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Two thousand years earlier, in the wake of the destruction of the Temple and tremendous unrest, the rabbis used all the creative tools in their hands to restore order out of the chaos of destruction. Our seder, whose very name means order, offers us now familiar ritual so that we can step out of times of shattering chaos, even momentarily. It helps us to bring those fragments into an organized and coherent whole. Modern trauma theory eventually recognized what the rabbis knew instinctively: Where trauma overwhelms, provide sensory grounding and order.

Kadesh, Urchatz, Karpas, Yachatz, we recite, as we bring our senses into the present: the taste of the wine, the feel of the water on our hands, the smell of the parsley, the sound of the breaking matzah, the sight of the symbols of the holiday we have been observing since that night of tumult as we fled from Egypt.

Maggid, Rachtzah, Motzi Matzah, we sing, as we painstakingly tell the story of pain and redemption, slavery and freedom, taking what feels shattered and reassembling into a clear picture that restores narrative coherence.

Maror Korech Shulchan Orech: Some years, we relate better to the sweetness of the charoset, but in others, it feels integrating to match the maelstrom inside with the bitterness of the maror. We eat, recognizing that even when the world doesn’t make sense, we need to endure.

Tzafun Barekh Hallel Nirtzah: the meaning and solutions seem hidden now, and in response we engage in a practice of gratitude for what might have at this moment. There is comfort in familiar liturgy and songs, traditions that tie us to less fraught times and evoke connections to family. As we call out from the narrow place, we pray that while today we might be shattered, perhaps next year we will have some comfort of coherence again.




Rabbi Sharon Brous

One of the first rites of the Seder is urchatz, the ritual washing of hands. We stand at the threshold. Soon we’ll tell the story that reignites our imagination every year, that reminds us that the world can look different than it does, that insists that every human being can live with dignity and love. This story has, for generations, held our most stubborn and audacious insistence: that peace, justice and liberation are not fantasy but reality. That we, every one of us, are called to be partners in our own redemption story.

But before we can hear this story, we have to transition from the mundane of our work lives to the holy and the hopeful of the holiday. The signpost of that transition is a symbolic hand washing. This year, we also find ourselves, collectively, standing at a threshold. Like the first signs of spring after a long, dark winter, we yearn to embrace new possibilities, to chart a brave, new course.

It will take courage, faith and love to make our shared dreams a reality. First, we must wash away our bitterness and resentment, our exhaustion, narrow-mindedness and cynicism. It’s only then that we can begin to reconnect with a world of expansive possibility.

Unlike nearly every other element of the Seder, this washing is unaccompanied by a blessing, perhaps because the washing, itself, is a blessing.


HA LACHMA ANYA – Double Edged Swords
Dr. David Arnow

Know well that your ancestors shall be strangers in a land not theirs, and they shall be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years… and in the end they shall go forth with great wealth.    —Haggadah, quoting Genesis 15:13-14

God speaks these words to Abraham and the Haggadah cites them to argue that the story of the Exodus didn’t just happen. It was destined to occur. And the story’s contours will model the ceaseless ebb and flow of Jewish history: “from slavery to freedom, from grief to joy, from mourning to festivity, from darkness to great light, and from subjugation to redemption” as the Haggadah puts it.

Like most Jewish liturgy, the Haggadah emphasizes praising God for our redemption rather than probing the causes of our suffering— in this case centuries of enslavement. This may create the misimpression that rabbinic thought shies away from the matter. Over the ages our sources have offered many reasons for the bondage in Egypt. Here’s a very small sample:

  1. Rav said: “A parent should never give one child preferential treatment over others. It was because of one ounce of fine wool that Jacob gave to Joseph … when making him the striped coat that his brothers became jealous of him. And that led to our ancestors going down to Egypt.”6
  2. God said to the sons of Jacob: “You sold Joseph for a slave… By your lives, year after year you will be reciting We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt,avadim hayinu l’Pharaoh.7
  3. In the process of selling grain during the famine, Joseph acquired all the Egyptians’ money, livestock, and land for Pharaoh. “And he removed the population town by town, from one end of Egypt’s border to the other.”8 Joseph then gave them seed to plant and in return required a fifth of their annual harvest for Pharaoh. “And they said to him, ‘You have saved our lives! …We will be slaves to Pharaoh (v’hayinu avadim l’Pharaoh). “A generation later, the Egyptians would take their revenge on Joseph for having reduced them to slavery, by enslaving his people.”9

