Tikkun Olam Midrash on the Haggadah
Dear Chevra, This tikkun-olam midrash on passages of the Haggadah was written by Rabbi David Mevorach Seidenberg, who co-led the Shalom Center course at the ALEPH Kallah in 1999. We are glad to make it available on The Shalom Center's Website (www.theshalomcenter.org) along with other materials for Pesach. -- Shalom, AW.
(Written for Pesach 1995)
Here are some seder reflections on greed and compassion in society. Thesereflections are based on "Tsuf 'Amarim", a collection of traditional interpretations of the haggadah. Parts added by me are marked by an asterisk.
Reading for Ha' Lachma `Anya
"This is the bread of poverty..."
1. They eliminated charity to enrich themselves.
It says in Lamentations, "Judah was exiled through poverty/`oni." The rabbis explain that this means that exile came because the people ofJudah didn't fulfill the commandment of "Lechem `Oni", giving bread to the poor. For they eliminated Ts'dakah/charity for poor people in order to enrich themselves. But we say, "This is bread for the poor/Ha Lachma `Anya... Everyone who is hungry can come and eat," in order to fulfill the commandment of Ts'dakah. Just as they were exiled because of this commandment, so too only by truly fulfilling this commandment will we be redeemed.
Reading After "The Four Questions"
"What makes this night so different..."
2. The contradictions of wealth
* Why do we mention these four things about the seder?
After all, they don't make much sense. We eat matsah and maror like poor people who don't have enough to buy good food. But we dip twice and recline while eating, like rich people at a feast. Are we rich people pretending to be poor? Or poor people pretending to be rich?
Before the four questions we say, "Now we are here, now we are slaves/ hashta hakhah, hashta `avday." After the four questions we begin telling our story with the words, "`Avadim hayinu/We used to be slaves in Egypt..." We were freed once from Egypt, but as long as there is povertythat crushes the poor and wealth that insulates the wealthy, we will all remain slaves.
Someday though, perhaps next year, there will be enough justice to go around. And when that happens, we will realize the truth of the four questions: that we are only pretending to be rich, or poor, because we are all taking care of each other. When that happens, we will finally say, "Now we are free!"
Reading before "Dayenu"
"All who are hungry, come and eat..."
3. The poverty of riches.
How could there have been anyone hungry to invite to the first seder in Egypt? The Israelites took gold and silver from the Egyptians. No one was left without enough to buy food.
Rather, there were two types of people in Egypt. There were the righteous ones who received enough for their needs and went right away to make their seder. And there were the ones who couldn't get enough for themselves, and ran around all night trying to collect great wealth. They would never have gotten around to making the seder, so the others said to them, "All of you who are still hungry..." stop running, come and join us.
If they hadn't stopped to make the seder, they would have delayed redemption. To them we say, "Now we are here," because we are still learning running after wealth. If we can free ourselves from these illusions/k'lipot, then "next year we will be truly free."
*Then we will know what it means to say "Dayenu/ It is enough!"
Reading before eating the Afikomen or pouring Elijah's cup
4. A poor person's prayer.
Why is this bread called "Lechem `Oni"? One reason given in the Talmud is that many "answers/`onim" are spoken over it. For example, one kind of answer comes when a person calls out loud and someone responds, as we do when we read the haggadah. Another example is the answer that comes when a poor person cries out, as it says, "A poor person's prayer...answer me quickly in the day that I call." (Psalms 102) This is like the answer that came when God rescued us from Egypt.
According to the Zohar, there are some prayers that do not reach God quickly, and other prayers that are received right away, like the prayer of a poor person. If we do T'shuvah/repentance, then all of our prayers become precious like the poor person's prayer, because in T'shuvah we pray with humility/`aniyut, which is like poverty/`aniyah. Even King David could write "a poor person's prayer..." Then our prayers are lifted up right away, as it says, "Cry out to me and I will hear, for I am gracious." (Exodus 22)
* How do we raise our own voices? By protesting poverty and injustice. How do we do T'shuvah? By responding to the voices that callout to us, by changing how we live. Only when we answer each other's needs do our own prayers become precious. Only then does our bread become "lechem `oni/the bread of answering."
A joyous and liberating Pesach to all!
Reb Duvid (David Seidenberg)
* Rabbi David Seidenberg now lives in Northampton MA, though he considers Berkeley his spiritual home. He holds a doctorate in Jewish thought focused on ecology and Kabbalah from the Jewish Theological Seminary and is a member of Ohalah and the Rabbinical Assembly. David teaches throughout North America on theology, political action, spirituality, ecology, and Chasidic nigun. To contact him write to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website, Neohasid.org.