Each year at Passover, Jews read this line in the haggadah, "In every generation a person is obligated to see themselves as if they had left Egypt." Why? Because each of us should understand that in our generation, just as in our ancestors' generation, the status quo is not inevitable. The pharaohs of Egypt thought themselves gods, considered themselves invincible, and believed that their power could not be overthrown. The Jews, living in daily humiliation and under the hand of a foreign power, believed that their troubles would never end. But they were all wrong. Societies founded on inequality, on domination of others, on ruling those who do not wish to be ruled cannot, in the arc of history, last. In every generation there is a wrong to be righted. Today, it is in our hands to right it.
This year, you can add flavor to your seder by sharing this thoughtful reflection by Rabbi Baruch Leff, a scholar and activist, and the chair of Israel's Shomrei Mishpat, Rabbis for Human Rights. Rabbi Leff, who has written previously for Americans for Peace Now, has graciously contributed our 12th haggadah insert. In it, he considers why we say, "We were slaves."
As you prepare for the holiday, I encourage you to read and reflect on this wonderful peace parshah from Rabbi Aryeh Cohen. You might want to add it as an enriching reading to your seder as well.
As we gather at the seder table, we see ourselves as if we had left Egypt, and having suffered oppression, we commit ourselves to ensure that others not be oppressed. We know from our own experience that liberation is possible, and in this knowledge, there is hope for peace.
May we all enjoy a sweet and liberating Passover,
President and CEO,
Americans for Peace Now
Submitted by Rabbi Barry Leff (2013)
To be read before Avadim Hayinu
We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt.
The Mishnah tells us that we begin telling the Passover story with our disgrace. That we were slaves.
Why? Why remember that we were slaves in Egypt?
So that we should remember, and not become oppressors ourselves.
Victims of abuse often become abusers themselves. The Torah commands us "No!" Don't be an abuser. 36 times the Torah tells us "do not oppress the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt."
Despite all those warnings, our national homeland, Israel, has become an oppressor to another people. Palestinians living in the West Bank do not have freedom of movement. Israel rules their lives with checkpoints, refusing to allow construction in Area C, subjecting them to arbitrary military law. They have no representation and no voice in the government that controls their lives.
Some Palestinians compare the Israeli Occupation to a Nazi regime. We know that's not true. We know that such a comparison is ignorant.
But what if they compare us to Pharaoh?
Pharaoh ruled over us with a harsh hand in Egypt. We must not do the same to others.
We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt. We must not become Pharaoh in Palestine.
Let's embrace the pshat (the simple, surface meaning) of the ritual of yachatz, to break our bread and share it with our neighbors. Let's divide the matzah, and take only what we need. We can let go of that wrapped-up piece, and we can let go of our fear, because we have faith that this is the only way to make it all whole again.Download a PDF version
Submitted by Rabbi Rachel Goldenberg (2012)
To be read just before dividing the middle matzah
We now prepare to break the middle Matzah - this bread that carries conflicting interpretations - the bread of affliction and the bread of freedom.
As we divide the matzah into two uneven pieces, we remember our affliction.
On kibbutz, there were always a couple of old ladies who didn't eat much at the meal in the communal dining room, but who would line up afterwards to fill stacked containers with food to take home. They had survived the camps, places where if you come across a piece of bread, you do not eat it all at once. No - you take a little, and you save most of it for later.
Tears flow from the cracks in the matzah. As we divide the matzah into two uneven pieces, we remember our affliction.
But this matzah is also the bread of our freedom.
Today in the State of Israel our People have power. We have land, we have plenty. Yet, too often the tears of our affliction blind us to these realities. Israel grabs and settles territory out of fear that the enemy will return to decimate us. We are still victims.
As we break the matzah, we can break the habit of seeing ourselves as afflicted-ones. We can rise up from the degradation of occupation and eat our bread like free people!
Let's embrace the pshat (the simple, surface meaning) of the ritual of yachatz, to break our bread and share it with our neighbors. Let's divide the matzah, and take only what we need. We can let go of that wrapped-up piece, and we can let go of our fear, because we have faith that this is the only way to make it all whole again.
Submitted by Rabbi Esther Lederman (2010)
To be read after the recitation of the Four Questions/Ma Nishtanah
Tonight, we ask four questions. Two remind us of our slavery at the hands of the Egyptians- Matza and Maror - the bread of our affliction and the bitterness of our tears. Two remind us of our liberty-- the dipping of foods and reclining in our chairs. Echoes of slavery and freedom mingle at our seder table. We recline upon our cushions as we lick the salty tears of our enslavement.
Tonight, we ask four questions that remind us of our bitter past and joyful present. But what about our future? It is time to ask a fifth question: What will redemption look like?
Israelis and Palestinians, hearing each other's stories, facing each other's truths. Israel and Palestine, two states for two peoples. Justice for both, Security for All. Peace for the People. The People for Peace.
What will redemption look like? An end to death and terror, An end to checkpoints and blockades. Liberty for Palestinians, Secure Borders for Israelis, A New Map for the Middle East.
V'im lo achshav, eimatay? And if not today, then when?
Tonight we ask four questions. But it is time to ask a fifth: What will redemption look like? Our children want to know... Pesach