Passover: The Earth Rises Up Against Pharaoh

Passover -- Pesach -- commemorates and relives the moment of spring when new grain, new lambs, and new flowers rise up against winter, and the earth itself rises up against Pharaoh (in what we call the "plagues").

Can we bring this meaning of Passover to the American public, to heal the earth from the plague of global climate crisis?

For example -- Beyond the conventional home and community Sedarim, could we do Speakout Street Seders for the Earth at some key public places -- eating matzah and bitter herb, reciting the eco-disaster plagues of today, dancing to celebrate the coming of Elijah -- ourselves -- to free us from the Pharaohs that are ruining the earth?

message with your friends.)

What would you want to organize in your own constituency, and how can we
help? Let us know! For example:

Tradition teaches us to get "chometz" (leavening, yeast, fermented foods,
souring, what swells us up) out of our houses before Pesach. That's why
Jews eat UNleavened bread, matzah, for the week of Pesach.

Hassidic teachers saw chometz metaphorically as the swelling up of excess in
our own lives. In this sense, is overconsumption chometz, and is Pesach
teaching us to simplify our lives?

Specifically, is coal-fired electricity "eco-chometz," to be replaced by
wind-stirred electricity? Which cleaning substances for the spring cleaning
are eco-treyf or eco-chometz, and which are eco-kosher ? Is our own
addiction to the OVER-use of oil, coal, gasoline, a kind of chometz?

What could we encourage households and congregations to do to sweep out this
kind of eco-chometz before, during, or after Pesach?

Who or what is Pharaoh in our world today, bringing eco-disastrous plagues
upon our heads? Can we face the Pharaohs who are turning the great round
earth itself into a narrow place -- Mitzrayyim (the Hebrew word for Egypt,
which actually means ""Tight & Narrow Space")?

Is there some element within each of us that cooperates with these
Pharaohs, as the Israelites kept wishing to return to Mitzrayyim?

If our attachment to oil and coal has become an addiction, who are the Drug
Lords of that addiction, blinding us to the lethal consequences of those
drugs - such as global scorching, the climate crisis that is already harming

How did tradition turn the bread of affliction - matzah - into the bread of
liberation? How do we turn the moment of darkness into a moment of joyful
liberation and community?

Seeing Pesach as speaking to the liberation of human beings and the earth
from top-down exploitation by Pharaohs in every generation -- can Christians
and Muslims and other religious and spiritual communities join in new kinds
of Pesach action-celebration?

With almost three months to plan, can we organize add-ons to the
traditional celebrations of Pesach that will both raise awareness and stir
action to heal the earth from climate crisis?

On the Shabbat before Pesach, Shabbat HaGadol, (The Great Shabbat),
traditionally the Prophetic reading in synagogue is from the Prophet
Malachi. It ends with the verse in which God promises to send Elijah the
Prophet to turn the hearts of parents to children and the hearts of children
to parents -- "lest the earth be utterly destroyed." (This very verse is the
touchstone and inspiration for our new intergenerational Covenant of Elijah
ceremony and curriculum for Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrants. )

This 2500-year-old Prophetic call for the generations to work together to
heal the earth from the danger of utter destruction comes alive with new
force in our generation.

This year, Shabbat HaGadol is the very day (April 18-19) before the first
Seder. Would synagogues make Elijah's commitment the point of that day,
invite a discussion about the meaning of the verse in our generation, and
perhaps connect it with cleaning the house of "eco-chometz" as noted above?

(To help people actually do some of this work before Pesach, rabbis would
need to address the concerns earlier -- maybe on Shabbat HaChodesh, April 5,
which celebrates the coming of the New Moon before Pesach.)

The first Seder is on Saturday night, April 19. The Shalom Center will be
sending out supplemental readings for use at Sedarim, including some
information on the Warner-Lieberman Climate bill, which should be coming up
for votes after Pesach, and on ways of improving it. And we will send out
some information on major climate-policy issues that have arisen before some

The goal here will be to inspire some efforts during the rest of Pesach to
work for earth-healing change by letter-writing and phone calls to
legislators and newspapers, etc.

Beyond the conventional home and community Sedarim, could we do Speakout
Street Seders for the Earth at some key public places -- like those we
sponsored at EPA offices on Tu B'Shvat?

One possible time might be late afternoon on Tuesday of Pesach itself, April
22 -- the third day of Pesach, especially appropriate since it is also
Earth Day.

Or it may be that media attention would be greater if such Speakout Street
Seders were done during the week before Pesach; if they got wide publicity
then, they might influence conversations at home Sedarim all over the

(In Pennsylvania, the Presidential primaries will be held on April 22. Media
attention will probably be obsessively focused on the voting, so Street
Seders there might best be held the week before Pesach.)

Could such Speakout Street Seders for the Earth bring together 50-100 people
in each of ten or a dozen - or even more -- different cities around the
country to speak out against the Pharaohs that are cramping the earth into a
narrow, lethal pattern?

Where could such Street Seders come together? -

At the EPA regional offices, focusing again as we did on Tu B'shvat on
demanding EPA's permission for the states to adopt higher earth-healing
standards on CO2 emissions ???

Or at ExxonMobil offices in five or six cities around the country??

Or at congressional offices, with the Warner-Lieberman climate bill coming
up for votes about then?

As we brought trees to EPA on Tu B'Shvat, could we bring matzah and bitter
herb, chant the Plagues of today - rivers undrinkable, frogs dying, the
Great Lakes drying, glaciers melting, polar bears drowning, seacoasts
rising, droughts consuming, etc -- as we pour wine out of our cups?

But a Speakout Seder should be not only a warning, but also a time for
joy. At the Pesach Seder, we traditionally save a cup of wine to welcome
Elijah. Perhaps at such Speakout Seders for the Earth we can with joyful
song and dance welcome the Elijah in each other - the Elijah who turns the
hearts of parents and children to each other "lest the earth be utterly
destroyed" ?

PLEASE WRITE US AT -- and What do you want to organize in your own
constituency, and how can we help? Let us know! Please note what and where
your community is, and whom you can reach out to.

We intend to offer supplements for Haggadot, suggestions for Shabbat
HaGadol or Shabbat haChodesh sermons, information on eco-policy issues,
connections to help make Street Speak-out Seders possible in one or another

Shalom, Arthur and Jeff (Rabbis Arthur Waskow & Jeff Sultar)

For generous support of the Green Menorah work we want to thank the Arnow
family foundations, the Rita Poretsky Foundation, ALEPH Alliance for Jewish
Renewal, the New World Foundation, the National Religious Partnership for
the Environment, Hazon, and many members of The Shalom Center.


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