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Revisiting the Haggadah
by: Rabbi Michael Lerner
 
Issue:
12.04
 
Important dates

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Editor's Comment
Michael looks at:
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FOR YOUR SEDER, here is a Haggadah supplement -- not a replacement. If you don’t normally do a Seder, you can use this supplement as the basis for an interfaith gathering in your home on the first night of Passover, or on any of the other nights of Passover. Many people read part or all of this at any Seder they attend, sometimes going around and having a different person read each paragraph.

AS WE SIT AT THE SEDER TABLE we need to discuss how ancient liberation for the Jews can inspire liberation today for all people. Judaism never separates spiritual and political liberation, and that is one reason why ruling elites through history always found us a troublesome people. Tikkun, the healing of the world, requires BOTH inner spiritual liberation and outer economic, political and social transformation. True, at times Jews have become so scared about offending the powerful that we've withdrawn from "Torah as a way of life" into "Judaism as a religion of inner transformation or of ritual obedience," but never totally -- because our most sacred story, The Torah, has most of it dedicated to the liberation from Egypt and its aftermath. And through Jewish history, the Seder became a major occasion for people to strategize struggles against whatever political and economic oppression they were facing. However, in America, as Jews sought to "fit in" and not antagonize the powerful, that tradition has receded. So the Tikkun supplement below raises issues in a way that brings back that dimension into focus.

KIDDUSH
We are gathered here tonight to affirm our continuity with the generations of Jews who have kept alive the vision of freedom in the Passover story. For thousands of years, Jews have affirmed this vision by participating in the Passover Seder. We not only remember the Exodus but actually relive it, bringing its transformative power into our own lives.

The Hebrew word for Egypt, mitzrayim, means “narrow straits.” Traditionally, mitzrayim has been understood to mean a spiritual state, the “narrow place” of confusion, fragmentation, and spiritual disconnection. Liberation requires us to embrace that which we have been taught to scorn within ourselves and others, including the split-off parts from our own consciousness that we find intolerable and that we project onto some evil Other. The Seder can also be a time to reflect on those parts of ourselves.

Israel left Egypt with “a mixed multitude”; the Jewish people began as a multicultural mélange of people attracted to a vision of social transformation. What makes us Jews is not some biological fact but our willingness to proclaim the message of those ancient slaves: (say together) The world can be changed, we can be healed.

Tonight we join with the millions of Jews around the world and our non-Jewish allies who celebrate our liberation from Egypt and also celebrate liberation from all forms of oppression. We rejoice this year in the uprisings in the Middle East, initiated by the immense courage of large numbers of people in Tunisia and Egypt, and pray that they may actually lead to a new democratic, human rights-observing, and peace-oriented society for all the inhabitants of those countries, and inspire tens of millions of others to take the same risks for liberation.

We are the latest embodiment of the people of Israel, and tonight we invite into our Seder all the past generations who have kept faith with the vision of a world healed and transformed. We rise now to say Kiddush -- in solidarity with all the generations of Jews throughout history who have kept alive this sacred moment, retold the story, and accepted upon themselves the central mitzvah of Passover: to see ourselves as though we personally had participated in the liberation from Egypt.

Blessing over the first cup of wine. The kiddush is found in most Haggadot.

Shehecheyanu
Baruch atah adonai eloheinu melech ha'olam.
Shecheyanu v'kiy'manu v'higyanu lazman hazeh.

Amen

URCHATZ
We wash our hands, without saying the blessing. Each person washes the hand of the person next to her (pouring it over a bowl). Imagine that you are washing away all cynicism and despair, and allow yourself to be filled with the hope that the world could be really transformed in accord with our highest vision.

KARPAS
The saltwater on our table traditionally represents the tears of the Israelite slaves. The green vegetables we dip in the water suggest the possibility of growth and renewal even in the midst of grief.

The greens on the table also remind us of our commitment to protect the planet from ecological destruction. Instead of focusing narrowly on what we may “realistically” accomplish in today’s world, we must refocus the conversation on what the planet needs in order to survive and flourish. We must get out of the narrow place in our thinking and look at the world not as a resource, but as a focus for awe, wonder, and amazement. We must reject the societal story that identifies success and progress with endless growth and accumulation of things. Instead we will focus on acknowledging that we already have enough; we need to stop exploiting our resources and instead care for the earth.

