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Reflecting on Passover...

Reflecting on Passover...

Postby JRosemary » 02 Mar 2009, 20:29

There is something in the soul that cries out for freedom. There is something deep down within the very soul of man that reaches out for Canaan. Men cannot be satisfied with Egypt.

~Martin Luther King Jr.



Well, I'm already preparing for my Passover Seder and I've got my Creating Lively Passover Seders book on hand. In fact, this is the first year that I'm hosting a big first-night Seder: It looks like there'll be fifteen people there. :stunned:

(Ok, ok...I know fifteen won't sound like a lot to everyone here. I'm sure many of my baby-boomer Irish-Catholic relatives consider a mere fifteen people pathetic. But fifteen is a lot to me.)

Of those fifteen, five of us will be Jews. Two will be, um, half-Jewish and half- Protestant. (They're of mixed religious heritage and tend to identify with both.) Then we'll have one Catholic, two Unitarians (one of whom comes from a Catholic background and the other of whom comes from a Methodist background), one Wiccan and four atheists and/or agnostics (mostly of Protestant origin.) Should be an interesting Seder! :rolleyes:

Now, I wish I could invite everyone here to my Seder, but the logistics would be scary. However, I thought y'all might want to join me in a discussion about some of the topics that'll crop up during the Seder.

The point of the Seder, ultimately, is to make you feel as though you've come out of slavery in Egypt. You enter the story and make it your own. But the story of the Exodus* is a disturbing, sometimes horrifying story. Here's some of the controversial parts of the story we'll be discussing:

1. What about the fact that God hardens Pharaoh's heart? Judaism has long been committed to the notion of humanity's free will--but this verse threatens to shatter it. There are commentaries upon commentaries about this and its implications.

2. And what about the fact that the Torah condones slavery, even if it's an arguably more humane form of slavery than found in other comparable civilizations of the day? And what can we do now to stop the slavery that still exists in our day--sometimes legally, sometimes not?

3. Here's a scary thought: the generation of Israelites who came out of Egypt through the Reed Sea and experienced the Revelation at Sinai died in the wilderness. They never lost their 'slave mentality' and they longed to return to service in Egypt. It was the new generation, largely born to the hardships of the desert, who were hungry for freedom and therefore capable of crossing the Jordan and conquering parts of Canaan. (Herman Wouk has a great quote about this which I'll post later.)

4. What about the suffering of the Egyptians? Especially the common soldiers who had so little say in their lives? Or the first born sons who died? When we fill up our wine glasses during the Seder, we pour some of the wine back out in mourning for the Egyptian dead. And we try to confront the fact that our freedom came at a horrific cost of life.

Hows that for a start? :anxious:

In some ways, to me, #1 is the most troubling. It attacks the whole notion of human free-will. According to Exodus 7:3 , God says, "And I will harden Pharaoh's heart and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt."

There's tons of Jewish (and no doubt Christian) commentary on this. Rashi points out that for the first five plagues, it does not say that God hardened Pharaoh's heart, but that Pharaoh's heart was hardened. That would imply that Pharaoh had free will up to that point. Here's what Nehama Leibowitz says about that:

Nehama Leibowitz wrote:The final decision always rests with man. At the beginning, however, man is free to choose any path of action he so desires. He is afforded equal opportunity to do good or evil. But as soon as he has made his first choice, then the opportunities are no longer so evenly balanced. The more he persists in the first path of his choosing, shall we say, the evil path, the harder it will become for him to revert to the good path, even though his essential freedom of choice is not affected. In other words, it is not the Almighty who has hampered his freedom and made the path of repentance difficult. He has, by his own choice and persistence in evil, placed obstacles in the way leading back to reformation.


I think there's a lot of wisdom there--and I think we can get in the habit of doing either good or evil. But I also think it lets God off the hook. That's why I like this quote from Neil Gillman:

Neil Gillman wrote: Nowhere in the Bible is the fact of human freedom questioned, apart from the episode where God hardens Pharaoh's heart...But the Pharaoh episode is precisely the exception that proves the rule, for the biblical account assumes that under all normal conditions Pharaoh too would be free to release the Israelites. This is not a normal situation because God has a broader purpose to accomplish. That's why God has to intervene directly to limit Pharaoh's freedom. It takes a specific divine intervention to rob Pharaoh of his freedom--so much is freedom a natural part of the order of creation.


That comment faces the issue squarely...although it leaves us, I think, just as troubled at God hardening Pharaoh's heart. (And perhaps we should be left troubled.)

So...what do you think?

*Those of you familiar with the Haggadah--the text we use for the Seder-- know that it doesn't exactly follow the Book of Exodus. Much of it is based on a brief retelling found in Deuteronomy instead. But at one point or another in the Seder we try to cover all this stuff anyway.
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JRosemary
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Re: Reflecting on Passover...

Postby Karen » 02 Mar 2009, 21:30

Rather than addressing your (excellent) post, I'm going to quote something I read on Slate a couple of years ago:

The Two-Minute Haggadah
A Passover service for the impatient

By Michael Rubiner

Opening prayers:

Thanks, God, for creating wine. (Drink wine.)

Thanks for creating produce. (Eat parsley.)

Overview: Once we were slaves in Egypt. Now we're free. That's why we're doing this.

Four questions:
1. What's up with the matzoh?
2. What's the deal with horseradish?
3. What's with the dipping of the herbs?
4. What's this whole slouching at the table business?

Answers:
1. When we left Egypt, we were in a hurry. There was no time for making decent bread.
2. Life was bitter, like horseradish.
3. It's called symbolism.
4. Free people get to slouch.

A funny story: Once, these five rabbis talked all night, then it was morning. (Heat soup now.)

The four kinds of children and how to deal with them:
Wise child—explain Passover.
Simple child—explain Passover slowly.
Silent child—explain Passover loudly.
Wicked child—browbeat in front of the relatives.

Speaking of children: We hid some matzoh. Whoever finds it gets five bucks.

The story of Passover: It's a long time ago. We're slaves in Egypt. Pharaoh is a nightmare. We cry out for help. God brings plagues upon the Egyptians. We escape, bake some matzoh. God parts the Red Sea. We make it through; the Egyptians aren't so lucky. We wander 40 years in the desert, eat manna, get the Torah, wind up in Israel, get a new temple, enjoy several years without being persecuted again. (Let brisket cool now.)

The 10 Plagues: Blood, Frogs, Lice—you name it.

The singing of "Dayenu":
If God had gotten us out of Egypt and not punished our enemies, it would've been enough. If he'd punished our enemies and not parted the Red Sea, it would've been enough.

If he'd parted the Red Sea—(Remove gefilte fish from refrigerator now.)

Eat matzoh. Drink more wine. Slouch.

Thanks again, God, for everything.

SERVE MEAL.
I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library. -- Jorge Luis Borges
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Karen
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Re: Reflecting on Passover...

Postby JRosemary » 02 Mar 2009, 21:41

ROFL! :lol: Karen, you don't happen to have the original link, do you?
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Re: Reflecting on Passover...

Postby Karen » 03 Mar 2009, 00:42

I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library. -- Jorge Luis Borges
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