.

The Pharaohs of Fracking.

After singing and a few short talks / conversation about the reason they are there, they return to the original gathering-place for an —


We take into ourselves the foods & meanings of the Seder.


First question: “Mah nishtanah haSeder hazeh miKol Sedarim? Why is this Seder different from all other Seders?”  Because every other Seder recalls the oppression of human beings by a ruler who thinks himself a god, but this Seder faces the oppression of God’s Creation, our Mother Earth.”

[All say together:]

It is our task to make from fire

Not an all-consuming blaze

To scorch our planet,

But the light in which we see each other;

Each of us different,

 All of us made in the image of God.

We light this fire to see more clearly

That the Earth, the human race, 
are not for burning.

We light this fire to see more clearly

The rainbow in our many-colored faces:

The rainbow of all cultures and all life-forms.

We light this fire to see more fully

The great round Mother of us all,

Pregnant with all life, all possibility.

Blessed are you, Yahh our God, Breathing Spirit of the Universe, who gives us light that we who gather here today may become a light for peace and freedom and healing for all peoples and our planet.
Blessed are you, Yahh, Breathing Spirit of the Universe, who has breathed life into us, lifted us up, and carried us to reach this moment.

 [Light candles at each table. Pass the globe from person to person around the table/s. As each person receives the globe, s/he stands to hold it gently for a moment or two, then hands it to the next person.]

Someone says:

Lit by this light, our Seder will walk a path that begins with joy and celebration of our sacred Mother Earth; then turns in grief to see the grievous wounds inflicted on our Mother; and turns again toward action, covenant, and commitment to heal her from these wounds.

I. Celebration of God’s Earth

 Take sprigs of parsley,  dip them in salt water, pass them around the table, and say:
Question: “Why do we eat these greens, and why do we dip them in salt water?  

“Because in the spring the Earth sprouts green and fertile, and in the salt seas life began.” 
Blessed are you, Yahh our God, Breathing Spirit of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the earth.
 [Everyone then eats this piece of parsley.]

Share a spoon of charoset to each person around the table/s.

Question: Why do we eat charoset? — 

 “Because by mixing apples, apricots, and raisins, nuts and cinnamon, wine and cloves, we embody the tastes and smells of the Song of Songs, the earthy poem of love and eros  —  the springtime when flowers rise up against winter, the juices of love arise from the depths of depression, and the night-time of history gives way to the sunlight of Eden, the garden of delight; the Earth and humans at loving peace with one another.
“ Come with me, my love, come away,/ 
For the long wet months are past,
/The rains have fed the earth
/ And left it bright with blossoms.
/ Birds wing in the low sky,
/Dove and songbird singing
/In the open air above,
/Earth nourishing tree and vine,/
Green fig and tender grape,
/Green and tender fragrance. Come with me, my love, come away.

Do-di li va-a-ni lo; Ha-ro-eh ba-sho-sha-nim  (Repeat)

Mi zot olah Min hamidbar, Mi zot olah
M’kituret mor, Mor u-livonah Mor u-livonah

( Chorus)

Uri tzafon u-vo-i teymann Uri tzafon u-vo-i teyman


[Eat some charoset.]

 Everyone sings:

 Morning has broken like the first morning;
/blackbird has spoken like the first bird.
/Praise for the singing! /Praise for the morning/!
Praise for them springing fresh from the Word.
/Sweet the rain’s new fall sunlit from heaven,/
like the first dew fall on the first grass.
/Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden,/
sprung in completeness where Our feet pass.
Mine is the sunlight! Mine is the morning, 
born of the one light Eden saw play!/
Praise with elation, praise every morning,/
God’s recreation of the new day!
 — Words by Eleanor Farjeon

 II. Lamenting the Wounds of Mother Earth

 Everyone takes a piece of raw horse-radish.

Question: Why do we eat this Bitterness?

“So the Tight Place made the Godwrestlers subservient with crushing-labor; they embittered their lives with hard servitude in clay and in bricks and with all kinds of servitude in the field, all their serfdom in which they made them subservient with crushing-labor. (Exodus 1: 13-14.)

Invite the phrases that invoke flooded cities, ruined mountains, parched fields, etc.

Give a chunk of lood-red beet to everyone.  Question: Why do we eat this blood-red beet?

“To remember the sacrifices, deaths, and woundings of those who have struggled for justice.”     Especially now, we remember the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on  April 4, 1968.
I have been to the mountaintop. … I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!  — —  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., April 3, 1968
Invite other names of those who have been killed in their work for justice or killed by global scorching, like those who died in Superstorm Sandy.
Invite a free-form blessing of memory.

Everyone eats a chunk of the beet.


