Passover Anew: Kindling Candles, Four More Questions, Facing New Plagues

Dear friends, We send you three passages for use in your Passover Seders or in your gatherings for Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday. One is for kindling candles of commitment, one is Four More Questions to add wherever you wish, and one to accompany recitation of the Plagues with three outcries for the choking of our breath and a prayer for new breath, new Spirit.  Shalom, salaam, paz, peace, namaste! --   Arthur


Between the Fires:

An Invocation for

Kindling Candles of Commitment


We are the generations

That stand between the fires.


Behind us

The burning crosses lit by hate

To choke our people in the smoke of terror;

Behind us the flame and smoke

That rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima.


Not yet behind us

The burning forests of the Amazon,

Torched for the sake of fast hamburger and fast wealth.

Not yet behind us, the glare of gun fire

exploding in our children.

Not yet behind us –

the hottest years of human history

That bring upon us

Melted ice fields. Flooded cities.

Scorching droughts. Murderous wildfires.

Before us we among all life-forms
face the nightmare of a Flood of Fire,
The heat and smoke that could consume all Earth.

"Here! The day is coming,”

Said the Prophet Malachi,

“That will flame like a furnace,”

Says YHWH / Yahhhh --

The Infinite InterBreath of Life --

Yet for all who revere

My Interbreathing Name, Yahhhh,

a sun of justice will arise

with healing in the beating of its wings,

its rays, its winds.


“Here! Before the coming

of the great and awesome day

of YHWH/ the Breath of Life,

I will send you the Prophet Elijah

to turn the hearts of elders to their youth

and the hearts of the youth to their elders,

lest I come and smite the earth with utter desolation."


Here! we ourselves are coming

Before that great and terrible day

Of smiting Earth —

For we ourselves shall turn the hearts

Of elders and youth to each other

So that this day of smiting

Does not fall upon us.


We ourselves are coming

To douse that outer all-consuming fire.

We must light again in our own hearts

the inner fire of love and liberation

that burned in the Burning Bush --

The fire that did not consume the Bush it burned in,

For love is strong as death --

Love’s Fire must never be extinguished:

The fire in the heart of all Creation.


It is our task to make from inner fire
Not an all-consuming blaze

But the loving light in which we see more clearly
The Rainbow Covenant glowing

in the many-colored faces of all life.




  1. Why do we break the matzah in two before we eat it?


Matzah, the pressed-down bread that embodies the "fierce urgency of Now," was both the bread of the oppressed and the bread of freedom.

If we keep the whole matzah for ourselves, it remains the bread of affliction. Only if we share the matzah can it become the bread of freedom. We must break the matzah in two in order to share it with each other.

If we hold all our abundance, our prosperity, for ourselves, the withholding brings forth anger and resentment, guilt and fear. The abundant bread becomes the bread of affliction. Only if we share our abundance with each other can it become the bread of freedom.

If we gobble all the abundance of our Mother Earth for human society alone, leaving no space for other life-forms, the Earth will choke and curdle. Whatever bread may barely grow will bear affliction. Only if we share our air, our water, with the myriad shapes of life will all this growing birth our freedom.


If we hold our own knowledge, our own wisdom, for ourselves alone, we end up in a Narrowness that enslaves us. Only if we share our wisdom with other traditions, other communities, and open ourselves to learn from them, can our wisdom lead to freedom. [Mitzrayyim, the Hebrew word for Egypt, actually means  “Tight and Narrow Place.”]

If we try to hold the whole land for ourselves, even the Land of Israel, the land will remain a land of affliction. Only if we share it with another people can it become the land of freedom.

 And so, at the beginning of the Seder we break the matzah, and at the end of the Seder we share its pieces with each other, to eat the bread of freedom.


2. Why is there an orange on the Seder plate?

 Of all the foods upon the Seder plate, only the orange bears the seeds that can grow the next generation of our freedom. The orange first came to us as the newly fruitful gift of those who had been treated as outsiders to our community – – lesbians and gay men, Jews by choice, women, the blind and those whose minds or tongues were stammering.