We are descended from slaves, people who staged the first successful slave rebellion in recorded history. Ever since, our people has kept alive the story of liberation, and the consciousness that cruelty and oppression are not inevitable “facts of life” but conditions that can be changed.

The task may seem more overwhelming to us today than in previous moments. Today there is no longer some easily identifiable external evil force playing the role of Pharaoh. Instead, we live in an increasingly unified global economic and political system that brings well-being to some even as it increases the misery of others.

We are in the midst of a huge spiritual and environmental crisis. Our society has lost its way. Yet most of us are even embarrassed to talk about this seriously, so certain are we that we could never do anything to transform this reality, and fearful that we will be met with cynicism and derision for even allowing ourselves to think about challenging the kind of technocratic and alienating rationality that parades itself as “progress” in the current world.

The Exodus story teaches us to see that all this could be changed.

We are the community of Tikkun, the Network of Spiritual Progressives of all faiths -- the religious and spiritual community formed around the ancient Jewish idea that our task is to be partners with God in healing and transforming our world. We know that the world can be healed and transformed -- that is the whole point of telling the Passover story. Our task is to find the ways to continue the struggle for liberation in our own times and in our own circumstances. Some of the steps include:

a. Recognizing each other as allies in that struggle, and supporting each other even though we see each other’s flaws and inadequacies, and see our own as well.

b. Pouring out love into the world, even when we don’t have a good excuse for giving that love to others, even when it seems corny or risky to do so -- breaking down our own inner barriers to loving others and to loving ourselves.

c. Rejecting the cynical view that everyone is out for himself or herself, that there is nothing but selfishness. Instead, we will allow ourselves to see that we are surrounded by people who would love to live in a world based on love and justice and peace if they thought that others would join them in building such a world.

d. Taking the risks of being the first ones out in public to articulate an agenda of social change -- even though being that person may mean risking economic security, physical security, and sometimes even risking the alienation of friends and family.

e. Allowing ourselves to envision the world the way we really want it to be -- and not getting stuck in spiritually crippling talk about what is “realistic.”

The story of Passover is about our people learning to overcome the “realistic” way of looking at the world. Tonight we want to affirm our connection with a different truth: that the world is governed by a spiritual power, by God, by the Force of Transformation and Healing, and that we are created in Her image, we are embodiments of the Spirit, and we have the capacity to join with each other and transform the world we are in.

Affirming that, we dip the greens on our Seder plate in joy at the beauty and goodness of this earth and its vegetation, and recommitting ourselves to do all we can to stop those processes in our society that are contributing to the destruction of the earth.

Dip the greens in saltwater and say blessing.
(from this point on you can eat anything on the table that is a vegetable or vegetable-based)

YACHATZ

Break the middle matzah on the matzah plate.

We break the matzah and hide one part (the Afikomen). We recognize that liberation is made by imperfect people, broken, fragmented -- so don’t be waiting until you are totally pure, holy, spiritually centered, and psychologically healthy to get involved in tikkun (the healing and repair of the world). It will be imperfect people, wounded healers, who do the healing as we simultaneously work on ourselves. Close your eyes for a moment and let come to mind some part of you that is broken and needs healing. Resolve to work on that part, but NOT use that brokenness as an excuse to not engage in social/political transformation. Then, let come to mind some others who are broken and hence less perfect than you would wish. Accept their brokenness as the consequence of their having faced the psychological, cultural, intellectual, economic and political distortions of the modern world, and then tell yourself that you resolve to work with them to heal our world rather than to wallow in the excuse of their imperfections as the reason that you can't see yourself getting involved in social movements any more.

