Passover When Earth Really Matters

Avi Katz: Matzah / Globe

 An Interfaith Healing Seder for the Earth: Ten Plagues, Ten Healings

Today, April 4, 2016, we are presenting a revised version of this Seder, originally published in 2013. Today is the 48th anniversary of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King in  1968. It is also the 49th anniversary of his most profound and troubling speech: “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence,” a speech he delivered in 1967 at Riverside Church in New York City to the assembled “Clergy and Laity Concerned About Vietnam.”  In it he called on all Americans to struggle against the “deadly triplets” that he said afflict our lives: racism, militarism, and materialism.

And today is the 47th anniversary of the original Freedom Seder, which in 1969 radically altered the Seder’s focus by weaving the liberation struggles of Black America together with the ancient story of the Israelite liberation struggle out of slavery to Pharaoh.

The original Freedom Seder addressed the most urgent crisis of that day, and drew together Jews and Christians, black and white.  And in the decades since, for many many thousands of people it liberated the Passover Seder itself to address other deep issues: liberating us from immoral and self-destructive wars, affirming the rights of immigrants and of  people trafficked into the slave trade and of exploited workers, liberating us from fear and hatred among Muslims, Jews, and Christians.

To honor the memory and wisdom of Dr. King and to renew the life-giving energy of the Freedom Seder, today we are sharing with you a new Passover Seder. It challenges the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs of today that are bringing a new Ten Plagues upon our planet. And it celebrates the Ten Healings of our wounded Mother Earth that we should undertake. 

The Seder begins with a journey into the streets to challenge today’s Pyramids of Power.  Some may want to organize such a journey; others may simply want to use the Haggadah, the Telling, that we present below, in their family or community Seder. 

This year, on Friday, April 22, the first Seder begins in the evening of Earth Day. As befits a Seder for the whole Earth, this Telling is rooted in the Jewish tradition and includes in its flowering passages from other traditions.

Let me call your special attention to new approaches to the meaning of charoset and the welcoming of Elijah,  to the Ten Plagues and Ten Healings,  to a whole new song and a new verse in “Go Down Moses,” to a new translation and a new melody of an old psalm.

With blessings of freedom and community, of shalom, salaam, peace, Earth! --  Rabbi Arthur Waskow

“I felt as if my legs were praying.”

— Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, coming back home from the voting-rights March in Selma, Alabama, 1965
“Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehoods.”  — Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, 1970


The people gather at a central point, perhaps a synagogue.

The people move into the streets. Chanting and singing as they go, carrying a portable large-sized globe of Planet Earth,  they walk toward a Pyramid of Power of our own day: perhaps an office of Exxon or BP, or a coal-fired power station, or a bank that invests in a coal company that is destroying the mountains of West Virginia,  or a religious or academic or governmental institution which they could call on to end its investments in Big Carbon and invest in renewable energy companies instead.

And as they walk they sing:

 We have the whole world in our hands.

We have  the frogs and the forests in our hands,
We have  the wind and the honeybees in our hands,
We have  the whole world in our hands!


We have the wheat and the mountains in our hands,
We have  the winds and the oceans in our hands,

We have the rain and the rivers in our hands,
We have  the whole world in our hands.

We have the trees and tigers in our hands,

We have  our sisters and our brothers in our hands

We have our children and their children in our hands/


As they arrive at the point they have chosen, they share in this reading, each person reading a passage and then passing it on to another:

“In every generation there is a Pharaoh who arises to enslave us and destroy us. In every generation we must all see ourselves: It is we who must go forth from slavery to freedom, not our forebears only.” [Quotation from the Passover Haggadah]

 Long ago, in the days just before Passover, a Jewish demonstration against the Roman Empire, led by Rabbi Jesus, wended its way from the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem, chanting psalms. Defenders of the status quo told Rabbi Jesus to tell his followers to shut up.  

And the Gospel  (Luke 19:40) says: “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep silent, the very stones will cry out.”  

 In our own generation, the stones are crying out.

The frozen stones we call Glaciers are groaning as they melt. 

The Mountains of West Virginia are moaning as they are destroyed in order to produce more coal.

The Coral Reefs are wailing as they blanch and die. 


As the planet scorches

and the corn parches,

the price of food climbs.

Those who were hungry, starve.

The children whose bellies swelled from hunger,

whose voices wailed from famine,

grow silent.

Dying.  Dead.


And all these silent, silenced voices call on us to speak.

Not only to speak but to act.  