 All these have sown the seeds of creativity. If these seeds flower, they will sow new generations of the unexpected.


3.Why is there charoset on the Seder plate, and why do we linger on its delicious taste? 

Because charoset embodies the delicious Song of Songs, which itself celebrates the embodiment of love among human beings and love between Earth and human earthlings. All the many recipes for charoset draw on the ingredients named only in the cookbook of the Song of Songs – – wine, nuts, fruit, spices.

 We are taught to recite the Song of Songs during Passover in order to remind us that the joy of freedom cannot be celebrated in human societies alone; as in the time of Eden, all Earth must sing for joy. Because in Eden, the Garden of Delight, we humans tried to gobble all the fruitfulness of Earth, Eden ended with an Earth turned stingy and with half the human race subjugated to the other half. Passover calls us to Eden once again, Eden for a grown-up humankind where love and freedom join in fuller celebration.


4.These are three questions. What is the fourth question?

 That is the fourth question.


Woven by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, The Shalom Center

Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License;


Facing Plagues: Three Outcries and a Prayer  

 Can’t Breathe” 

Again and again,

With gun or choke-hold.

Police have stolen the breath of Black Americans.

The police are not merely police

For they hold a national authority

To use violence on behalf of the nation:

To serve us all, protect us all.

When they subjugate the Black community

They implicate us all, 

They make us all Subjugators, 

They make us all Subjugated.

But their misdeeds have stirred 

A great Uprising against racism.

Then when our rulers ignore the racist danger 

And pretend the danger is the protest,

The subjugation becomes still worse 


We can’t breathe.

All humanity is choking

From a virus that invades our lungs

We have left no space for other species 

And the virus leaps into our lives 

Then when our rulers ignore the danger 

It becomes still worse 

Choking our societies, our jobs, our businesses,

Our democracy. Our lives.  


Earth Can’t Breathe

All life on Earth depends on Interbreathing

Plants breathe in Carbon dioxide, breathe out Oxygen. 

Animals breathe in Oxygen, breathe out Carbon dioxide.

We breathe in what the trees breathe out;

The trees breathe in what we breathe out.

Our Interbreathing is the Breath that keeps all Earth alive. 

Nishmat kol chai, tivarekh et shimcha: Yahhhh elohenu:

Hallelu-Yahhh (x4)

The breath of all life praises Your Name;

For your Name in truth whispers all breath.

For your Name in truth whispers all life. 

YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh/ Yah, is our God.

The God of all life.

Hallelu-Yahhh (x4)

But too much CO2 is the “climate crisis” --  

Chokes our breathing.

Earth can’t breathe.

All Earth is scorched by burning fossil fuels

But Carbon Pharaohs burn their way to faster wealth.


You Who are the Breath of Life,

At Sinai You taught us,

You shall not take My Name with an empty heart.

You shall not breathe My Name with empty heart.

Every breath we take 

is Itself Your Name, 

Part of that great Breath that is the Holy One.

You Who are the Breath of Life,

Heal us to breathe.


I Speak, I Who freed you from choking in the Tight and Narrow Place:

To live Broad Spaces where My breath, my wind, blows free,

No one shall rob you of My Name, My Breath, My Holy Spirit.



Woven by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, The Shalom Center

 Text is available for use under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike Non-Commercial License;, which means to cite the source.

  If you are moved by any of these passages, if you dip them once or twice or more into your Seder, please make a contribution to The Shalom Center through the "Contribute" banner on gtthe left margin --  AW

Eco-Justice Activism: March 21, Multireligious Wisdom/ First Gathering



Dear friends, We welcome you for Spring Equinox the evening of March 21 to the first Gathering toward the Mulltireligious Institute for Eco-Justice Activism (MIEJA). This first Gathering is a free-will event, with an invitation to join with no fee or if you feel drawn  to help meet the costs, a free-will contribution of $18 or $36.

To register, please click to Http://bit.ly/3ctWtFg  You will be sent a Zoom link. Please plan to enter the link at 6:45 pm EST, 3:45 pm PST, etc., on Sunday evening,  March 21, for music before the formal program starts at 7 pm EST SHARP. 

