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We are sending seven different moments or practices for you to considering adding to your Pesach celebration.
Blessings for a sweet and liberating Pesach for you and for the world --
A. The Freedom Plate
Several years ago, Martha Hausman proposed that a special plate be set aside next to the traditional Seder plate, on which could be placed physical objects brought by every participant in the Seder as a symbol of her/ his liberation THIS YEAR from Mitzraiim.
Phyllis and I have done this each year since, and find it very powerful. Mature learned Jews, children, and people who have never before attended a Seder can all relate to this, and the stories about the objects on the Freedom Plate become a very powerful part of the Seder.
Our custom is that soon after we begin, we ask those present to begin lifting and explaining their freedom-object. One year it was a just-completeed 500-page bok MS for one person, a single gold coin that another's father had brought out of Germany as a last-ditch economic prop in case destitution were
descending; for another, a watch (about liberation from rigid time-rules; for another, nothing -- as an "object" of freedom from the rule that something
should be brought.
Alternatively , one might use either the passage "In every generation one rises up against us to destroy us" or "In very generation every human being
must look upon her/himself as if we ourselves, not our ancestors only, come forth from slavery" as times to raise up the Freedom Plate and hear its stories.
B. Connecting with Islam
Mnay chapters of the Quran retell the story of Moses, whom islam cionsides a Prophet, and of the exodus. in our generation, including some passages oin the seder might be a healing act.
Chapter of al-Qasas (the Stories) (28.2-46)
We narrate to you [O Muhammad!] parts of the story of Moses and Pharaoh in truth, for people who believe (28.3). Pharaoh exalted himself in the earth and made its people castes, oppressing one group of them, slaying their sons and sparing their women; he was one of the corrupters (28.4). We desired to show favor to those who were oppressed in the earth, make them leaders, make them the inheritors (28.5), establish them in the earth, and show Pharaoh, Haman, and their soldiers from them that which they feared…
A man came from the uttermost part of the city, running; he said: “O Moses! The chiefs are plotting against you to kill you, therefore leave [the city]; I am of those who give you good advice” (28.20). So he left it, fearing, vigilant; he said: “My Lord! Save me from the wrongdoing people” (28.21). When he turned his face toward Midian, he said: “May my Lord guide me to the right way” (28.22). When he came to the water of Midian he found at it a group of people watering [their flocks], and he found apart from them two women keeping back [their flocks]; he said: “What is the matter with you?” They said: “We cannot water [our flocks] till the shepherds return from the water, and our father is a very old man” (28.23). So he watered [their flocks] for them; then he turned aside into the shade, and said: “My Lord! I stand in need of whatever good You would send down to me” (28.24). Then one of them (the two women) came to him walking shyly; she said: “My father invites you to reward you for having watered [the flocks] for us.”
When he came to him (their father) and told him his story he said: “fear no more; you have escaped from the wrongdoing people” (28.25). One of the two women said: “O my father! Hire him, for the best [man] that you can hire is one who is strong and trustworthy” (28.26). He said: “I would like to marry you to one of my two daughters and in return you hire yourself to me for eight years, and it is up to you if would make it ten, for I do not want to make it hard for you; Allah willing, you will find me one of the righteous” (28.27).
He said: “This is [a contract] between me and you; whichever of the two terms I fulfill, there shall be no wrongdoing on my part, and Allah is a witness on what we say” (28.28). When Moses fulfilled the term and left in the night with his family, he perceived a fire at the side of the mountain. He said to his family: “Stay here; I have perceived a fire that I might bring you tidings from or a firebrand that you might warm yourselves” (28.29).
Chapter of TaHa (20.9-97)
When he reached it, he was called: “O Moses! (20.11). It is Me, your Lord, so take off your sandals; you are in the sacred valley Tuwa (20.12). I have chosen you, so listen to what is revealed (20.13). I am Allah; there is no god save Me. Therefore worship Me and keep up prayer for My remembrance (20.14).
C. For many of us, one of the worst Pyramidal/ Pharaonic oppressions in our lives is being driven into overwork, and the spiritual and emotional exhaustion that follows.
(The NYTimes has reported that schools are increasingly abolishing recess time in order to get the children to do more work. This is a form of slavery. As the article noted, the possibility of "wonder" is being squashed. the opposite of Heschel's teaching that the root of all spirituality is "radical amazement.")
So we could add the following to the Seder, perhaps after the passage, "In every generation, there is one who rises up against us, to destroy us." (Some of the imagery is a paraphrase of a passage from *The Sabbath* by Abraham Joshua Heschel.)
Today we face a new kind of Mitzraiim,
the Tight and Narrow Place.
Freedom without jobs is a bitter joke --
yet many of us find our jobs dissolved, downsized, disemployed.
Jobs without freedom are slavery --
yet many of us are forced to overwork.
Our jobs exhaust us.
When Moshe faced the Burning Bush,
He learned that like an eternal burning bush,
Time itself is not consumed
Though each instant vanishes to open the way to the next.
Things of space seem permanent --
but as we seek to make them into our servants,
They may enslave us.
When the Israelites went forth from slavery,
they sought time for rest and self-reflection:
They found Shabbat.