If you take God out of the equation, these texts suggest that particular failings of Jacob, Joseph, and his brothers set in motion a chain of events that ended in disaster for their descendants. Without absolving Pharaoh of his unbounded cruelty, they warn us that our own actions may have unintended consequences that contribute to our reversals of fortune. That lesson is never easy to accept. But it points the way to facing the present with a stronger sense of agency and the future with a deeper capacity to choose hope over despair.

Questions for discussion:

  1. 1)  In what ways does this Passover feel different than other Passovers?
  2. 2)  Does the point of view reflected in the texts cited above add to your understanding of the Passover story? If so, how?
  3. 3)  Given legitimate concerns about blaming the victim, what are the strengths and weaknesses of this approach?
  4. 4)  Texts like these ask us to look inward and to assume a measure of responsibility for the situations in which we find ourselves as individuals and as a people. In our post- October 7th world what would that entail?

Footnotes: 6 Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 10b  7 Midrash on Psalms 10:3  8 Gen. 47:21  9 Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary, Rabbinical Assembly, 2001, p. 288



She who Rose Up to Stand for Us and for Humanity
Rabbi Dianne Cohler-Esses

And it is this that has stood for our ancestors and for us; since it is not only one that has stood against us to destroy us, but rather in each generation, they stand against us to destroy us, but the Holy Blessed One rescues us from their hand.

Vehi sheamda – And “She” that stood

I can feel her presence even now, even in this broken generation. She is standing at a distance, watching us, waiting for the moment to ripen, ready to step in.

Who is this mysterious “she” that stood for our ancestors and for us? Traditionally “she” has been read as “The Torah” or “the Shechinah”, God’s feminine presence who dwells close to us always.

But I read it differently. For this broken moment my “she” is human, an ancestor. It is Miriam, Miriam the slave girl, Miriam the prophet.

Why Miriam? Because she stood. And in that standing “she” (!) ultimately saves an entire people. She stood while her imperiled baby brother – who was so threatening to the Pharaoh that he wanted him dead –was placed by his heartbroken mother in a basket in the reeds by the River Nile.

And she stood. Miriam watched him. She waited. She would not abandon him.

She waited for “de’ah” for revelation, for the moment when she was called to act.

And when was the right moment? When her enemy, her enslaver, the one who wanted her brother dead, the daughter of Pharaoh, came down to the Nile with her servant girls to bathe. To bathe!! As if all was right in her empire, as if Hebrew babies were not being drowned in the Nile. She went to bathe as if innocent blood was not drenching her land and flowing through the waters of the river where she bathes.

But Miriam knew better than to see her oppressor as simply an oppressor. As less than human. She expected humanity even from her enemy. Impossibly, she watched with eyes of hope.

Here’s how the scene unfolds: The daughter of Pharaoh sees a basket, sends her servant girl to fetch it, and opens it. When she sees a baby crying, she opens her heart. Despite her father’s terrible edict, she has compassion, she recognizes the humanity of the wailing Hebrew infant before her.

That is the moment Miriam has been waiting for. She steps in and dares to speak to the daughter of Pharaoh as a peer rather than a princess, as a human rather than a harsh oppressor. Miriam sees the signs of humanity in Bat Pharaoh – and asks for more.

She addresses her as a partner, as a co- conspirator: “Shall I go and call a nursing woman from the Hebrews for you, that she may nurse the child for you?”12 she asks.

And with that she reunites child and mother, allowing her mother a few precious years to hold her precious son close, deferring grief until he is old enough to be taken to the palace to his adoptive mother, the daughter of Pharaoh.

Miriam is the one who stands and watches, who waits in faith for that precise redemptive moment.

Miriam is the slave girl who makes deals for the sake of redemption.

Miriam is the one who recognizes the humanity of her oppressor, crossing enemy lines to save life.