Someone reads:
“The ten plagues of the Exodus story were all ecological disasters.

The Plagues were not lightning-bolts flung by a Super-Pharaoh in the sky, but eco-disasters brought about by the arrogance and stubbornness of a top-down, unaccountable ruler, Pharaoh.

“In the ancient past, the Plagues interrupted the flow of food to human beings and other life-forms. In the present as well, there are Plagues that disrupt the flow of food from species to species, Earth to human earthlings.  And so today we mark our Plagues by interrupting the foods that mark our Seder.

As the community recites the Plagues, we grieve for the Earth and human beings who have suffered from these Plagues by diminishing our pleasure in the fruit of the vine. And we ask ourselves: Today, what Plagues are our own “pharaohs,” the 1%, the global corporations, bringing on our Earth?

For each Plague, we drop some wine or grape-juice from our glasses.

  • Undrinkable water poisoned by fracking.
  • Asthma: Lungs suffering from coal dust and gasoline fumes. 
  • Suffering and death for fish, birds, vegetation, and human beings from the oil upheaval in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Smashed mountains and dead coal-miners in the lovely hills of West Virginia.
  • Unheard-of droughts in Africa, setting off hunger, starvation, civil wars and genocide.
  • Drought in Russia, setting off peat-bog fires and scarcity of wheat.
  • Summer-long intense heat wave in Europe, killing thousands of elders.
  • Unheard-of floods in Pakistan, putting one-fifth of the country under water.
  • Superstorm Sandy, killing hundreds in Haiti and America.
  • Years of drought and fires in Australia.
  • Parched corn fields and dead crops in the US corn-belt

Participants add other Plagues of today.

Someone reads:
“If the people speak and the king doesn’t listen, there is something wrong with the king. If the king acts precipitously and the people say nothing, something is wrong with the people.”
— Sister Joan Chittister, OSB

  • “In those years, people will say, we lost track 
of the meaning of we, of you/
we found ourselves 
reduced to I/ 
and the whole thing became
 silly, ironic, terrible:
 /we were trying to live a personal life
 /and yes, that was the only life 
we could bear witness to.
    “But the great dark birds of history screamed and plunged into our personal weather
/ They were headed somewhere else but their beaks and pinions drove 
along the shore,/ through the rags of fog
 where we stood, /saying I
— Adrienne Rich, In Those Years


We have turned from joy to grief; now we turn from grief to healing.

Pour each person a cup of wine or grape juice:

Question:  “Why do we drink this fruit of the vine?”  — 

“Because grapes grow not alone but in clusters, and we must work for freedom and justice, peace and healing not separately, each a lonely, isolated ‘I,’ but in clusters of community. We.”

“Because the juice of the grape begins in sweetness; ferments to sour; and then turns sweet again, this time as wine able to change and lift our consciousness. Just so the struggle to heal our Mother Earth begins in sweetness, turns sour as the Earth is wounded, and  becomes a higher sweetness as we act to heal what has been sorely wounded.”

Blessed are You, Yahhh, Breathing Spirit of the world, Who breathes our breath into the grapevine and breathes the fruit of the vine into our bodies.

[At each table, someone pours wine or juice into the Cup of Elijah, which for now is left sitting untasted in the center of the table.]

Everyone gets one “sheet” of matzah.

Question: Why do we eat this pressed-down bread?

“ Because it begins as the bread of affliction, the bread of a pressed-down people — but becomes the bread of Freedom when we hasten toward our liberation.”

Each person breaks the matzah and hands one piece to a neighbor.

 “Why do we break and share the matzah?”

“Because if we do not share it, it remains the bread of affliction; when we share it, it becomes the bread of freedom.”

Together say: “Blessed are You, Breathing-Spirit of the world, who through sun and soil, seed and human sweat, brings forth this bread from the Earth.”

All eat the matzah given them by someone else.

 Someone reads each of these passages:

“And what in our traditions past can teach our own generation how to heal ourselves and our wounded Earth?”

 “The seventh year shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath to Yahh, the Breath of life; you shall neither sow your field, nor prune your vineyard. Your harvest you shall not reap, and the grapes of your undressed vine you shall not gather; it shall be a year of solemn rest for the land.  For the land is Mine; you are but strangers and visitors with Me.” (Leviticus 25)

”At the end of every seven years you shall grant a Release.  Every creditor shall Release what s/he has lent to a neighbor; s/he shall not exact it of the neighbors, because Yahhh, the Interbreathing of all life, has proclaimed a Release from debt.” (Deut. 15)

“Now the king said to the midwives of the Hebrews, whose names were Shifrah and Puah:
”When you help the Hebrew women give birth, if he be a son, put him to death; but if she be a daughter, she may live.” But the midwives held God in awe, and they let the children live. God dealt well with the midwives. (Exodus 1: 16-21).”