Rather than live under the tyranny of space and overwork,
We will in our lives set apart a time for freedom,
D. Benjy Ben-Baruch of Ann Arbor has suggested a new practice for Ashkenazic households that are not yet ready for a total break with the prohibition on rice and beans that has operated in Askenazic but not Sephardic homes, a prohibition that has been denounced by leading Masorti (Conservative) authorities in Israel as propping up the differences between the two communities and even an atmosphere of Ashenazic superiority,--
The proposal is that along with Elijah's Cup there be set aside a small plate of rice or beans not for eating but for observing. (Its presence does not
treyf up[ the table or the house AT ALL, since all agree this is not chameytz.) Say:
"This dish of rice is to symbolize our hope for respectful pluralism among all Jews,
and our intention to cross over all meaningless boundaries between us, while honoring our distinctive customs."
E. When it is time to open the door for Elijah the Prophet, you could remind everyone that very recently, on the Shabbat HaGadol just before Passover, traditionally we read the last passage from the Prophet Malachi (last of the Prophets), who says (speaking for God):
"Here! -- I will send you Elijah the Prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of YHWH --- And he will turn the hearts of parents to children and the hearts of children to parents, lest I come and strike the earth with utter destruction."
You might follow the reading of this passage by first VERY briefly speaking of the climate crisis now facing the earth.
Then ask the two generations (or more) who are the Seder table to recite to each other the following:
"And I myself will become Elijah the Prophet, to turn the hearts of children and parents toward each other so as to turn aside from our lives the danger that the earth be struck with utter destruction. I pledge that I ----"
And then ask them to say to the next person what they will do to heal the earth..
F. For a couple of years after Rosh Hashanah 1993, I had hoped we would no longer need to ask these additional questions at the Seder table. Sadly, we see that we still must.
FOUR MORE QUESTIONS
A Passage to be Read in the Passover Haggadah
(Perhaps After the Tale of the Five Rabbis in B'nei B'raq)
Let us therefore tonight expand upon the story of our deliverance from slavery by asking:
Why is this Pesach night different from every other Pesach night?
Because on every Pesach night -- tonight as well --
We call out to another people, "Let our people go!"
But tonight we also hear another people
Calling out to us: "Let our people go!"
Tonight the children of Hagar through Ishmael
and the children of Sarah through Isaac
call out to each other:
We too are children of Abraham!
We are cousins, you and we!
As Isaac and Ishmael once met at Be'er LaChai Ro-i,
the Well of the Living One Who Sees,
So it is time for us to meet --
Time for us to see each other, face to face.
Time for us to make peace with each other.
They met for the sake of their dead father, Abraham;
We must meet for the sake of our dead children --
Dead at each others' hands.
For the sake of our children's children,
So that they not learn to kill.
And so tonight we must ask ourselves four new questions:
(1) Why does the Torah teach: "When a stranger lives-as-a-stranger with you in your land, you shall not oppress him. The stranger who lives-as-a-stranger [hager hagar] with you shall be as one of your citizens; you shall love her as yourself."
Because Hagar Hamitzria [Hagar the Egyptian] was a stranger in your midst, and "because you were strangers in the Land of Egypt."
(2) Why do we break the matzah in two?
Because the bread of affliction becomes the bread of freedom --when we share it. Because the Land that gives bread to two peoples must be divided in two, so that both peoples may eat of it. So long as one people grasps the whole land, it is a land of affliction. When each people can eat from part of the Land, it will become a land of freedom.
(3) Why do we dip herbs twice, once in salt water and once in sweet charoset?
First for the tears of two peoples, Israeli and Palestinian; then for the sweetness of two peoples, Palestinian and Israeli; for the future of both peoples, who must learn not to repeat the sorrows of the past but to create the joys of the future.
G. C. The Orange on the Seder Plate.
Origins of the Orange are shrouded in the mythic mists of the 1980s: According to a tale that won wide currency, a women who spoke for the equality of women in the rabbinate and other forums was rebuked by a man who said, "Women belong on the bimah like an orange belongs on the Seder plate." Thus ---
But it seems it is historically more accurate that the Orange originated in a practice of some Jewish lesbians of setting *bread* on the Seder plate as a symbol of affirming lesbianism, though understanding it as transgressive of Jewish tradition . But others responded by saying that the full inclusion of lesbians and gay men in all of Jewish life was a fulfillment of Torah, not a transgression. So something new should be brought to the Seder plate, but not something that violates it.
(See Rebecca Alpert's excellent book, *Like Bread on the Seder Plate.*)
The Orange has come to stand for the freedom and equality of women and people of all sexual minorities in Jewish life, and implicitly of how the achievement of that freedom is already changing Jewish practice.
The Orange also is the only whole fruit on the Plate, and so carries within itself the seeds of its own future as Torah carries within itself the seeds of change.
Further, the Orange can symbolize Malkhut, the (feminine) Sephira of Majestic Inclusion. Till now the other objects on the Seder Plate have symbolized the other six sphirot and Malkut has been symbolized by the Plate itself -- very important but present as Ground, not Figure. With the Orange, Malkhut becomes visible as Figure while remaining Ground as well.
The traditional practice is, either in response to someone's independently raising the question, "Why is there an Orange on the Seder plate?" or by raising the question deliberately (as a fifth question, or in pointing to the items on the plate just before the meal) to answer with any or all the answers above.
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