Pesach

By Donna Jacobs Sife

I’m hanging out for seder. I cant remember ever yearning for it quite as much as I do now. Rivers of blood are flowing through Israel and Palestine. The darkness seems unending. So many sons have been lost, alas - not passed over by the Angel of Death. I need the strength of ritual, the structure of seder to help me express the torment and provide a vehicle that can take me from prayer to redemption.

That is the genius of Seder. Its central tenet states that ‘ it is incumbent on every person to see himself as though he personally had gone out from Egypt.’ In other words, it is not just about some ancient liberation, but rather about a liberation that we can continue to experience today; whether it be from our own self imposed enslavement - to the dollar, or our resentments, or our narrow mindedness; or whether it be as a People, oppressed by our fears or by violence; or whether it be the world’s oppression of racism, poverty and hunger.

We were slaves. Not descended from the gods, not noblemen, but humble slaves. And our liberation reminds us that the world can and must be transformed. Remembering our humble beginnings is fundamental to who we are. This year, I find myself thinking about the beginnings of the State of Israel. How deeply traumatized we were, unable to see beyond our gaping wounds and near destruction. Is it possible I ask myself, that we did not see that others were displaced by our being granted a homeland? This year, for me, I will bring that thought to the seder table for discussion. As an Australian, although it is different, I can draw from my experience of Reconciliation. The seder teaches me that our beginnings are the soil from which things can grow. I think it is time for me to accept a wider, braver story about the beginning of the State of Israel.

I love the idea that matzah is both the bread of slavery and the bread of freedom, and that the difference between these two states is as thin as the matzah itself. What seperates them could be just a small step from an entrenched position. Being able to step out from one’s own reality and thereby get a view of the other. When Moses was at the burning bush he “turned aside to see it more clearly’. And ‘when God saw that he turned aside, he spoke to him, saying ‘Moses, Moses’ and he replied, ‘Hineni, I am here.’ Perhaps, I think to myself, if I can turn aside from my own fears, my own position, I too will be able to see more clearly.

Immediately following this exchange with Moses and God in the Torah comes a strange statement from God. ‘I have seen the affliction of my People.....and I have heard my people cry out ....and I come down to deliver them from the hand of the Egyptians’ .

Four hundred years of slavery and You hear them now? What took You so long? The rabbis say that it took us that long to be able to articulate our pain, and finally cry out to God. As soon as we did, God was ready to deliver us. Well, I am ready to cry out.

This year the roasted egg will remind me that without sacrifice, there is no rebirth. And I will ask, with respect, if there has been enough sacrifice yet. And will You not accept it, and bless us all with peace, just as you delivered us into freedom?

And these bitter herbs. Yes, they are the bitterness we endured as slaves, and they are the bitterness of grief stricken families, of hatred, of living with threats and bombs and guns and tanks and martyred murderers. Enough yet, God? Do You hear us? How much more bitterness must all those who live in the Holy Land endure, before You deliver us all to a just and lasting peace.

This charoset. The cement that held the bricks of oppression together. The mortar that built a wall of inequality, between slave and master. ‘Tonight’ I will be saying ‘ as we eat this charoset, let it be also the cement that will hold together the bricks of peace. Let us ingest the mortar of tolerance and compassion, humility and forgiveness.’

We are, after all, a light unto the nations. The Holy Land can be more than a place to save us if ‘it happens again’. It is more than a piece of land that we must cling to in the terror that we may die without it. It is the Holy Land. And as such we must act with holiness as the custodians. And what is it to be holy? In the Tanach, Micah 6:8 says that the Lord requires you to ‘only do justice, to love goodness, and to walk modestly with your God.’ Or in the Talmud it says that the Jewish nation is distinguished by three characteristics; they are merciful, they are humble, and they perform acts of loving kindness.

Which makes me think of Midrash. When the heavenly angels sang songs of praise to God as the Egyptians were drowning in the Sea of Reeds, God reprimanded them for celebrating the suffering of his children the Egyptians. When I clear my house of chametz this year, I only hope I sweep out the corners of my heart as well , and do away with at least some of the pride and arrogance that lurk in the shadows.

Of this I am sure. Our own liberation requires the liberation of all people, and the end of all oppression. Perhaps it is this recognition that makes Passover such a universal holiday, and the seder such a wonderful time to invite non-Jews and nonpracticing Jews to our home to experience the aliveness of Judaism’s liberatory message.

Make your seder mean something. Don’t just say the words and try to get through it as quickly as possible. It is as powerful and transforming as you make it. And this year, as the seder closes with the prayer - next year, Peace in Jerusalem - it will be cried out from all corners of the earth.

Lets pray that God will be listening.