“God came into the picture. What was the sign that God had come? A bush that burned and burned and did not stop burning. Moses had had a fire kindled in his heart once, but it died down. God is the Being whose heart does not stop burning, whose flame does not die down.

“What was God all burned up about? The voice said, ‘I have seen the affliction of my people in the Tight & Narrow Place and have heard them cry out because of their oppression… . And the proof that God had entered into Moses, and that Moses had really been ‘converted,’ was that he had to go back and identify himself with his enslaved people  —  ‘organize them into Brickmakers’ Union Number One’ and lead them out of hunger and slavery into freedom and into ‘a good land, and a large, a land flowing with milk and honey.”’ (A. J. Muste , 1943).

  “Before entering Miquat (where you get ready to start the Hajj [Pilgrimage to Mecca]) which is the beginning of a 
great change and revolution, you must declare your intention. It is the intention of a “transferral” from your house 
to the house of the people, from life to love, from the self to God, from slavery to freedom, from racial discrimination 
to equality, sincerity and truth, from being clothed to being naked, from a daily life to an eternal life and from
 selfishness and aimlessness to devotion and responsibility.
”   — Ali Shariati, Hajj

“If we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.”  —  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,  April 4, 1967

(With care, singable to the traditional tune. Do Mic-check style.)

Each Passover Seder Teaches:
Celebrate each step toward Freedom,
Dayenu!  Wonderful!
At the Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin
100,000 Resisted Union-bustin’:
Dayenu!  Wonderful!
In New York City Dozens Tented
Calling out to “Occupy Wall Street”:
Dayenu!  Wonderful!

Then Hundreds Walked on Brooklyn Bridge:
Police attacked and the World took notice.
Dayenu!  Wonderful!
Across the Continent the People Saw,
They Occupied space in a myriad cities:
Dayenu!  Wonderful!
In London and Australia, in Africa and Israel,
The many many Thousands Gathered:
Dayenu!  Wonderful!
Police Attacked and the People Bent;
The people bent but did not Break:
Dayenu!  Wonderful!

In Washington through Bitter Cold

Thousands Came to Heal the Earth.

Dayenu! Wonderful!
The Godly and the Secular
Stand Arm in Arm to Heal our Planet:
Dayenu!  Wonderful!
The Generations Intertwine
And here We Are! – Yes, here we are!
Dayenu!  Wonderful!
You Who Interbreathe all Life
Give Us, the 99%,
The Strength to Overcome through Love
For Justice and Community.
Dayenu! Wonderful!
Dai, dayenu, dai dayenu, dai dayenu –
 Dayenu dayenu!

(Question:) What are the Ten Healings that can save our planet and our selves, can point us toward making our planet a Beloved Community?

 (Someone different reads each line, and then each wisdom passage afterward. For each of the Ten Blessings, we drink some ine or grape-juice and then say L’Chaim!)

  • Creating organic farms in countrysides and cities.
  • Wind-based energy: Purchasing home & company electric power from wind-based suppliers.
  • Hybrid or electric cars. Families buy them; convince cities, government agencies, & businesses to switch their auto fleets.
  • Use public transportation.
  • Family & congregational education/ action to heal the Earth: At Bat/Bar Mitzvah time and teen-age baptisms/ confirmations, “turning hearts of children and parents to each other, lest the Earth be utterly destroyed” (Quote from last passage of Malachi, last of the classical Hebrew Prophets)
  • Divestment by colleges, churches, pension funds, etc from investment in fossil-fuel companies, shifting investment to renewable, sustainable energy.
  • Vigils, picketing, civil disobedience at sites of mountain destruction by coal companies.
  • Prevent the Tar Sands Pipeline.
  • End fracking: Insist on moratoriums or prohibitions.
  • Carbon pricing: Lobbying Members of Congress for laws to put prices on carbon-fuel production and pay dividends from the incoming fees to American families.

 (All join in singing:)
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’ Pharaoh,
/Let my people go!
No more shall they in bondage toil,
Let my people go;
Let them come out with Egypt’s spoil,
Let my people go!
We need not always weep and mourn,
Let my people go;
And wear these slav’ry chains forlorn,
Let my people go!

At each table, someone pours some juice from the Cup of Elijah into each person’s glass.]
 All say together:

“I take responsibility to become the Prophet Elijah,
 ‘turning the hearts of the parents to the children 
and the hearts of the children to the parents,
 lest the earth be utterly destroyed.’ ”  (Last verses of the Prophet Malachi, read specially on the Shabbat just before Passover.)
And each drinks from the glass.