MIEJA is co-sponsored by The Shalom Center, Yerusha, and the Order of the Sacred Earth. We especially welcome Jacquelyn Patterson, the NAACP's leading expert on climate and environmental justice; Brother Matthew Fox, author of Original Blessing  and co-founder of the Order of the Sacred Earth, Jose Aguto of the Catholic Climate Covenant; Pat McCabe (Woman Stands Shining) of the Native/Indigenous community; and Rev. Donna Schaper, transformative clergy of Judson Memorial Church in New York City, to join teachers from The Shalom Center, Yerusha, and OSE. 

We look forward to seeing you on Zoom at 7 pm EST, 4 pm PST, as Spring begins and we tiptoe to the edge of Passover and Palm Sunday. 

Shalom, salaam, paz, peaace, namaste! --  Arthur  

seder bok 1

Almost two years ago, shortly after the extraordinary FreedomSeder+50 that included profound teachings and prophetic speeches,  the two of us -- Rabbi Phyllis Ocean Berman and Rabbi Arthur Ocean Waskow -- decided to create a book of many new voices –- a book to inspire the future called Liberating Your Passover Seder: An Anthology Beyond the Freedom Seder.

Healing a Split America -- & Healing Earth

Two truths: President Biden’s call for unity, versus the reality of bitter opposition between two halves of the effective political energy of the country. Can we wait for slow dickering and compromise to produce unity?

Not easy, when each half believes the other is itching to scrap the Constitution and the vision of a democratic America.  Worse: Not possible at all when one side has hard evidence that we are mired in an existential crisis of an Earth that does not wait for slow dickering and compromise – and the other side thinks the evidence is a hoax. The disagreement threatens paralysis.

Paralysis spells catastrophe.  Is there any way beyond it?

Action. Embodying the future in the present makes it possible for the change to become the present and the future. Just as large numbers of Americans bitterly opposed “Obamacare” when it was still mere ink on paper, yet came to support it once it went into operation and affected their lives,

Let us enact a program of Federal grants to neighborhood co-ops in all sorts of neighborhoods –- rural, small-town, metropolitan center, middle-sized cities, and suburban –- to initiate and support solar and wind energy co-ops. The new energy systems would radically reduce the costs of electricity; radically increase the rapid spread of renewable energy and its jobs; reduce asthma and cancer rates in neighborhoods near coal-burning plants and oil refineries; and greatly reduce the CO2 emissions that are poisoning and scorching all Earth.

 For some neighborhoods, the co-ops themselves might become grass-roots political challenges to the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs that are making hyperwealthy profits by burning Earth, sowing the anti-life seeds of enormous floods, hurricanes, droughts, fires, and famines. They might even for some secular folks bring back almost forgotten memories of biblical plagues they thought were only legends, until Covid 19 came along.

And for other neighborhoods, the co-ops might mean not global change but serious jobs and serious money in the pockets of people whose factories were shuttered, windows broken; who couldn’t afford the taxes to pay for the schools to educate their children; who couldn’t afford the seed to plant the crops next spring. Earth and human earthlings?

Perhaps for some farmers these solar or windmill co-ops would nourish a memory still vibrant, for some still present in their lives -- the Rural Electrification Act, by which the New Deal through farmer co-ops brought electricity for the first time to farms in the 1930s – would open some emotional and political doors. And perhaps in some situations, the REA co-ops themselves are ready for a revitalization through wind or solar power.

This approach might serve as a model of what a community-based, compassionate, justice-seeking America –- simultaneously “global” and “neighborly.” appealing as a Green Neighborhood New Deal to people who might have started out opposing the national top-down program for the Green New Deal, just as Obamacare when it actually went into effect appealed to people who started out opposing it.

The point would be to emphasize neighborhood co-ops. The possibility of energizing folks who live down the farm road instead of a suspect Federal bureaucrat who appears out of nowhere could make a great difference, and the same dynamic with different faces could make a similar difference in poverty-stricken North Philadelphia.

