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“Your Seder Table,” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

April 14, 2022 | 13 Nisan 5782

Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we make our way to Shabbat. You can listen to it as a podcast here.

Tonight and tomorrow night, when we gather around the Seder table, how will we regard this ritual? In honor of this holiday full of questions, I present some more to consider.

Will we recline? The Mishnah (Pesachim 10:1) instructs us to mimic the way the wealthy ate in ancient times: on a couch close to the ground with a table nearby with the bounty of food. But, surely we must inquire if the wealth is merely financial or could it be the richness we acquire by the presence of one another — online and onsite. The message is comfort but also gratitude for the unquantifiable riches we each possess.

How will we consume the meal? Will we, as Exodus 12:11 dictates: “…eat of it with your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand… hurriedly” knowing the ancients were about to escape slavery. Couldn’t we savor each bite and not rush through the Haggadah where the mixture of story, song, conversation, taste, and ritual nourish our bodies and souls?

How will we deal with the paradox of welcoming the stranger while also recognizing that we have been regarded as the “hated other?” As Abigail Pogrebin recently wrote in the Atlantic

I’m alert to the spike in anti-Semitic ugliness throughout the world. According to the Anti-Defamation League, 2019 saw more anti-Semitic incidents than any other year since the organization began tracking such incidents four decades ago. This year and last, anti-Semitic hate crimes were the most commonly reported type of bias crimes in New York City. Hateful tweets about Jews increased by 31 percent in 2021, according to an Israeli-government report. Americans seem inured to finding swastikas in dorm rooms, seeing Hasidic Jews beaten on sidewalks, and listening to Israel’s existence be vilified. Crass Holocaust analogies are deployed from both sides of the political aisle.

On this night, when we recall the exodus, we can include leaving the narrow straits of Egypt where the “Pharaoh who did not know Joseph” epitomized ancient and modern hatred. Can we engage in discussion, questions, and support as we reflect on what it means to be the “hated other” at times while welcoming the other all the time?

Will we also lift up inspiring stories from the headlines, such as what is happening in Poland where the Jewish community, supported by millions of dollars from American Jews, are welcoming the stranger, refugees from Ukraine, regardless of their religious identity, and helping them in every way to find protection and a haven from their war torn country they were forced to leave? In a recent report from CNN Poland’s Jewish community spoke about doing what others did not do to help the Jews in World War II while at the same time honoring the memory of those who did save their grandparents from the Nazis.

How will we bring in the light? The experience of Passover is not just the joy of freedom. We start with degradation and misery. As Avivah Zornberg describes,

“…the Night of Watching is to notice that the last three plagues are plagues of darkness: the locusts cover the eye of the earth so that it cannot be seen, the plague of darkness, which is palpable…[ensured that] they did not see one another and they could not stand up from a sitting position, while the plague of the firstborn happens at midnight.”

There is so much darkness in our world. How ironic it is that the Seder is a 15 point plan that takes us from degradation to dignity with this ritual called “Order-Seder” but we live in a world that is out of order. Where does the light peek in? Where can it shine brightly?

Will we be curious? The main point of the seder is to educate the next generation and to ensure their interest and commitment for the generation after them. I am a firm believer in extra dessert for those who inquire and pose probing and penetrating questions. The light shines not on the what is answered but how it is asked. Each of becomes the one who is willing to learn in the experience of the seder ritual.

There are many choices we have when we sit at the Seder table. Whether we participate onsite or online, around someone else’s table or our own, we share that central tenet of the Haggadah to take upon ourselves as if each of us went out of Egypt. Ultimately, what we do with every idea and question we raise will be up to each of us to respond not only as we recline but also when we get up to go out into the world.

On behalf of the whole clergy team, I wish you a meaningful Passover and a delicious experience of telling and retelling an ancient and relevant story of our people.

Hag Sameah!

Shabbat Shalom!

I welcome your thoughts and responses. Connect with me here.