I can sense her presence even now in this shattered moment. Miriam is waiting, watching for just the right moment to step in, into the human field, into the field of redemption, and save our people.

12 Ex. 2:7



Jessica Jacobs

Our story as a Jewish people begins with Abraham, who, through a call from God, is given the task to lech lecha, to blindly go to a place where God will show him. Our forefathers and foremothers, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob, Rachel, and Leah eventually lead us to the land of Egypt.

Jacob’s son Joseph and the Egyptians begin on good terms with one another. However, soon a Pharaoh arises over the land that does not know Joseph or his descendants, the Israelites. From his fear of their great numbers the Pharaoh enslaves the Israelites and forces harsh labor and poor conditions upon them for 400 years. Israelite first-born boys are drowned so as to thwart the strength of the Israelite people.

But the cries of the Israelite people do not go unnoticed. God sends ten plagues upon the Egyptians, forcing Pharaoh to let the Israelite slaves go free. God brought the Israelites, and us, out of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm.  God brought us to freedom, and now it is our blessing and burden to carry the weight of that freedom.


Rabbi Margaret Frisch Klein

Every victim from any country
Every person
Each created in the image of the Divine
A drop of wine
A drop of blood
We weep for each victim
Each victim of terror
Each victim of sexual assault
Each victim of displacement
Each victim of brutality
Each victim of promises made
And promises shattered
Each victim searching for water
And searching for food
And searching for safety
Searching for school
And searching for healing
Each victim of fear
We pray that soon
All will be out of the tunnels
Out of the narrow places
God admonished the angels
“My creatures are drowning, and you rejoice?” A drop of wine
A drop of blood
Too, too many drops this year
Next year may all be free
Out of the narrow places.

Why does Torah give no command to rejoice during Pesach?

Because the Egyptians died during Pesach. And similarly, do you find that although we read the [entire] Hallel on each of the seven days of Sukkot, on Pesach we read the entire Hallel only on the first day and on the night preceding it. Why? Because of this quote: “Do not gloat at the fall of your enemy.” (Proverbs 24:17).



Cantor Evan Kent


  1. The Plague of Poor Leadership

Palestinians and Israelis have leaders who have served for too long and often promote their own personal political survival and ideological agendas over the interests of their people.

  1. The Plague of Living in Fear

Palestinians and Israelis alike live in trauma and fear. Israelis, grappling with anguish over the unknown fate of loved ones held for over six months by Hamas; the indiscriminate bombing from Hezbollah in the North and Hamas in the south, and nightmare of displacement from their homes. Gazans, who face the constant threat of airstrikes and ground invasions. And West Bank Palestinians who live with the threat of settlers, vigilante justice, and an Israeli government that turns a blind eye or worse. Everyone bearing the physical and psychological trauma, haunted by threats of more violence, uncertainty about the future.

3. The plague of religious extremism to justify horrific behavior. Both Israeli and Palestinians are plagued by internal movements that pervert God’s name to erase the reality of the others’ existence, their suffering, their humanity and their rights.

4. The Plague of the Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza

With widespread destruction, shortages of essential supplies, civilians in Gaza live on the brink of famine. This humanitarian crisis is in direct conflict with our Jewish values and religious obligations.

  1. The Plague of False Narratives

When borders, geography and mistrust limit interactions between Palestinians and Israelis, fictions are created about each other.

  1. The Plague of Unchecked Settlements

Israel’s democratic and Jewish nature are severely threatened by the continual and seemingly unabated expansion of Israeli settlements and increased Settler violence in the West Bank.

  1. The Plague of the Lack of Vision

In the midst of war, we search for leaders who offer us hope, rather than fear, and a path towards co-existence, rather than walls that divide.

  1. The plague of rigidity. Both the Israelis and Palestinians hold rigidly to stories and histories that bind them in cycles of frustration that impede progress toward peace and justice.

9. The Plague of Violence

Violence, instead of words, is used on all sides, by all parties, as a way to harm, intimidate, maim, destroy and kill others, perpetuating cycles of suffering and destruction with devastating consequences for civilians on all sides.