To act against the money-changers,

the corrupt banks and other corporations

that are not human beings, persons:

are NOT created in the Image of God. 

The Caesars of our day,

The Pharaohs of our day.

The Pontius Pilates and Abu-Jahls of our day—

The Empires of Oil, Tar, Coal, Unnatural Gas.

The Pharaohs of Fracking.

After singing and a few short talks / conversation about the reason they are there, they return to the original gathering-place for an —


We take into ourselves the foods & meanings of the Seder.

 First question: “Mah nishtanah haSeder hazeh miKol Sedarim? Why is this Seder different from all other Seders?”  Because every other Seder recalls the oppression of human beings by a ruler who thinks himself a god, but this Seder faces the oppression of God’s Creation, our Mother Earth.”

[All say together:]

It is our task to make from fire

Not an all-consuming blaze

To scorch our Mother Earth,

But the light in which we see each other;

Each human earthling, each life-form –

Eachof us different,

 All of us made in the Image of God.

We light this fire to see more clearly

That the Earth, the human race, 
are not for burning.

We light this fire to see more clearly

The rainbow in the many-colored faces of all life:

The rainbow of all cultures and all life-forms.

We light this fire to see more fully

The great round Mother of us all,

Pregnant with all life, all possibility.

Blessed are you, Yahh our God, Breathing Spirit of the Universe, who gives us light that we who gather here today may become a light for peace and freedom and healing for all peoples and our planet.
Blessed are you, Yahh, Breathing Spirit of the Universe, who has breathed life into us, lifted us up, and carried us to reach this moment.

Baruch attah Yahhhh, elohenu ruach ha’olam, sheh’hechianu, v’ki’imanu, v’higianu lazman hazeh!

 [Light candles at each table. Pass the globe from person to person around the table/s. As each person receives the globe, s/he stands to hold it gently for a moment or two, then hands it to the next person.]

Someone says:

Lit by this light, our Seder will walk a path that begins with joy and celebration of our sacred Mother Earth; then turns in grief to see the grievous wounds inflicted on our Mother; and turns again toward action, covenant, and commitment to heal her from these wounds.

I. Celebration of God’s Earth

 Take sprigs of parsley,  dip them in salt water, pass them around the table, and say:
Question: “Why do we eat these greens, and why do we dip them in salt water?  

“Because in the spring the Earth sprouts green and fertile, and in the salt seas life began.” 
Blessed are you, Yahh our God, Breathing Spirit of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the earth.
 [Everyone then eats this piece of parsley.]

Share a spoon of charoset to each person around the table/s.

Question: Why do we eat charoset? — 

 “Because by mixing apples, apricots, and raisins, nuts and cinnamon, wine and cloves, we embody the tastes and smells of the Song of Songs, the earthy poem of love and eros  —  the springtime when flowers rise up against winter, the juices of love arise from the depths of depression, and the night-time of history gives way to the sunlight of Eden, the garden of delight; the Earth and humans at loving peace with one another.

“ Come with me, my love, come away,/ 
For the long wet months are past,
/The rains have fed the earth
/ And left it bright with blossoms.
/ Birds wing in the low sky,
/Dove and songbird singing
/In the open air above,
/Earth nourishing tree and vine,/
Green fig and tender grape,
/Green and tender fragrance. Come with me, my love, come away.

Do-di li va-a-ni lo; Ha-ro-eh ba-sho-sha-nim  (Repeat)

Mi zot olah Min hamidbar, Mi zot olah
M’kituret mor, Mor u-livonah Mor u-livonah

( Chorus)

Uri tzafon u-vo-i teymann Uri tzafon u-vo-i teyman


[Eat some charoset.]

 II. Lamenting the Wounds of Mother Earth

 Everyone takes a piece of raw horse-radish.

Question: Why do we eat this Bitterness?

“The Tight and r Place made the Godwrestlers subservient with crushing-labor; they embittered their lives with hard servitude in clay and in bricks and with all kinds of servitude in the field, all their serfdom in which they made them subservient with crushing-labor. (Exodus 1: 13-14.)

Invite the people to share brief phrases that evoke flooded cities, ruined mountains, parched fields, etc.

Give a chunk of blood-red beet to everyone.  Question: Why do we eat this blood-red beet?

“To remember the sacrifices, deaths, and woundings of those who have struggled for justice.”     Especially now, we remember the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on  April 4, 1968.
“I have been to the mountaintop. … I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!  — —  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., April 3, 1968

Invite other names of those who have been killed in their work for justice or killed by global scorching, like those who died in Superstorm Sandy.
Invite a free-form blessing of memory.