We’ve got the sun and the rain in our hands,
We’ve got the wind and the clouds in our hands,
We’ve got the whole world in our hands.
We’ve got the whole world in our hands.

We’ve got the rivers and the mountains in our hands,
We’ve got the lakes and the oceans in our hands

We’ve got you and we’ve got me in our hands,
We’ve got the whole world in our hands.

We’ve got everybody here in our hands,
We’ve got everybody there in our hands,
We’ve got everybody everywhere in our hands,
We’ve got the whole world in our hands.

We’ve got trees and tigers in our hands/

We’ve got our sisters and our brothers in our hands/

We’ve got our children and their children in our hands/



(Sing this translation of Psalm 149 to the tune of “Michael Row the Boat Ashore.”)

Praise Yah in the heavens, halleluyah.

Praise God in the heights, halleluyah.

Praise God, all you angels, halleluyah.

Praise Yah, all you hosts, halleluyah.

Praise God, sun and moon, halleluyah.

Praise Yah, you stars of light, halleluyah.

Praise God, you high heavens, halleluyah.

All that flows in all the world, halleluyah.
Let them all praise God’s Name, halleluyah.

For God spoke and they appeared, halleluyah.

With God they take their stand, halleluyah.

God’s rhythm none can break, halleluyah.

Praise Yah from the earth, halleluyah.

You sea-monsters and all deeps, halleluyah.

Fire, hail, snow, and steam, halleluyah.

Stormy wind to do God’s word, halleluyah.

Mountains high and small hills, halleluyah.

Trees of fruit and cedars too, halleluyah.

Wild beasts and quiet flocks, halleluyah.

Creeping things and winged birds, halleluyah.

Leaders and officials, halleluyah.

Societies and peoples, halleluyah.

Young men and women, too, halleluyah.

Let us praise the holy Name, halleluyah.

For God’s Name includes us all, halleluyah.

God’s radiance shines out, halleluyah.

And God lifts the people’s hearts, halleluyah.

For all who wrestle God, halleluyah.

For all who bring God close, halleluyah.


Additional readings, to be added or substituted if you like.


Orange.  Why do we eat an orange? —  The orange was first used because it had NOT been on the traditional Seder plate. Making present what had been left out was first intended to affirm lesbians who had been left out of the recognized community; then all the marginalized of society.

 (Someone reads each passage below:)

Miriam: The Red Sea
High above shores and times,/ 
I on the shore
 forever and ever./ 
Moses my brother 
has crossed over to milk, honey, 
that holy land.
 Building Jerusalem./ 
I sing forever on the seashore./ 
I do remember 
horseman and horses / waves of passage 
poured into war,
/ all poured into journey.
/ My unseen brothers 
have gone over,/
 deep seas under/ .
I alone stand here
 ankle-deep / 
and I sing, I sing, 
until the lands
 sing to each other.   —-Muriel Rukeyser 

“ The prosperous and mighty of our day still live at a dizzying height above the wretched of the earth, yet the latter have made their will felt in ways that have already changed history, and can change it more.
Their cooperative power has as its chief instrument direct action, both noncooperative and constructive. This power can be spiritual in inspiration but doesn’t have to be. Its watchwords are love and freedom, yet it is not just an ideal but a real force in the world.
It must now be brought to bear on the choice between survival and annihilation.
— Jonathan Schell, The Unconquerable World

In a free society, some are guilty. But all are responsible.
—- Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, 1944; 1961


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1 Comment

10 Modern Plagues

Dear Rabbi Waskow,
It was good to meet with you and others last evening. There is so much insightful, spiritual wisdom here on your website to value. In matters large and small, such as your using the term "unnaural gas" - as opposed to the "natural gas" the industry uses - I appreciate your thorough attention to hearing earth's cries for help.

I've been thinking about the "10 modern Plagues" and have compiled a list - let me know what 10 we would focus on for the March 27th event - Please add/modify/select
1. Pollution of Water
2. Pollution of Land
3. Pollution of Air
4. Increased CO2 in the atmosphere causing global scorching
5. Drought
6. Floods
7. Fires
8. Destruction of forests
9. Acidification of the oceans,
10. Rising temperature of the oceans, destroying the coral reefs - home to many species
11. Melting of the Glaciers
12. Rising ocean levels
13. Pollution of our food, production of GMO's
14. Dessertification
15. Environmental Refugees as a result of dessertification and loss of water, food
16. Loss of Species/ diversity
17. Loss of Species Habitat
18. Abuses of Mining and fossil fuel extraction

Plese let me know what 10 we can focus on for the March 27th event. Several of these on the list are related and interconnected - they all are. What 10 do we select?

PEACE, SHALOM, Catherine