  1. The Plague of Indifference

We become indifferent when we cease to see each other as human beings with legitimate hopes, dreams, aspirations and ambitions.



Ilu ho-tsi, ho-tsi-a-nu, Ho-tsi-anu mi-Mitz-ra-yim Ho-tsi-anu mi-Mitz-ra-yim Da-ye-nu!
Chorus: Da-da-ye-nu, Da-da-ye-nu, Da-da-ye-nu, Da-da-ye-nu, Da-ye-nu Da-ye-nu
If we had only been taken out of Egypt, it would’ve been enough!

Ilu na-tan, na-tan la-nu, Na-tan la-nu et-ha-Sha-bat, Na-tan la-nu et-ha-Sha-bat,
If we had only been given the Sabbath, it would have been enough! (Chorus)

Ilu na-tan, na-tan la-nu, Na-tan la-nu et-ha-To-rah, Na-tan la-nu et-ha-To-rah, Da-ye-nu!
If we had only been sent the Torah, it would have been enough!

If the holy One had brought us out from Egypt,
and had not carried out judgments against them — Dayenu, it would have sufficed!

If the holy One had freed us from Egypt, and had not split the sea for us
— Dayenu!

If the holy One had split the sea for us, and had not taken us through it on dry land
— Dayenu!

If the holy One had taken us to dry land, and had not supplied our needs in the desert for forty years
— Dayenu!

If the holy One had supplied our needs in the desert for 40 years, and had not fed us the manna
— Dayenu!

If the holy One had fed us the manna, and had not given us the Shabbat
— Dayenu!

If the holy One had given us the Shabbat, and had not brought us before Mount Sinai — Dayenu!

If the holy One had brought us before Mount Sinai, and had not given us the Torah
— Dayenu!

If the holy One had given us the Torah, and had not brought us into the land of Israel — Dayenu!

If the holy One had brought us into the land of Israel, and not built for us the Holy Temple
— Dayenu! — CHORUS

Discuss: What would be our “Dayeinus” today?



Prayer for Guidance and Help

Rabbi Dr. Jo David

What does it mean to feel a personal experience of the exodus from Egypt? Throughout history, all mass migrations have been composed of a “mixed multitude.” Who were the people who left their homes? What truly motivated them? What were their hopes and dreams as they traveled toward the Promised Land?

The modern state of Israel is not just a symbol of the biblically promised Jewish homeland. It is the literal home of the world-wide Jewish community created against the backdrop of the Holocaust. The state of Israel is a guarantee that the Jewish people will never be homeless again. The threat that the October 7 War represents is not “merely” that of pain and suffering, but of a return to homelessness for the Jewish people. It is a terrifying thought — that Jews living today might have to undergo an exodus from our homeland in our lifetime.

How can we respond to this threat? Few of us are able to pick up a weapon and fight on the front lines. The scope of suffering goes beyond nationalistic ideologies and challenges our compassion and our resources. Feelings of fear, helplessness and hopelessness are overwhelming and disabling. What are we to do?

In times of trouble, Psalm 121 urges us to turn for strength and guidance to the One who is the maker of heaven and earth. A famous teaching of the great spiritual master, Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav, is that one should make time each day to commune with nature and speak out loud, from the heart to God. What connects both these ideas is the concept of creating a focus for prayer. When we feel helpless and hopeless, we ask, “What can I do?” It is with this question in mind that I offer the following prayer.

Prayer for Guidance and Help

Make Your sight my sight,
Make Your wisdom my wisdom,
Make your strength my strength
So that I may do your work in the world. Amen.


A Meditation Before We Talk About Matzah
Rabbi Dan Ornstein

Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel (1748-1825) was known by his nom de plume, the Oheiv Yisrael, “The Lover of the people of Israel.” (He was also the great, great grandfather of Rabbi Abraham Heschel.) Stories abound of his gentleness, deep love and compassion for all his fellow Jews.

Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz was extremely strict about the laws concerning the removal of chametz, leavened food, on Pesach. The Oheiv Yisrael was less strict. One Pesach, one of Pinchas’s grandsons came to visit the Oheiv Yisrael’s family. Because he observed his grandfather’s stringencies so scrupulously and zealously, he got into a great deal of angry conflict with his host’s family during the holiday. The Oheiv Yisrael finally took the young man aside and said to him, “You should know that anger is a form of chametz which is forbidden all year round.”

The Oheiv Yisrael playfully but roundly criticized the young man by alluding to a halachic (legal) rule that he would have known: chametz which remains in a Jew’s possession during Pesach is forbidden during the rest of the year. The biblical prohibition against even owning (let alone eating) chametz on Pesach is so strict that the Talmudic sages forbade the use of this kind of chametz for all time. The rabbi was also hinting at a common trope in Rabbinic and later Hasidic literature. It compares the overly fastidious, arrogant, and angry sides of our personalities – the parts of us that are “puffed up with pride” – to leavened, risen bread. On Pesach, we try to free ourselves from the “spiritual Egypt” of our anger and arrogance, to achieve the humility-that-shuns-harshness symbolized by the lowly, unleavened matzah. Some Talmudic and Hasidic teachings often go even further, shunning all anger at all times of the year.

Our teacher was telling his young guest: “Your fastidious religious piety isn’t pious; it isn’t even religious. You’re busy being so holy and angrily judging everyone in my family about chametz. Can’t you see what the chametz of your anger is doing to you and to the rest of us? You think you’re celebrating Pesach? Nonsense! You’re stuck in Egypt, now and year-round.”

Angry quibbling over rituals is incomparable with life-and-death conflict. Still, this story speaks to us as we celebrate our first Pesach after October 7. Israel was severely traumatized by the toxic, religiously fueled hatred, and rage of Hamas. Our people rightly responded with a rage born of deep vulnerability and a steadfast refusal to let such barbarity go unpunished. Yet, to paraphrase Robert Frost, “rage leads onto rage.” So much suffering and destruction fueled by hate and deep mistrust are bleeding Jews and Palestinians to death, in different yet equally poisonous ways. The chametz of anger and hopelessness is bloating our two peoples to the point where we risk exploding.

How can we cool this rage and bring peace – the ultimate exodus from Egypt – to our peoples and even to our angry planet? We lack the power of international leaders to change things globally. Yet taking our cue from the Oheiv Yisrael, we recognize that the personal is global. Deflating destructive anger on a world scale begins with each of us, who are microcosms of humanity. For examples, we have control over how we speak to each other, especially when talking about polarizing topics such as Israel and Palestine. We have control over how we treat each other, as enemies whose opinions are seen as weapons, or as friends who love each other while agreeing to disagree. We have control over whether we approach others in the community with courtesy and curiosity or with our fingers on the proverbial trigger. We decide what to put into the world.

At this point in the seder we lift the matzah and ask: “What is the reason that our ancestors ate this matzah?” We might also ask: “How can we replace our angry chametz with the matzah of our humility?


Maror symbolizes the bitterness in our lives. We taste it to remember the bitterness of slavery, past and present, inflicted upon us and inflicted by us. This year the bitterness seems almost too much to bear. Do we really need a reminder of all the heartache?

We hope though, that through tasting the bitterness, our senses can be awakened to empathy and camaraderie.


Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashav taught that when we taste the maror at the seder, we should be careful not to dip the bitter herb into the haroset, but rather we should spread the haroset onto the maror. Our role is to bring sweetness where there is bitterness. In these difficult and often bitter days, while we don’t ignore the bitter taste of the maror, our work is to be a force for sweetness and hope.

Questions For Discussion Through the Dinner

  • The Haggadah implores each and every one of us to “see ourselves as if we, too, came out of Egypt.” Why is it not enough to simply recount the Passover story, that we must also imagine ourselves in it? How does this commandment relate to what’s happening in Israel now?
  • The Passover story tells us that after crossing the Red Sea, Moses’ sister Miriam played her tambourine and rejoiced, as Pharaoh and the Egyptians drowned. Is it ever appropriate to rejoice at our enemy’s downfall, and if so, when?
  • Passover is known as “The Holiday of Spring,” a time of renewal and rebirth. What’s one way you can actively try to demonstrate optimism in these challenging times?