To look at this through eyes more attuned to conventional politics: With Democrats barely control the next Senate, could the initial money be appropriated at all?   Possibly, first of all if by using the majority-vote provisions of the “reconciliation” process in Congress; secondly, by shift agro money to that purpose by executive order without breaking the Constitution. Third, if enough grass-roots energy for such an infusion of money and jobs at the neighborhood level could be ginned up in the rural/ small-town areas in the states of Senators who are campaigning for reelection in 2022.  

Where could new energy come for such a change?  In some of the communities of faith that have at some momemts of the past empowered social change, there remains enough compassion to affirm those on the “other side” of the great political/ cultural/ social divide that has paralyzed us. Many of the faith communities that have brought great social change in the past have been not asleep but sleepy, facing a crisis bigger than human society, but endangering it. Add the desire of good pastors to heal the rift between “forgotten Americans” across the street.

There is a great teaching at the very end of the last of the classical Hebrew Prophets, Malachi. God proclaims that Elijah will come to turn the hearts of the parents to the children and the hearts of children to parents, so that the Breath of Life, the Wind of Change, the Spirit of the World, will not come as a Hurricane to devastate all Earth. The children’s movements like Sunrise have turned their hearts to their parents and grandparents. Let us hope that in neighborhoods of every sort the elders can respond with neighborly and open hearts to heal the folks nearby, and all round Earth.

Blood or Tears? America’s Worst & Best

On  Tuesday afternoon I invested (not “spent”) time watching an hour of Impeachment II. The film of the attack on the Capitol  was agonizing: Violence, hatred, obscene slogans, torture of a cop caught in a doorway and screaming in pain, the deliberate inflicting of fear and terror for those elected representatives of the people who were fulfilling the Constitutional responsibility to ratify a presidential election.  The means the mob used fit well the end they sought: the overthrow of American democracy.

And then there was Jamie Raskin: Intellect mixed with tears.  A professor of constitutional law who won the respect of his neighbors, enough to elect and reelect him to Congress and then to win the respect of his congressional colleagues. A father who could bury a brilliantly shining son, shadowed by dark depression, who on the last day of 2020, the Year of Lonely Despair, wrote his family a note: “‘Please forgive me. My illness won today. Please look after each other, the animals, and the global poor for me. All my love, Tommy.” And killed himself.”

And a father who could still find the strength to do his constitutional duty to the people, and appear in Congress to complete the election process. And then to shed thears as he described his family’s and his own fear and horror as they hid from the rampaging mob.

That was the best version of American democracy: Love for both family and the Republic; intellect and emotion connected; a political leader unafraid of tears.

I need to pause here for full disclosure: I was a close friend for many years of Jamie’s father Marc Raskin. We worked together on a book about US “nuclear deterrence,”  arms control, and disarmament; we worked together to plan the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive center for thought and action; we co-authored “A Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority” that became a crucial manifesto to oppose the US war against Vietnam; we raised our kids, including Jamie, together on the same block in the heart of Washington’s most interracial and most progressive neighborhood.

And when the New York Times interviewed Jamie a month or so ago, he mentioned two childhood memories:

“The younger Mr. Raskin keeps a 1964 clipping from The Washington Post with a photo of him as a 2-year-old toting a placard at a protest. When he was 6, his father took him to the first Freedom Seder, a Passover meal that brought Jewish and Black people together a year after the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” 

I had written that Freedom Seder, and it became the entry-point into my Jewish life for the next 50-some years, away from the Institute and away from Washington DC. For some years, away from Marc; but in the years before his death in 2017 we were in warm connection. So you need to know: I am not “neutral” about Jamie Raskin, any more than I am “neutral” about the democratic Amerca that gave him birth and grew him up and shaped him into one of its finest defenders.

 Here we are: the worst, most violent, most racist version of America – and its most devoted democrats. Its whole history, crystallized in the second impeachment trial of its first fascist President.

How do we make sure he is the last of  “It Can’t Happen Here,” of “The Plot Against America,” fictions no longer?  How do we make sure there are many Jamie Raskins, Congressmembers from the State of Truth, the Twenty-sixth District of Honor, the County of Love?