The Bread of Affliction

Raise the middle matzah so that everyone can see it and say:

This is the bread of affliction. Let everyone who is hungry come and eat. But when saying that traditional line -- let all who are hungry come and eat -- we must also recognize the stark contrast between the generosity of the Jewish people expressed in this invitation, and the actual reality in which we live. In the past year the U.S. Congress has passed tax legislation that will return hundreds of billions of dollars to the well-to-do, and yet our country has no money to deal with the needs of the poor, the homeless, and the hungry. We should be taking those hundreds of billions of dollars and using them to rebuild the economic infrastructures of the impoverished all around the world, and providing decent housing and food for those who are in need. Instead, we live in a world in which we try to build barriers to protect ourselves against the poor and the homeless, which demeans them and blames them for the poverty they face. Debates about "the deficit" switch the traditional Jewish focus on how to care for the poor and those who are economically unstable to how to protect what the rest of us have now. Imagine how far this is from the spirit of Torah--where it was impossible for someone to argue that they had to reduce what they were giving to the poor of today in order to insure that they would have more to give in the future. Our Jewish obligation is to take care of the poor right now, rather than explain to them that they may have to get less from us because of our calculations about the future. We have a theory that by giving more to the rich now that they will eventually expand their wealth and it will trickle down to the rest. Oy, the contortions people go through to justify selfishness!

So when we say “hah lachmah anya -- this is the bread of affliction, let all who are hungry come and eat,” we remind ourselves that it is this spirit of generosity that is the authentic Jewish spirit. It is meant to be a contrast to the messages of class society, which continually try to tell us “there is not enough” and therefore that we can’t afford to share what we have with others. We are the richest society in the history of the human race, and we may be the stingiest as well -- a society filled with people who think that we don’t have enough.

We who identify with Tikkun and are part of the Network of Spiritual Progressives proudly proclaim: there is enough, we are enough, and we can afford to share.

FOUR QUESTIONS: THE ADULT VERSION

Discuss as a group or in pairs at the Seder table:

1. Egypt, “mitzrayim” in Hebrew, comes from the word “tzar”: the “narrow place,” the constricted place. In what way are you personally still constricted? Are you able to see yourself as part of the unity of all being, a manifestation of God’s love on earth? Are you able to overcome the ego issues that separate us from each other? Can you see the big picture, or do you get so caught in the narrow places and limited struggles of your own life that it’s hard to see the big picture? What concrete steps could you take to change that?

2. Do you believe that we can eventually eradicate wars, poverty, and starvation? Or do you believe that no one really cares about anyone but themselves, and that we will always be stuck in some version of the current mess? Or do you think that such a belief is, itself, part of what keeps us in this mess? If so, how would you suggest we spread a more hopeful message and deal with the cynicism and self-doubt that always accompanies us when we start talking about changing the world?

3. What experiences have you had that give you hope? Tell about some struggle to change something -- a struggle that you personally were involved in -- that worked. What did you learn from that?

4. When the Israelites approached the Sea of Reeds, the waters did not split. It took a few brave souls to jump into the water. Even then, the waters rose up to their very noses, and only then, when these brave souls showed that they really believed in the Force of Healing and Transformation (YHVH), did the waters split and the Israelites walk through them. Would you be willing to jump into those waters today -- for example by becoming an advocate for non-violence or for the strategy of generosity and the Global Marshall Plan  or for the ESRA--Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution? Would you go to speak about this to your elected representatives? To your neighbors? To your coworkers? To your family? If not, what do you think holds you back, makes you pessimistic, or makes you feel embarrassed to talk to others about transforming our world?

MAGID (TELL THE STORY):
Tell the story of the Exodus, and identify the Pharaohs in your life today.

Blessing over the second cup of wine.

We are descended from slaves who staged the first successful slave rebellion in recorded history. Ever since, our people has kept alive the story of liberation, and the consciousness that cruelty and oppression are not inevitable “facts of life,” but conditions that can be changed.