Everyone eats a chunk of the beet.


Someone reads:
“The ten plagues of the Exodus story were all ecological disasters.

The Plagues were not lightning-bolts flung by a Super-Pharaoh in the sky, but eco-disasters brought about by the arrogance and stubbornness of a top-down, unaccountable ruler, Pharaoh.

“In the ancient past, the Plagues interrupted the flow of food to human beings and other life-forms. In the present as well, there are Plagues that disrupt the flow of food from species to species, Earth to human earthlings.  And so today we mark our Plagues by interrupting the foods that mark our Seder.

As the community recites the Plagues, we grieve for the Earth and human beings who have suffered from these Plagues by diminishing our pleasure in the fruit of the vine. And we ask ourselves: Today, what Plagues are our own “pharaohs,” the 1%, the global corporations, bringing on our Earth?

For each Plague, we drip some wine or grape-juice from our glasses.

  • Undrinkable water poisoned by fracking.
  • Asthma: Lungs suffering from coal dust and gasoline fumes. 
  • Suffering and death for fish, birds, vegetation, and human beings from the oil upheaval in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Smashed mountains and dead coal-miners in the lovely hills of West Virginia.
  • Unheard-of droughts in Africa, setting off hunger, starvation, civil wars and genocide.
  • Drought in Russia, setting off peat-bog fires and scarcity of wheat.
  • Summer-long intense heat wave in Europe, killing thousands of elders.
  • Unheard-of floods in Pakistan, putting one-fifth of the country under water.
  • Superstorm Sandy, killing hundreds in Haiti and America.
  • Years of drought and fires in Australia.
  • Parched fields and dead crops in the US corn-belt

Participants add other Plagues of today.

Someone reads:
“If the people speak and the king doesn’t listen, there is something wrong with the king. If the king acts precipitously and the people say nothing, something is wrong with the people.”
— Sister Joan Chittister, OSB

  • “In those years, people will say, we lost track 
of the meaning of we, of you/
we found ourselves 
reduced to I/ 
and the whole thing became
 silly, ironic, terrible:
 /we were trying to live a personal life
 /and yes, that was the only life 
we could bear witness to.
    “But the great dark birds of history screamed and plunged into our personal weather
/ They were headed somewhere else but their beaks and pinions drove 
along the shore,/ through the rags of fog
 where we stood, /saying I
— Adrienne Rich, In Those Years


We have  turned from joy to grief; now we turn from grief to healing.

Pour each person a cup of wine or grape juice:

Question:  “Why do we drink this fruit of the vine?”  — 

“Because grapes grow not alone but in clusters, and we must work for freedom and justice, peace and healing not separately, each a lonely, isolated ‘I,’ but in clusters of community. We.”

“Because the juice of the grape begins in sweetness; ferments to sour; and then turns sweet again, this time as wine able to change and lift our consciousness. Just so the struggle to heal our Mother Earth begins in sweetness, turns sour as the Earth is wounded, and  becomes a higher sweetness as we act to heal what has been sorely wounded.”

Blessed are You, Yahhh, Breathing Spirit of the world, Who breathes our breath into the grapevine and breathes the fruit of the vine into our bodies.

[At each table, someone pours wine or juice into the Cup of Elijah, which for now is left sitting untasted in the center of the table.]

Everyone gets one “sheet” of matzah.

Question: Why do we eat this pressed-down bread?

“ Because it begins as the bread of affliction, the bread of a pressed-down people — but becomes the bread of Freedom when we hasten to bake it without time for the bread to rise, hasten toward our freedom. For then we lived and now we live, as Martin Luther King taught, in the “fierce urgency of NOW!” – swiftly moving toward our liberation.”

Each person breaks the matzah and hands one piece to a neighbor.

 “Why do we break and share the matzah?”

“Because if we do not share it, it remains the bread of affliction; when we share it, it becomes the bread of freedom.”

Together say: “Blessed are You, Breathing-Spirit of the world, who through sun and soil, seed and human sweat, brings forth this bread from the Earth.”

All eat the matzah given them by someone else.

 Someone reads each of these passages:

“And what in our traditions past can teach our own generation how to heal ourselves and our wounded Earth?”