We must keep ourselves aware that the insurrectionist mob of January 5 was not an accident and not unique. Groups like them marched with rifles to the Michigan State House, planned to kidnap the Governor of Michigan. Henchmen of our would-be Pharaoh delighted in shedding the blood of other people: a sudden rush of deaths in Federal prisons in the last weeks of Trump, as if the White House could not bear to lose their power without staining their hands with blood. Almost half a million dead of the COVIV Plague, many of whom could have lived if the White House had not been obsessed with ignoring the danger in order to win an election – not imagining it could lose the election by ignoring the danger. Just people dying, and at that, disproportionately Blacks. Who would care? What could go wrong?

We need to be aware: As democracy sickens, more and more people turn against it. Some of our institutions are  built to be anti-democratic: the Electoral College. The Senate, and even worse, its filibuster.  The Supreme Court, which gutted the Voting Rights Act and the many laws of many years to limit the power of money in elections, but said that partisan gerrymandering was too complicated to forbid.

So we will need to exert ourselves to transform the institutions that  prevent democracy.

 It is not even just America that is at stake. We Americans  such an impact on the planet that democracy or the reign of Carbon Pharaohs here will determine the future of Earh and Homo-sapiens everywhere. So if we ever to save a million species, perhaps even our own; if we are to  restore a California that does not burn like a furnace, a Midwest that does not flood like the marshes around New Orleans, a Florida that does not sink into the sea  -- we must create many Raskins, many nonviolent marchers, many prayers and Freedom Seders taken into public space.  

The Capitol is a symbol of representative democracy, but it is not the seat of democracy: democracy sits in every neighborhood. In Shalom Reports coming soon, we will pursue the question: How do we affirm the Globe and the Neighborhood at the same time?

Become a Jubilee Justice Sower

This Shalom Report is my invitation to you to be among the first to join a committed community of Jubilee Justice Sowers. More about that below.

 First, why do we need such a group? 

In the last election, the American people brought together for ourselves just barely enough political will to choose a future of inclusive democracy and harmony with Earth, a jigsaw-puzzle society of unique lives that fit together – not a world of Pharaohs, Plagues, and slaves.

 But only barely. Some of us were so desperate, felt so hopeless and forgotten, as to follow a toxic egomaniacal would-be dictator. Either a fuller democracy meets their needs and invites them fully in, or they will in frustration wreck what democracy we have.

The need for humanity to “grow more up” is not new. Three thousand years ago, Torah tried to use a grand-sabbatical rhythm to teach us: Every seventh year, we could release Earth and the poor from oppression. The Torah knew that seven years were not enough.   It integrated the seven-year cycle into the seven-times-seven-plus-one cycle of the Jubilee. (See Lev. 25-26 and Deut. 15.)

 Today Earth is rebelling with such force as to make clear to us: we have many fewer than 50 years to grow up, but it will not happen in a simple rhythm. The year that begins next fall, next Rosh Hashanah, is by ancient count the year of release – in Hebrew, Shmita. But the whole year will not be enough to heal our wounded climate, to heal the human world so damaged by the COVID 19 virus, to heal the Scourge of Subjugation: of Blacks, Latinx, Indigenes, women, GLBTQIA communities, the immigrants, the sick, the disabled, the poor, the forgotten.

We do not have 50 years to prevent climate chaos, the extinction of a million species, and the human suffering that will go with them.  Some of that work has already begun, some could begin even sooner than the next Shmita year,  most will take more than yet another seven years.  But it will not take 50 years to learn to celebrate the Breath of Life, make Earth and Humanity joyful intertwined partners, make the Song of Songs our Prophetic goal as the Eden for a grown-up human race. We must start now, and give heart to others.

This is how we will start:

  • We welcome a committed group as Jubilee Justice Sowers. – to work for Earth and all its life-forms, for all the subjugated human earthlings. We ask you to join in a tentative way: To start, a donation ranging between $18 (for those who can’t afford more) and up to $90, and a commitment of 7 hours of your time a month. During Pesach in 2021 (March 28-April 4),  you decide to continue or drop out.