The word עבדים  (avadim, “slaves”) is derived from the root עבד  (ayin-bet-dalet). This same three-letter root is also the foundation of b’diavad), Hebrew (בדיעבד for “retrospect.”
Is this a coincidence? Why or why not?


The word we use in the Seder for dessert “צפון,” (tzafun), can also mean “north,” and is derived from the same root, צפנ  (tzadi- peh-nun), as מצפן  (matzpen, מצפון  “compass”) and (matzpun, “conscience”).
How might all three words be related?


Have No Other Land

By Ehud Manor

I have no other country even if my land

is aflame Just a word in Hebrew pierces

my veins and my soul

With a painful body with a hungry heart

here is my home


To Our Land

By Mahmoud Darwish

To our land,

and it is the one near the word of God, a

ceiling of clouds

To our land,

and it is the one far from the adjectives

of nouns,

the map of absence

To our land,

and it is the one tiny as a sesame seed, a

heavenly horizon… and a hidden



Rabbi David Seidenberg, PhD

Pour Your fierce anger onto the nations that did not know You and on the governments that did not call in Your name. For it has eaten Jacob and made his habitat desolate. (Psalms 79)

Pour on them Your fury and make You burning anger grip them. (Psalms 69:25)

Pursue in anger and destroy them from under YHVH’s heavens. (Lament. 3:66)

It is right to feel anger when we think about the trauma of Jewish history and the recent traumas of October 7and its aftermath. Repressing or denying our fierce anger is unhealthy. That fire held tightly inside can consume us, as it says, “it has eaten Jacob.” But feeling it as a desire for vengeance, and acting that out, is unholy. Anger, when hardened into a desire for vengeance, can become vicious, can re-traumatize us again and again, can turn victim into victimizer. Instead, the Haggadah invites us to entrust God with our anger, and to ask Hashem to take over our anger and find its right use in the world.

This can only happen after we are willing to let go, to release even the most justified, firmly rooted anger, anger that is born out of grief and loss. A way to do this: open the door, step outside, recite Sh’foch Chamat’cha aloud, declaiming it to the world. If you’ve collected the wine or grape juice that was poured out during the ten plagues, upturn the bowl and pour it out onto the ground. We can let God take our anger and pour it out onto the ground, to be soaked up by the earth. For the earth has power to heal plagues and transmute anger. Even our very worst feelings can be turned into something fertile and life-giving, if we can call on the essential goodness of this Creation and its Creator, the “tov m’od”, the very goodness, that is the mark of Creation itself.


Pam Ehrenkranz

There’s a lot of pouring at a seder, most notably, four cups of wine. Yet there is one more pouring: Shfoch chamat’cha – A request for God to pour out the Divine anger against the nations that have “consumed Jacob and laid waste his home,”15 and to destroy them.

An out and out call for God to destroy our enemies. Feeling relatively safe and secure, many of us have tried to soften this seemingly gratuitous call for anger by adding a prayer for the righteous gentiles (one written 400 years before the Holocaust), or to use this moment to remember the victims of the Shoah. We have, over the years, tried to find ways to explain this ancient text as a lens into the period of time in which it was written and to distance ourselves from it because it makes us uncomfortable. I have, for years, always looked for a poem or prayer to offset this passage at our seder.

But this year’s seder will be different from all my other seders: I will say shfoch chamat’cha with no additions, no qualifications. Avoiding saying this paragraph is a failure of imagination, and most certainly, a failure of empathy. The rabbis composed this paragraph in response to the crushing destruction of the Crusades. The reference to nations who “know not” God is a direct inference to Pharoah and vicious leaders like him. Softening the Haggadic text means that we have missed the entire point of the seder, which is to empathize—to empathize with those who endured slavery and those who experienced the redemption from Egypt. Why then, shouldn’t we empathize with the Jews who suffered devastating loss throughout the generations? This is the year to own this painful prayer, the year to ask God to mete out justice and carefully pour His wrath on those who have been barbaric and murderous to the Jewish people. To those who have laid waste to their homes, to their kibbutzim, and who consumed the lives of the innocent. To pour his wrath out on those who have held our people hostage and committed heinous acts of sexual violence against women.