The Haggadah reminds us that the primary obligation of Passover is to experience ourselves as though we personally went out of Egypt. So now, let someone at the table tell the story of our enslavement, of the genocide against the firstborn Hebrew males, of the way Moses was saved and grew up in the palace and then came to identify with his own people the slaves. Let someone tell of how Moses killed an Egyptian policeman who was beating an Israelite slave and then fled to Midian, how Moses heard God’s voice through a fire that was burning inside him and returned to Egypt, how his demand to “let my people go” was met by the Pharaoh with an escalation of oppression of the Israelites, how his own people shunned him as a trouble-maker who was only making things worse, and how God brought forth a set of environmental disasters. Let someone tell of how Moses was able to convince the Israelites and the Pharaoh that these disasters were intentional plagues from God, how the Israelites eventually came to accept that they could use those plagues as cover to leave Egypt, how 80 percent of the slaves couldn’t make that leap and so decided not to leave with Moses, and how joyful a celebration it was for those who did leave by making a huge leap of faith in believing that transformation was really possible. While this story is being told, let all the other people at the table keep their eyes closed and try to imagine that it is you who are going through this experience, you who have the doubts about Moses and the possibility of a radical transformation, and you who finally is able to take that leap of faith. And allow yourself to feel what that must feel like when you can do that in your own life today!

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. Both must go hand in hand. We live in a society of unprecedented wealth, yet we turn our backs on the hungry. Even the supposedly liberal and progressive political leaders are unwilling to champion any program to seriously address world hunger and homelessness.

There is also a deep spiritual hunger that must be fed. Though the cynical proclaim that those who accumulate the most toys win, our tradition teaches that money, power, and fame cannot sustain us. Our spiritual tradition teaches us to be present to each moment; to rejoice in all that we are and all that we have been given; to experience the world with awe, wonder, and radical amazement; and to recognize that we already have enough and are enough.

Not just during the Seder, but also at every meal, it is incumbent upon us -- the Jewish tradition teaches -- to speak words of Torah, to study some section of our holy books, or to in other ways make God feel present at our table. Try this every night as you eat: bring God and God’s message of love, generosity, peace, social justice, ecological sanity, and caring for others into every meal that you eat.

Enjoy the meal. Following the meal, say a blessing expressing thanks to God for the food and by expressing a commitment to do what you can to redistribute food on this planet so that everyone will have enough.

Of course, as you know, the Seder is only half finished -- the second half begins after we find the afikomen and begin the after-dinner section of the Haggadah. Meanwhile, have a very good meal, be’tey’avon!

SHULCHAN ORECH
Now we eat and enjoy a tasty meal. After you have eaten, dance to some music -- or move around the table and talk to people whom you don’t know.

TZAFUN
Find the Afikomen, symbolizing part of you that was split off and must be reintegrated into your full being to be a whole and free person. Each person eats a bit of this Afikomen.

BARECH
If you’ve eaten and been satisfied, thank God for all that we have been given

Sing together the blessing over the third cup of wine.

SHEFOCH HAMOTCHA
We pause in our celebration to remember the Warsaw Ghetto uprising (which began on the 2nd night of Passover), the Holocaust, and the ways that those in the present who choose to testify to the possibility of transformation become the focus of everyone’s anger and displaced frustrations, and eventually their murderous rage. Being a spiritual or moral vanguard is risky. No wonder it’s easier to assimilate into the celebration of money and cynicism about the contemporary world.

Tonight we remember our six million sisters and brothers who perished at the hands of the Nazis and at the hands of hundreds of thousands of anti-Semites -- many of them Germans, Poles, Croatians, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Romanians, Hungarians, Austrians, Italians, French, Dutch, Russians, etc. -- who assisted those Nazis throughout Europe. We remember also the Jewish martyrs throughout the generations -- oppressed, beaten, raped, and murdered by European Christians. And we remember tonight with pride the Battle of the Warsaw Ghetto, and the tens of thousands of Jews who resisted, fought back, joined Partisan units, or engaged in acts of armed violence against the oppressors.

It is not fashionable to speak about these atrocities, particularly because some reactionary Jews use these memories to legitimate human rights violations against Palestinians -- as though they were still fighting the Nazis, as though shooting Palestinians angered by expulsion from or Israeli occupation of their homeland could somehow compensate for our own failure to have taken up arms soon enough against the Nazi oppressors. Others use the violence done to us as an excuse to be insensitive to the violence done to others -- as though our pain was the only pain -- or to legitimate a general “goyim-bashing” attitude based on a total distrust of non-Jews. But though the memories of past oppression are sometimes misused to support insensitivity to others, it is still right for us to talk about our pain, what was done to us, how unspeakable, how outrageous.