  • Our first project: We will start in a myriad different ways working for a national commitment to fund neighborhood solar and wind co-ops of farmers and small-town folk as well as neighborhoods in great cities and suburbs. Sharing policy programs, sometimes but not necessarily personal contacts, between “red” and “blue” Americans.
  • Two models for this effort: (a) In areas where at first there was opposition to “Obamacare,” once it actually began people found that it met their needs and the opposition withered. Just so, now: Where now there are furious denunciations of the “hoax” of global scorching, if solar co-ops actually begin people will see their value. (b) In 1930, huge numbers of American farms had no electricity. The New Deal’s Rural Electrification Act transformed rural life by working with new farmer co-ops. Many of those co-ops still exist, and new ones can begin. As happened almost a century ago, today neighborhood-based solar and wind co-ops can embody the future in the present.
  • The possibility of energizing folks who live down the road in Arkansas instead of a suspect Federal bureaucrat who appears out of nowhere could make a great difference, and the same dynamic with different faces could make a similar difference in poverty-stricken North Philadelphia. 

  • The attractions are multiple and diverse: For some, practically free electricity and well-paying jobs; for some, freedom from asthma and cancer epidemics caused by nearby oil refineries or coal dust; for some, healing Earth. 
  • We who become Jubilee Justice Sowers discuss how to deploy ourselves as best to draw on our unique skills and connections to achieve this result.

  • By volunteering, you join a work group which works, with help, to figure out what we need to know, how we can help one another, how we choose some steps to build active projects on solar/wind                          co-ops ( e.g. how they work. what they cost, how they protect participants, why they are important, how to finance them).

                    The work group also thinks through how to make the co-ops available nationally, everywhere -- for example, how to do outreach to faith communities and organizations to adopt them, sponsor future Jubilee Justice Sowers, organize to encourage supportive legislation, and commit to an ongoing Jubilee effort. 

    • Some of us explore other such projects: perhaps, for example, a group focused on dietary change and regenerative farming, Earth-friendly sources of protein, urban gardening – instead of factory farms and massive herds of methane-producing cattle.
    • We introduce new adventures in intergenerational learning, from transformative theology to activist training.  These might begin with the congregational book-conversations now being held for study of Dancing in God's Earthquake : The Coming Transformation of Religion, and plans for a Multifaith Institute for Eco-Justice Activists now being planned by The Shalom Center, Ruach HaAretz, and the Order of the Sacred Earth.
    • To join the Jubilee Justice Sowers, please click to register here: 

               (You will soon be guided to a "Slack" work-place for an initial get-together. "Slack"is an on-line way of carrying on a written conversation among a cooperative group of people pursuing a common project.)

Earth needs us. Humanity needs us. The Breath of Life, the Interbreathing Spirit of the world, needs us. Please join us. 

Shalom, salaam, paz, peace, namaste! -- Arthur

What Do Trees Pray on Tu B'Shvat?

Can you imagine celebrating Tu B’Shvat from  the standpoint of The Trees of Planet Earth?  Not eating their fruit to stir our celebration, but celebrating their own needs and desires?   The Trees need Soil, Water, Sun, Air.  – and “Quintessence,” the Fifth Reality, Love.   How do we nourish them with each of these?

We can imagine how to nourish them, and we invite you to join us to learn how, in a collaboration between COEJL --- the Conference on the Environment and Jewish Life, led by Rabbi Dan Swartz   --   and The Shalom Center, led by Rabbi Arthur Waskow.  They will be joined by Rabbi Ellen Bernstein, author of the first widely used Earth-centered Tu B’Shvat Seder, Birthday of the Trees. There will be the music of the Trees as well.

The gathering will take place on Zoom and FaceBook Live from 8:30 pm to 10 pm Eastern (5:30 to 7 pm Pacific) on Thursday, January 28 --- Yontif Sheni, “HolyDay Second” of celebrating the Tree of Life. (We thought this unprecedented celebration of the Trees themselves  should have  its own unprecedented time.) 