And while we ask God for this, we open the door: For Elijah, for redemption, for hope for a better future. This year, we must emulate the God to whom we pray. We have to emerge from the seder ready to channel our anger, to speak out and stand up against rampant antisemitism. We need to publicly pour out our anger carefully against those who earned it, not shy away from seeking their destruction and our continued existence while keeping the door open, all the while, negotiating for peace. Elijah’s cup sits poured, ready and waiting, to welcome an era when it will indeed be impossible, much less a failure, to imagine shfoch chamat’cha’s necessity.


Rabbi Robert Scheinberg, PhD

In his commentary to the Haggadah, the eminent Israeli Talmud scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz imagines a child trying to make sense of Chad Gadya, the unusual song with which we conclude the Seder. He suggests: A child might read this song as a poem about vengeance and justice. An apparently innocent goat who is eaten by a cat, and then a dog bites the cat. Steinsaltz’s hypothetical child assumes this dog is a noble, justice-loving animal who, having witnessed the cruel unprovoked attack against the blameless goat, seeks to punish the cat for this nefarious deed.

Next, the stick beats the dog — so presumably, the stick is an ally of the cat. The child begins to sort the characters in this story into two teams: the evil Team Cat, who cause the suffering of the innocent and perpetrate reprisals upon those who challenge their right to do so, and the noble Team Dog, who empathize with the suffering of the innocent goat and seek to punish those who victimized it.

The fire burns the stick – so the fire is on Team Dog. The water that extinguishes the fire is on Team Cat. The ox that drinks the water is on the noble Team Dog, and the shochet is on the evil Team Cat. The Angel of Death is on the noble Team Dog … which means that the Holy Blessed One is on the evil Team Cat, defending those who would cause harm to the innocent. At this point, the child is deeply troubled. How can God be on the side of the cat that ate the goat?!

For Rabbi Steinsaltz, the answer to this conundrum is clear: Chad Gadya could not possibly be a story about vengeance. The dog doesn’t bite the cat out of allegiance to the goat; rather, biting cats is simply part of the dog’s nature. There is no Team Dog or Team Cat; there are just various animals, objects, and individuals that act violently because of their own short- sighted motivations. The enemy of my enemy is not my friend.

And yet it’s not just children who are inclined to see the world with black-and-white moral clarity in which some acts of violence are absolutely noble and other acts of violence are absolutely evil. Chad Gadya is fated to continue until someone breaks the cycle.

Chad Gadya is a prominent trope in Israeli poetry about war and violence.

Yehuda Amichai prayed that his son and his neighbor’s son wouldn’t get caught in the wheels of the fearsome Chad Gadya machine. Chava Alberstein sang of the futility of Chad Gadya’s cycle of attackers being attacked and pursuers being pursued. And Levin Kipnis imagined the beautiful community that could be created if these Chad Gadya characters managed to get along.

Religious poems don’t exist to provide us with specific policy guidelines, to tell us exactly how to protect ourselves from the predators who seek to do us harm. Rather, poems plant values within us: If you are too fixated on revenge, you end up creating a topsy-turvy world in which God ends up on the wrong side.

Somehow, we’ll have to learn to turn the page from Chad Gadya-style violence, even though the Haggadah’s next page is blank. We’ll have to write it together.



We made it to the end! The Seder has concluded.

We have eaten matzah and maror, and dipped bitter herbs in the salt water.

We have reflected on the cost and pain of conflict and occupation.


We have celebrated being a part of a community who loves Israel and who is

concerned about the dangerous path the country’s leaders are taking.

At the end of every seder we say: Next Year in Jerusalem!

It is an aspirational idea. May we all be together in Jerusalem — the land of peace.

But in our reality, Jerusalem is also a symbol of conflict and confusion.

Whose Jerusalem? Municipal Jerusalem? The Old City? The Arab Quarter? East Jerusalem? Ben Yehuda Street? The Jerusalem of our dreams and aspirations?

