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Retelling our Liberation Story

April 2, 2023


Rabbi Nathan Martin

In the midst of the narrative of the ten plagues the Torah takes an interesting pause to describe in detail the prepara­tions and celebration of the Passover holiday. The Torah even imagines at the moment a time when the need to re-tell the story will be inevitable, “And when your children ask you, ‘What do you mean by this rite?’ you shall say, ‘It is the passover sac­ri.ce to YHVH who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt when smiting the Egyptians, but saved our houses.’ (Ex. 12:26-27). 

I love that the essence of Passover, from its origins, is not only the food and the cleaning (which it is) but also the un­derstanding that the only way to truly keep a historical event meaningful is to continue to creatively retell it gen­eration after generation. Some commentators, such as Noam Zion from the Shalom Hartman Institute, posit that the Haggadah itself is simply a teacher’s outline for how to structure an interesting story telling about the Exodus. And when it came to key verses from the narrative, the traditional Haggadah suggests that we do what Jews do best, engage in close reading and exe­gesis of the text — playing with the words of Torah. Even the central Mah Nishtanah prayer, Zion argues, is meant to provide a model for how to ask questions about the story and the ritual; any answers that come along are secondary to the questions. 

In our contemporary Sedarim, we continue and extend this creative exegesis in new ways. The Reconstructionist Hag­gadah, A Night of Questions, includes a play to act out. We often turn to .rst person narrative, inviting participants in the seder to re.ect on liberation in their own lives and cir­cumstances. And of course — from Rabbi Arthur Waskow’s Freedom Seder in 1969 and beyond, we also have a tradi­tion of using the seder to connect to liberation struggles around the globe through the lens of the seder rituals. 

Even the seder plate continues to grow with additional symbols of liberation. There’s the orange on the seder plate for Feminism and later LGBTQ equality, (which my children think was put there by Miriam herself,) a tomato to recognize the Immolakee workers in Florida seeking fairer wages and representing the rights of workers more broadly, an acorn to represent and acknowledge the in­digenous land on which we are living and the people who have stewarded this land for many generations. I’m sure you can think of others. 

The beauty of the seder and the retelling of the Exodus tale is that it is not a static ritual, but continues to evolve and change, allowing us to regularly inject meaningful new narratives and to “recon­struct” this ritual so that it continues to provide meaning and depth for current and future generations. 
Whether you are joining our Seder at Beth Israel this year and/or attending other Seders, I invite you to consider bringing your own re.ections and creativity to this Jewish moment. Here are some options for consideration of ways to bring the seder more directly into the lives of those sitting around the table: 

Find a way for those who would like to share a story from their family or their own lives that illustrates the power of liberation? 

Invite seder-goers to bring with them an object that represents liberation and .nd a time during the seder (Perhaps during dinner) in which everyone can tell the story of their object. 

Bring back old or start new traditions at your seder! Include spe­cial foods, songs or melodies that connect you to your family and brings in a piece of your personal ancestry that you get to carry with you on your journey. 

I want to bless us, as we enter this ritual passage of the seder and connect with friends and family, that we allow ourselves to be open to new and innovative teachings and experiences that will generate new meanings for us in our own journeys of liberation. 

With best wishes for a sweet and healthy Passover! 

Fri, June 21 2024 15 Sivan 5784