To register, please click to: https://theshalomcenter.org/civicrm/event/info?reset=1&id=36

This event will involve a free-will offering: Give what you feel moved to give when you register. 

You will receive the Zoom link shortly before Tu B’Shvat. 

Get ready for Tu B’Shvat with this book:

 Trees, Earth, and Torah: A Tu B'Shvat Anthology

 Edited by Ari Elon, Naomi Mara Hyman, & Arthur O. Waskow

Presents everything you want to know about this holyday: how it has changed and grown over the last 2500 years. Stories and teachings from Torah, Talmud, Hassidism,  Zionism, Eco-Judaism. Poems, songs, art, comix, adult-level and child-level Seders for Tu B’Shvat. The book is available from the Jewish Publication Society at --   https://jps.org/books/trees-earth-and-torah/

Get ready for Tu B’Shvat with this Tree:

During the day Thursday, January 28, make your way, if you safely can, to a Tree outside where there is quiet.

Come close -- "Eytz chayyim hi, l'machazikim bah: A Tree of Life she is, for those who hold her close."

Let yourself feel Tree breathing out what you need to breathe in. Feel Tree breathing out in a still small voice: YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh.  Feel yourself breathing in: Ehyeh, "I will be."

Now listen for what Tree is praying, not only breathing. What does it need, what is it asking for? Asking you, asking World?

Say aloud, to help you remember, what Tree is praying. Say "Ameyn," out loud.

When you are ready, go back inside. Jot down Tree's prayer.

Bring your note to the Seder Thursday evening. 

We look forward to seeing you, hearing you breathe, on the Second Day of Tree's BirthDay. Remember: Register at --


Shalom, salaam, paz, peace, namaste! --  Arthur 

GEORGIA: You prepared for us a nourishing table, encountering our enemies:

You healed our head with justice;

You made overflow our cup of joy.

Yes! We seek to let loving-kindness, good action, move us

All the days of our life.

For we seek to live where the Breath of Life is at home

And so to lengthen the days of us all.

That is, of course my gently midrashic translation of part of the 23d Psalm. Let me turn from my rabbinic yarmulke to my Tevye cap as activist and the fedora of a US historian.

As I write, it seems clear that both a Black minister, Rev. Raphael Warnock ,and a Jewish documentary film-maker, Jon Ossoff,  have been elected to the US Senate from Georgia: the first in both cases.  Their election makes it possible for the first woman, first Black, and first Asian-American Vice-President to organize the 50-50 Senate in favor of the Democratic Party. (The media have not yet, as I write, “called” one of those senatorial  victories, and the victor’s opponent is sure to make every effort under the sun and under the sea to challenge him.)

 There is a specially sweetly pungent flavor of Healing to the table these elections prepare for us. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC), from 1877 to 1950 there were 588 lynchings of Black people in Georgia (second only to Mississippi). There was one lynching of a Jew, the only one in American history – Leo Frank, in 1915. He had been, despite little concrete evidence, convicted of the murder of a working woman in the factory in which he was among the managers. He was sentenced to death, had his sentence commuted because the Governor of Georgia doubted his guilt, and then was lynched by a mob made up of white Christians. During the whole case, though Black and white opponents of lynching rallied to condemn the lynching of Frank, there also arose some tension between the Black and Jewish communities, because the only other suspect was a Black man, and some of Frank’s defenders used racist rhetoric to absolve him.

So it is a deep healing that a flood of Black votes in Georgia elected a Black and a Jew to the US Senate. It is an even deeper healing that the two stood shoulder to shoulder calling for an end to racism and a healing of Earth and Humankind from the climate crisis. (It was not surprising but it was disgusting that some small but wealthy parts of the Jewish community tried to elect Republicans by condemning Rev. Warnock for his assertion of Palestinian rights – as if an assertion of those rights were antisemitic. Hundreds of rabbis and other serious Jews spoke out for Rev. Warnock.)