Let us work together so that by next year, there will be real steps towards peace

and away from the occupation. Together, we will get to a Jerusalem of peace that embodies the aspirations of all who call it sacred.


L’Shana haba’ah b’Yerushalayim

Next Year in Jerusalem!


Rabbi Debra Orenstein

Twice yearly, almost exactly six months apart, we sing out, “Next year in Jerusalem – L’shanah Haba’ah B’yerushalayim.” This rallying cry punctuates the Jewish calendar at the culmination of two major celebrations: Neilah, the last service of Yom Kippur and Nirtzah, the last portion of the Passover seder. Regardless of past slavery or sins, we eagerly anticipate improvement, rebuilding, and redemption.

For centuries, L’shanah Haba’ah B’yerushalayim expressed longing. Travel to and in the Land of Israel was rare and hazardous. Today, even in wartime, Jews simply take planes, trains, or automobiles to arrive in Jerusalem. Despite grief and danger, Jews are safer now than we were for most of Jewish history. We enjoy access to Jerusalem that our ancestors could only dream of.

From the time of Jeremiah (2,600+ years ago) until today, Jews have governed the land of Israel less than 7% of the time. In Israel and the Diaspora, our ancestors generally lived under foreign, unfriendly, rule. Insecure in their homes, they regularly endured inequality, expulsions, and violence.

Imagine Jews suffering blood libels during Passover (a popular season for them), yet still gathering, lifting the bread of affliction, and singing Ha Lachma Anya: “Now we are here. Next year in the land of Israel. This year, slaves. Next year, free.” How did they hold onto hope for a better year, next year – over decades, centuries, and most of the last two millennia?

One important answer is that hope itself has been a key ingredient in Jewish survival.

When Moses first approached the Israelites to announce that God would free them from slavery, they could not hear him, because of “shortened spirts and hard labor” (Ex. 6:8). Oppression takes its toll.

Initially, it was outside support that extended our ancestors’ spirits and expanded their sense of possibility. Hope stemmed from the midwives’ intervention, Moses’ unwavering advocacy, the miracles of the plagues, and God’s protection against the suffering that ensued. Then, God and Moses demanded that the Israelites take action to shape their own future: sacrifice a lamb, Pharaoh’s consort animal; share the food; mark their doors with lamb’s blood, thus branding themselves as rebels; pack and dress for travel; set the communal calendar for a new month and a new life.

The Exodus narrative points to two essential elements of hope:

  1. embracing support from powers beyond you, including Divine Power and
  2. exercising your own power.

I call these the Hope of Acceptance and the Hope of Agency.

The Hope of Agency says: there is power within me to change things. The Hope of Acceptance says: there may be nothing I or we can change right now, but there are benign powers greater than we. Agency acts. Acceptance, well, accepts – its own limits and reliance on transcendent forces. The Hope of Agency works toward particular, cherished ends, while the Hope of Acceptance sustains a more global faith that a good future will unfold. For individuals and nations, both are needed. Depending on circumstances, each can be wise.

Judaism is a hopeful religion, despite calamities in our past and present. Hope was vital to our patriarchs, matriarchs, and prophets. Jewish liturgy, life cycle ritual, holidays, theology, and humor all reflect – and strengthen – great hope. Hope is necessary for teshuvah and tikkun olam; improvement and repair would not be attempted without tikvah, hope. Israel’s anthem, Hatikvah, implicitly acknowledges that the House of Israel has, at times, felt, “our hope is lost,”37 yet “our hope is still not lost.”

Every Passover, we stoke our hope. Like those who experienced the Exodus, we gather to share a meal and the stories and journey of freedom. We remember the bitterness that we have overcome and recall the promise of redemption. Together, we sing that next year will be better.

Especially during hard times, it’s important to realize that hope is essential for making next year better. Do whatever it takes to nurture your Agency and Acceptance, because hope is not just a good feeling about the future. It is the fuel we need to keep expanding our vision and collaborating to shape a better future.

Before the Israelites could know freedom, they had to have hope for freedom.

Before we can make peace, we need the hope that peace is possible.

I’ll meet you out there in the future, in the Promised Land and the City of Peace.

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