 “The seventh year shall be a sabbath of joyful rest for the land, a sabbath to Yahh, the Breath of life; you shall neither sow your field, nor prune your vineyard. Your harvest you shall not reap, and the grapes of your undressed vine you shall not gather; it shall be a year of joyful rest for the land.  For the land is Mine; you are but strangers and visitors with Me.” (Leviticus 25)

”At the end of every seven years you shall grant a Release.  Every creditor shall Release what s/he has lent to a neighbor; s/he shall not exact it of the neighbors, because Yahhh, the Interbreathing of all life, has proclaimed a Release from debt.” (Deut. 15)

“Now the king said to the midwives of the Hebrews, whose names were Shifrah and Puah:
”When you help the Hebrew women give birth, if he be a son, put him to death; but if she be a daughter, she may live.” But the midwives held God in awe, and they let the children live. God dealt well with the midwives. (Exodus 1: 16-21).”

“God came into the picture. What was the sign that God had come? A bush that burned and burned and did not stop burning. Moses had had a fire kindled in his heart once, but it died down. God is the Being whose heart does not stop burning, whose flame does not die down.

“What was God all burned up about? The voice said, ‘I have seen the affliction of my people in the Tight & Narrow Place and have heard them cry out because of their oppression… . And the proof that God had entered into Moses, and that Moses had really been ‘converted,’ was that he had to go back and identify himself with his enslaved people  —  ‘organize them into Brickmakers’ Union Number One’ and lead them out of hunger and slavery into freedom and into ‘a good land, and a large, a land flowing with milk and honey.”’ (A. J. Muste , 1943).

  “Before entering Miquat (where you get ready to start the Hajj [Pilgrimage to Mecca]) which is the beginning of a 
great change and revolution, you must declare your intention. It is the intention of a “transferral” from your house 
to the house of the people, from life to love, from the self to God, from slavery to freedom, from racial discrimination 
to equality, sincerity and truth, from being clothed to being naked, from a daily life to an eternal life and from
 selfishness and aimlessness to devotion and responsibility.
”   — Ali Shariati, Hajj

“If we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.”  —  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,  April 4, 1967

(With care, singable to the traditional tune. Do Mic-check style.)

Each Passover Seder Teaches:
Celebrate each step toward Freedom,
Dayenu!  Wonderful!
At the Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin
100,000 Resisted Union-bustin’:
Dayenu!  Wonderful!
In New York City Dozens Tented
Calling out to “Occupy Wall Street”:
Dayenu!  Wonderful!

Then Hundreds Walked on Brooklyn Bridge:
Police attacked and the World took notice.
Dayenu!  Wonderful!
Across the Continent the People Saw,
They Occupied space in a myriad cities:
Dayenu!  Wonderful!
In London and Australia, in Africa and Israel,
The many many Thousands Gathered:
Dayenu!  Wonderful!
Police Attacked and the People Bent;
The people bent but did not Break:
Dayenu!  Wonderful!

In Washington through Bitter Cold

Thousands Came to Heal the Earth.

Dayenu! Wonderful!
The Godly and the Secular
Stand Arm in Arm to Heal our Planet:
Dayenu!  Wonderful!
The Generations Intertwine
And here We Are! – Yes, here we are!
Dayenu!  Wonderful!
You Who Interbreathe all Life
Give Us, the 99%,
The Strength to Overcome through Love
For Justice and Community.
Dayenu! Wonderful!
Dai, dayenu, dai dayenu, dai dayenu –
 Dayenu dayenu!

[Question:] What are the Ten Healings that can save our planet and our selves, can point us toward making our planet a Beloved Community?

 [Someone different reads each line, and then each wisdom passage afterward. For each of the Ten Blessings, we drink some wine or grape-juice and then say L’Chaim!]

  • Create organic farms in countrysides and cities.
  • Purchase home & company electric power from wind-based suppliers.
  •  Families buy hybrid or electric cars; convince cities, government agencies, & businesses to switch their auto fleets.
  • Use public transportation.
  • Families & congregations, at Bat/Bar Mitzvah time and teen-age confirmations,  study together how to address the climate crisis so as to “turn the hearts of children and parents to each other, lest the Earth be utterly destroyed.” [Quote from last passage of Malachi, last of the classical Hebrew Prophets]
  • Move Our Money, Protect Our Planet (MOM/POP) : colleges, congregations, pension funds, etc, shift their investments from fossil-fuel companies to renewable, sustainable energy.
  • Vigil, picket, do civil disobedience at sites of mountain destruction by coal companies.
  • End fracking: Insist on moratoriums or prohibitions.
  • Lobby Congress for laws to put prices on carbon-fuel production and pay dividends from the incoming fees to American families.
  • Organize neighborhood  solar-energy coops where many households band together to stop burning coal for their electricity and generate it from the sun instead.

