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

For Madison, Wis, thank God! (and Moses, who organized Brickmakers Union # 1)

In 1943,  A. J. Muste, one of America's great social activists, wrote an essay on the Biblical Exodus in which he called Moses the labor organizer of "Brickmakers Union Number One." (Muste took part for half a century in nonviolent efforts to seek peace and justice (from support for textile workers in the "Bread and Roses"strike in 1919 in Lawrence, Mass., to helping organize the first great march against the  Vietnam War in 1965).
Phyllis and I quoted this passage on Moses in our newest book, Freedom Journeys: The Tale of Exodus and Wilderness Across Millennia  (just now being published by Jewish Lights).  Even before the great upheaval in Egypt and the one in Wisconsin, we were applying the lessons of the Exodus to today.  (E.g. The transformative role of women in the Exodus; understanding the ‘plagues” as eco-disasters brought about by arrogant Pharaoh.)

In honor of Moses and in joyful memory of the years we spent as students in Madison, Wisconsin, in the 1950s and 1960s;  in memory of our teachers Howard K. Beale and Merle Curti and Hans Gerth and Selig Perlman; in honor of Congressman Robert W. Kastenmeier, for whom Arthur worked as legislative assistant, 1959-1961;in honor of Rabbi Max Ticktin & Esther Ticktin of UW Hillel in those days;  and in strong support of the right of workers to organize unions as a crucial part of democracy, we vigorously support the present freedom movement in Madison and all across the State of Wisconsin.
We are delighted to join with many members of a wide variety of religious communities who have vigorously supported the public workers and students who are demonstrating.

The Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice (ICJW) of South Central Wisconsin, 2300 South Park Street,  Suite 109 Madison, WI  53713,  608-255-0376, has taken a central role in mobilizing religious support for the workers and students. 

They are providing food, water, warmth to the protest. We encourage you to send donations, through their website, here: 

ICJW's Director is Rabbi Renee Bauer,  608-320-1144,  She writes:  Their intern is working with protesters to have a continual presence at the State Capitol, and any financial support would be greatly appreciated.  The ICWJ is also organizing clergy and congregations to speak up in favor of the protests and the right to organize.
We at The Shalom Center also applaud the members of the State Legislature who have courageously prevented passage of the Governor's attempt to smash the rights of workers –- so reminiscent of Pharaoh's response to Moses' first efforts to protect workers' rights in ancient Egypt.

Just as the midwives Shifra and Puah, Miriam and Pharaoh's Daughter  carried out nonviolent resistance to Pharaoh's tyranny, so the State Legislators of Wisconsin are carrying it out today. 

We are living through  intense  efforts by the modern Pharaohs of Big Banking, Oil, Coal, and other industries, and their governmental allies, to  radically shift power and wealth away from the middle class and workers in favor of those who are already powerful and extremely rich.

They are aiming not only to destroy unions but to shatter women's health centers (defunding Planned Parenthood), smash even mildly independent media and cultural centers (defunding NPR & PBS and the National Endowments for the Arts & Humanities), and treat Hispanics and Muslims as pariahs. 

Much of this class war against the middle class, the working class, and the poor has been justified by alleged "budget shortfalls" in the US & state budgets.

But in fact the budget deficit is caused by a trillion dollars spent on unconscionable wars against Iraq and Afghanistan, hundreds of billions in slush funds for the Military-Corporate Complez, and hundreds of billions in tax cuts for the top  super-rich of America. 

And if the  deficit were to result from money being spent on providing jobs for 15 million desperate jobless workers, it would be a valuable tool to get our economy going again for everybody – not just Wall Street (as Paul Krugman, Nobel laureate in economics and NY Times columnist, has been wailing into the heedless ears of Washington for two full years). 

Just as when Moses organized workers who had been turned into slaves in ancient Egypt, this is a religious question, a moral question, not merely political and economic. Nonviolent resistance to Pharaoh then and to Gov. Walker now is obedience to God's command: "Justice, justice, must you pursue!" 

Here is the ICJW statement:

"Avatar," Exodus, & Kabbalah

The film AVATAR weaves together what we usually call the spiritual and the political. Indeed, whether its director realized it consciously or not, AVATAR echoes two major strands of religious wisdom that began in Jewish thought but have had deep influence on cultures far beyond the boundaries of Jewish peoplehood. The two strands of ancient wisdom are "archetypal" -- that is, they appear over and over again in human thought because they arise in human experience and yearning -- with or without conscious transmission of the stories.


[This is a thoroughly revised version of Chapter 9 of my book Seasons of Our Joy, originally published in 1982 and most recently published in 1990 by Beacon Press.
[In the years since, the book has often been called a classic. Readers -- both Jews and others -- tell me its approach to the history, the spiritual meaning, and the actual practice of the festivals remains very helpful to them.

Who Hardened Pharaoh's Heart -- and Does it Still?

By Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Perhaps the greatest archetypal tale in all of human culture about addiction to top-down, unaccountable power -- and the path it shapes to self-destruction -- is the story of Pharaoh in the Book of Exodus.

We have seen, are still seeing, this tale lived out before our own eyes. For eight years, the government of the United States became so addicted to its own power, so swept away by its own arrogance, that it played out the tale of Pharaoh and brought disasters on the very country that it claimed to lead, as well as on the wider world.

Even though the US government has begun to change, there are still Pharaohs blocking the way to a "promised land" of justice and sustainability, a rhythmic sharing of the earth's abundance with each other -- "adam" and "adamah" -- all earthy-humankind and all the living, breathing beings of the earth. . What can we learn from the ancient story to guide our steps today to do that sharing?

George Bush, the Burning Bush, Pharaoh, & Seeds of Change

by Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Perhaps the greatest archetypal tale in all of human culture about addiction to top-down, unaccountable power is the story of Pharaoh in the Book of Exodus.

Now, today, we are seeing this tale lived out before our own eyes. The present government of the United States has become so addicted to its own power, so swept away by its own arrogance, that it is playing out the tale of Pharaoh.

And the US government is not alone: the present government of Iran is talking like Pharaoh; Al Qaeda acts like a mini-Pharaoh.

Pharaoh begins by hardening his own heart to the plight of the poor and powerless, and after a series of disasters (the "plagues") brought on by his own arrogance, his addiction takes over.


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