April 2019

Themes for the Seder Night

The highlight of the month of April is the celebration of Passover.  Our Seder nights are April 19th and 20th.  To help enhance your experience as you prepare to lead or join in at a Seder, I offer some thoughts to stimulate conversation.

Acknowledging Slavery/Celebrating Freedom: HA LACHMA ANYA

One of the first readings in the Haggadah is HA LACHMA ANYA, this is the bread of affliction, during which we symbolically open our doors to the poor, a gesture that acknowledges our communal priority that every Jew who wishes to should have the means to celebrate the Seder meal. (Before your Seder, you might consider a gift to YAD CHESED to make sure that all Jews in our area have the means to celebrate the holiday.)  This paragraph ends with the line: “this year we are slaves, next year may we be free.”  How can we make that statement meaningful?

One way to appreciate the statement that we are still slaves who hope for liberation is to ask ourselves how we are enslaved.  What can we do together to free ourselves?  Are we enslaved because we recognize that slavery still exists in our world?  Is our freedom compromised by the existence of many forms of slavery around us: trafficked women in America, child soldiers in Sudan, Muslims imprisoned in Chinese camps?  Are we enslaved by habits that limit our freedom of action: our cell phones and the culture of 24/7 work? Habits of eating and drinking that control us rather than nurture us?  You might ask guests to think of one way in which being enslaved is real in their lives and one concrete thing we can do to make our world better during the year to come.

Springtime, Rebirth and Renewal: KARPAS

Early in the Seder we dip greens (or in my home, boiled potato) in salt water for KARPAS.  This ritual functions on many levels.  As a reminder of slavery in Mitzrayim (Egypt), the salt water recalls the tears of the slaves, and the lettuce or parsley reminds of the simple foods slaves eat.  As a start to the meal, veggies and salty, strong dips are the perfect appetite enhancer– just think of salsa in a Mexican restaurant.  The Karpas course reminds us of the link between the Seder and the Greco-Roman symposium meal which begins with dipping, includes regular servings of wine, and concludes with the AFIKOMEN, the Greek word for dessert.  Finally, the greens remind us of springtime.  On Passover we read the biblical Song of Songs and we think about love and new beginnings.  We notice that the leaves are returning to the trees and flowers have begun to blossom once again.  We recall how the people of Israel became a nation in springtime. So, this moment at the Seder is a perfect time to talk about springtime, renewal, hope, love, and caring for the environment.

Wholeness and Brokenness: YAHATZ

Normally when things are broken, they get thrown out.  But on the Seder night we are reminded that both the broken and the whole contain holiness.  Early in the evening we break the middle matzah and put half back in the matzoh cover and half in the afikomen bag where it becomes a central part of the completion of the Seder.  Without that piece of broken matzoh the Seder meal cannot reach its formal conclusion.   There is an important lesson in this ritual.  That which is broken, the part of ourselves and our lives that we consider less than perfect, less than whole, is also sacred and a part of the fullness of our lives.  You might reflect on moments in your life that seemed broken at the time, but ended up being a gateway into a new and better experience.  As the poet Leonard Cohen—adapting Ralph Waldo Emerson—wrote, “There is a crack, a crack, in everything.  That’s how the light gets in.”

To your families from mine, best wishes for a Hag Pesach Kasher Vi’Sameach —  A meaningful and celebratory Passover.

Rabbi Leonard Gordon

For more ideas about how to keep your Seder engaging and fresh, join me for our final pre-Passover workshop on Shabbat afternoon, April 6th at 1 p.m. in the chapel for “How to enhance your Seder: An interactive workshop.” No pre-registration required; just join us.