(See https://www.ajc.com/news/local/hundreds-more-were-lynched-the-south-than-previously-known-report/gOEGtsSud4utD6Uiqkx1LN/

And  https://history.msu.edu/files/2010/04/Nancy-MacLean.pdf)

If all goes well today inside and outside the US Capitol –- even though some Senators and House members are deliberately lying about the presidential election and some ultra-right-wing militant white supremacists are roaming the streets, all trying to muddy the clarity of President-Elect Biden’s legitimacy –-  then there will be at least the possibility of joint action by President and Congress to take steps to healour simultaneous macro-crises.

As I have said several times recently, I think it is both ethically crucial and politico-practically essential to address the pain, death, and despair of far too many rural and small-town neighborhoods and the pain, death, and despair of far too many big-city neighborhoods, with a nation-wide campaign of Green Co-ops focused on solar and wind energy. Whoever the people in those neighborhoods voted for, any honorable progressivism, any compassionate and just religion, must act to give their neighborhoods new life – and Earth new health.

The Georgia elections and their roots in transforming the past make possible a much more hopeful future – if we act. Especially if the faith communities act.

We must heal our hearts with justice;

We must fill our cups with joy.

Yes! We must let loving-kindness, good action, move us

All the days of our life.

Only then can we live where the Breath of Life is at home

Only then can we lengthen the days of us all.

              Shalom, salaam, paz, peace, namaste!  --  Arthur 

Torah: The Grandchildren

In this week’s Torah portion, there is a unique biblical passage on the relationships between a grandparent and grandchildren (Genesis 48). In the biblical case, it was pretty one-sided. As myself a grandparent in a multisided relationship, I know how interesting, and how precious, that can be.

Grandpa Jacob, knowing his death is near, reenacts with a big difference his own long-ago history of reversing the fortunes of first-born and second-born sons. He had as a young man lied to his father, disguising himself as his older brother Esau in order to secure the first-born blessing for himself.

This time he calls for his son Joseph to bring his two oldest sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, and “adopts” them as his own, giving them a privileged place among Joseph’s other brothers. Then he blesses them both, putting his right hand (which in conventional ritual should have rested upon the older son), upon the younger – and his left had upon the older.

When Joseph protests that he has gotten it backwards, he shrugs off the warning. We can almost hear him saying, “Who are you trying to teach about older-younger transformation? I wrote the book about it!”


But then he gives them the same blessing, aloud. No lies, no cheating, no theft.  They know. And his blessing is that long long into the future, Israelite children will be blessed to be “as Ephraim and Manasseh.”  And even today, almost three thousand years after the story first was told, traditional Jews bless their sons with those words.

What do the words mean? Why do they come at the end of Jacob’s life and close to the end of the Book of Genesis? What happens to the rivalry of brothers in the rest of Torah and Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible)?


It seems to me that the reversal of brotherly fates is Torah’s first clumsy effort to enact social justice. Favoring the first-born son is not fair; so Torah tries to turn it around. But the result is long estrangement, until the older forgives the younger and they are able to be reconciled. Here Jacob short-circuits the long tension. The principle of social justice is upheld by his reversal of the blessing hands; the harsh price of long hostility is avoided.

Not that the rivalry itself ends; not only do many siblings in our own world find themselves at semi-war, but in the stories of King David’s family, many of David’s sons are at sword’s point. (in his biblical analysis King and Kin, Joel Rosenberg even argues that many of the tales of family struggles in the Abrahamic clan are rooted in the historical struggles among the sons of David.)

But the Book of Exodus turns the whole transformation of first-bornness in a totally new direction, indeed making the point of social justice inescapable. YHWH, the Interbreathing Spirit of the world, tells Moses (Exodus 4:22), “Israel is my first-born.” This is manifestly socially and politically not true; Egypt is richer, more powerful, bigger, older, smarter. But all this is to be overturned.

We are left with two profound questions: The grabby Heel “Jacob” who blessed his grandchildren with honesty and comradeship was the “Yisrael, Godwrestler,” who by learning to wrestle God made possible peace with his brother. Is it the bio-political People Israel that is God’s first-born, or is it the Godwrestlers of any and every people who bear the burden and the blessing? And is the goal of the blessing the triumph of second-borns over first-borns, or reconciliation – peace and love – between them? 


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