[The community sings “Go Down Moses,”  African-American spiritual.]


When Israel was in Egypt’s land, Let My people go;
Oppressed so hard they could not stand, Let My people go;
Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt’s land,
Tell old Pharaoh: Let My people go!


The pillar of cloud shall clear the way, Let My people go;
A fire by night, a shade by day, Let My people go.
Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt’s land,
Tell old Pharaoh: Let My people go!


As Israel stood by the water-side, Let My people go;
At God’s command it did divide, Let My people go.
Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt’s land,
Tell old Pharaoh: Let My people go!


When they had reached the other shore, Let My people go;
They sang the song of freedom o’er, Let My people go.
Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt’s land,
Tell old Pharaoh: Let My people go!


Oh, set all Earth from bondage free, Let all My peoples go;
And let all life be free to Be, Let air and water flow.
Go down, Moses, way down in every land,
Tell ALL Pharaohs: Let My creation go!

 [At each table, someone pours some wine or grape juice from the Cup of Elijah into each person’s glass.]
 All say together:

“On the Shabbat just before Passover, we read the last passage of the last of the Prophets, Malachi, who proclaims on behalf of the Breath of Life:

“Before the coming of the great and awesome day when the Breath of Life may become a Hurricane of Change,  I will send the Prophet Elijah,
 to turn the hearts of the parents to the children 
and the hearts of the children to the parents,
 lest the earth be utterly destroyed.”  [And everyone drinks from the glass.]

[The community goes to open a door to the outside, to welcome Elijah, and they say together:]

“As we open our door to the winds and the air of the world, so we open our hearts to the future, to the hearts of our children and their children.  We open ourselves, each one of us, to take on the task of Elijah, to heal the Earth from her suffering.” 


 We have the whole world in our hands.

We have  the frogs and the forests in our hands,
We have  the wind and the honeybees in our hands,
We have  the whole world in our hands!


We have  the wheat and the mountains in our hands,
We have  the winds and the oceans in our hands,

We have the rain and the rivers in our hands,
We have  the whole world in our hands.

We have the trees and tigers in our hands,

We have  our sisters and our brothers in our hands

We have our children and their children in our hands/



(Sing this translation of Psalm 149 to the tune of “Michael Row the Boat Ashore.”)

Praise God, sun and moon, Hallelu-YAH.

Praise Yah, you stars of light, Hallelu-YAH.

Praise God, you high heavens, Hallelu-YAH.

All that flows in all the world, Hallelu-YAH.


Let them all praise God's Name, Hallelu-YAH.

For God spoke and they appeared, Hallelu-YAH.

With God they take their stand, Hallelu-YAH.

God's rhythm none must break, Hallelu-YAH.

Praise Yah from the Earth, Hallelu-YAH.

You sea-monsters and all deeps, Hallelu-YAH.

Fire, hail, snow, and steam, Hallelu-YAH.

Stormy wind to do God's word, Hallelu-YAH.

Mountains high and tiny hills, Hallelu-YAH.

Trees of fruit and evergreens, Hallelu-YAH.

Wild beasts and quiet flocks, Hallelu-YAH.

Creeping bugs and winged birds, Hallelu-YAH.

 Men and women, young and old, Hallelu-YAH!

High officials and whole peoples, Hallelu-YAH.


Additional readings, to be added or substituted if you like.


Miriam: The Red Sea
High above shores and times,/ 
I on the shore
 forever and ever./ 
Moses my brother 
has crossed over to milk, honey, 
that holy land.
 Building Jerusalem./ 
I sing forever on the seashore./ 
I do remember 
horseman and horses / waves of passage 
poured into war,
/ all poured into journey.
/ My unseen brothers 
have gone over,/
 deep seas under/ .
I alone stand here
 ankle-deep / 
and I sing, I sing, 
until the lands
 sing to each other.   —-Muriel Rukeyser 

“ The prosperous and mighty of our day still live at a dizzying height above the wretched of the earth, yet the latter have made their will felt in ways that have already changed history, and can change it more.
Their cooperative power has as its chief instrument direct action, both noncooperative and constructive. This power can be spiritual in inspiration but doesn’t have to be. Its watchwords are love and freedom, yet it is not just an ideal but a real force in the world.
It must now be brought to bear on the choice between survival and annihilation.
— Jonathan Schell, The Unconquerable World

In a free society, some are guilty. But all are responsible.
—- Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, 1944; 1961



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