Permitting ourselves to articulate our anger -- rather than trying to bury it, forget it, or minimize it -- is the only way that we can get beyond it. So, tonight it is appropriate to speak about our history, about the Holocaust, and about the ways that the American government and peoples around the world failed to respond to our cries and our suffering. What was done to us was wrong, disgusting, an assault on the sanctity of human life and on God.

It is with righteous indignation that Jews have traditionally called out “Shefokh Chamatkha ha’goyim aher lo yeda’ukha” -- pour out your wrath, God, on those people who have acted toward us in a way that fails to recognize Your holy spirit within us as it is within all human beings. But also pour out your love on the many people who stood up for us when we were facing annihilation, for people around the world who mobilized against the Nazis, for Europeans who did individual acts of saving Jews and gypsies and homosexuals who were 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, anti-Islam, xenophobia in all its various forms, against war, against cruelty to animals, against abuse between human beings, and against environmental irresponsibility. We as a human race have been the beneficiaries of so much human goodness expressed both in daily life and in acts of remarkable courage.

Tonight we reaffirm our commitment to the messianic vision of a world of peace and justice, in which inequalities have been abolished and our human capacities for love and solidarity and creativity and freedom are allowed to flourish, in which all people will recognize and affirm in each other the spirit of God. In that day, living in harmony with nature and with each other, all peoples will participate in acknowledging God’s presence on earth. We remain committed to the struggles in our own time that will contribute to making that messianic vision possible someday.

Partisan Song
Al nah tomar heeney darkee ha’achrona
Et or ha yom heesteru shmey ha’ananah
Zeh yom nichsafnu lo od ya’al veyavo
Umitz adeynu ode yareem ANACHNU POE


Do not say that we have reached the end of hope
Though clouds of darkness makes it hard for us to cope
The time of peace, justice and loving is still near,
Our people lives! We proudly shout that WE ARE HERE.

WELCOMING THE POSSIBILITY OF THE MESSIANIC AGE

We open the door for Elijah -- the prophet who heralds the coming of the Messiah and a world in which all peoples will coexist peacefully -- acknowledging the Image of God in one another. To deny the possibility of fundamental transformation, to be stuck in the pain of past oppression, or to build our religion around memories of the Holocaust and other forms of suffering is to give the ultimate victory to those who oppressed us. To testify to God’s presence in the world is to insist on shifting our focus from pain to hope, and to dedicate our energies to transforming this world and ourselves. We still believe in a world based on love, generosity, and openheartedness. We continue to affirm the Unity of All Being.

Eliyahu ha navee Eliyahu HaTishbee Eliyahu
Eliyahu Eliyahu HaGeeladee
Beem heyrah beyameynu, Yavoe eyleynu eem
mashi’ach ben David
Miriyam Ha nivi’ah Oz vezimrah beyadah
Miriyam Miriyam le taken ha’olam
Beem heyrah beyameynu Tavoe eileynu eem
meymey ha’yeshua


Now let us build together a communal vision of what messianic redemption would look like.

Close your eyes and let some picture of messianic redemption appear in your minds. Then, open your eyes and share with others your picture of the world we want to build together.

Imagine

Imagine there’s all kindness, it’s easy if you try
No Hell below us, above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today…


Imagine there’s no countries, it isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for, and no oppression too.
Imagine all the people, living life in peace
You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.
I hope someday you’ll join us…and the world will be as one.

Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger, a sisterhood of man.
Imagine all the people, sharing all the world
You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.
I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.

Imagine love is flowing, no scarcity of care
Holiness surrounds us, the sacred everywhere
Imagine awe and wonder, replacing greed and fear.
You may say we’re all dreamers, but we’re not the only ones
Tikkun and Spirit soaring, and the world will live as one!

Blessing over the fourth cup of wine.

Sing songs of liberation!




Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun (www.tikkun.org), author of the 2006 NY Times best-seller The Left Hand of God (Harper San Francisco), and national chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives (www.spiritualprogressives.org). RabbiLerner@tikkun.org

 
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