Telling the Story
1. The heart of the seder
is the maggid from the term Haggadah, meaning
storytelling. The storyteller must be flexible and inventive,
for this, the longest part of the seder, is also the most creative.
2. According to many oriental
Jewish traditions, it opens with a traditional Pesach skit. It is also
time to hide the afikoman (the larger portion of the middle matza)..
the First Seder Night
We begin by recalling the first seder night in history when we hurriedly
The Lord said
to Moses and Aaron in Egypt ... This is how you shall eat it (the Pesach
meal): your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in
your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly: it is a Passover offering
to the Lord ...
In the middle of the
night the Lord struck down all the first-born in the land of Egypt ...
The Egyptians urged
the people on, impatient to have them leave the country, for they said,
We shall all be dead!
So the people took
their dough before it was leavened, their kneading bowls wrapped in their
cloaks upon their shoulders ... (Exodus 12:11-29,
I AM, ready to perform the mitzvah of retelling the story of
the Exodus from Egypt.
leads to exile, while memory is the secret of redemption, says the
Baal Shem Tov (18th C. founder of Hassidism).
Therefore, we celebrate Passover by teaching ourselves to become inventive
storytellers and empathetic listeners. top
IN EGYPT the Jews ate quickly and anxiously because they were nervous
about the plague of the first born and they were expecting their imminent
departure into freedom. Today Jews of Africa and Asia customarily act
out the Exodus itself dressing their children (or a dramatically inclined
adult) in baggy clothes, a scarf or hat, hiking boots, a walking stick,
a belt with a canteen and, most important, the afikoman wrapped in ones
clothes on the shoulder (or perhaps in a back pack).
Try sending the youngest
children out of the room (or the house) with a bag of props and the help
of an adult to prepare this dialogue. Here is a semi-traditional script
that may be used by the actors at the seder.
Knock on the
Adults - Whos there?
Children - Moshe, Aaron, and Miriam.
Adults - Come in. Tell us about your journey!
Children - We have just arrived from Egypt where we were slaves
to Pharaoh. He made us do such hard work. [Improvise about how bad it
Adults - How did you escape?
Children - God sent Moshe and Aaron to tell Pharaoh: Let
my people go. When he refused, God sent 10 plagues. [Improvise describing
some of the plagues.]
Finally God brought the most awful plague on the first born of Egypt.
Then Pharaoh was really scared so he kicked us out.
Adults - Why are you dressed like that? What is on your shoulder?
Children - We escaped in the middle of the night and had no time
to let the dough for our bread rise. The dough that we wrapped in our
cloaks and slung over our shoulders turned to matza in the heat of the
Adults - Tell us about your adventures.
Children - Pharaoh changed his mind after releasing us and chased
us to the edge of the Red Sea. We would have been caught for sure, but
then God split the sea. [Describe how it felt.]
Adults - Where are you going now?
Children - To Jerusalem.
All - La-shana ha-ba-ah BeeYerushalayeem! top
Rules for Hiding the Afikomen
WHILE THE BROKEN MATZA is designed to remind the adults of the culture
of poverty, the afikoman is the key to gifts of plenty for the children,
as well as the lever for parents to arouse tired children and maintain
their alertness through the lengthy stories, rituals, and explanations
of the seder. The rabbis mandated playing games with the matza precisely
for this educational purpose and felt little compunction about disturbing
the sanctity of the evening or the dignity of the matza as a symbol. Each
Jewish community made their own rules sometimes the child stole
the afikoman and sometimes the parent hid it. Here is one contemporary
version of the game with practical instructions:
breaking the matza, either the seder leader or head of each nuclear family
hides the afikoman(s) in a napkin. Some parents sew cloth envelopes embroidered
with the word afikoman.
children are told that a portion of the afikoman will be hidden in more
or less plain sight. Children should be encouraged to work together so
that the negative aspects of competition will not ruin their evening when
they are rewarded for finding the afikoman. top
AS EVERYONE KNOWS, the Jews eat unleavened bread because the dough
they brought out from Egypt in their rush to leave, never had a chance
to rise. Matza is then the bread of liberation. It is a mark of
an exodus whose rapid pace overtook them unprepared.
The Egyptians who enslaved them, suddenly expelled them after God brought
the plague on the first born. The Passover skit (above), reenacts the
matza of expulsion and exodus.
Yet ha lachma,
the first official explanation for matza in the Haggadah, calls it the
bread of poverty and persecution based on Deuteronomy
16:3, You shall eat unleavened bread, bread of oni
(distress) for you departed from the land of Egypt hurriedly.
Here matza is a memorial not of liberation, but of slavery. The life of
oppression is marked by a pressured, hurried pace, for the
slaves do not control the rhythm of their existence. top
THE GESTUREof raising the matza of poverty and persecution is an allusion
to Gods lifting up the poor from the garbage heaps
The Moroccan custom
of passing the matza over the heads of the participants may allude to
the Angel of Death who passed over the Jewish houses on the
night of the tenth plague. top
Bread of Answers
The Rabbis punned that anya means not only poverty but giving answers.
This is the bread over which many answers will be said. The
parent answers the child while pointing at the matza and says: For
the sake of this, God did so much for me when I left Egypt (Ex.
Food, Oppression, and "Schindler's List"
SEFORNO, a rabbi of the Italian Renaissance, noted that matza is the original
fast food. Made of flour and salt it bakes quickly, as
it must, for slaves have no time to themselves to let their dough rise
at its leisure. Quick to prepare and easy to eat, matza is the bread
of a tight schedule due to the oppressors unrelenting demands
for meeting the production quota (Ex. 5).
Perhaps for that reason the Rabbis insisted that today's matza be prepared
from start to finish in no more than 18 minutes.
the Israeli actor, Ezra Dagan, was chosen by Steven Spielberg to play
the rabbi in the Holocaust movie Schindlers List, he went
to visit a friend whose father was a survivor. Ezra wanted to get the
personal feel of the Jews who had lived through Auschwitz. Arriving just
as his friends father sat down to eat, Ezra marvelled at the rapid
pace at which he consumed everything on his plate. Does your
father always eat at so frenzied a rate? he inquired. I
never noticed it but you are right. It must be a life saving lesson he
never unlearned from his years in Nazi forced labor camps.
that God rewarded the Jews who were forced to bake and to eat so quickly
(be-cheepazon) in Egypt by granting them a quick exodus (be-cheepazon)
after the original seder (Deut. 16:3). The
leisurely pace of the seder today as well as the abundance of food and
the comfort of the pillows expresses our liberation from an (op)pressing
Open Door Policy
BEFORE COMMENCING any meal, Rav Huna of Babylonia used to open
the door and announce: Let all who are in need come and eat
(B.T. Taanit 20b).
Concern for the needy
is characteristic of every Jewish celebration. The Torah emphasizes: You
shall rejoice in your festival with your son and daughter, your
male and female servant, the Levi, the stranger, the orphan and the widow
in your communities (Deut 16:14).
Maimonides expands and explains this principle:
When a person
eats and drinks at the festive meal he is obligated to provide food for
the stranger, the orphan, and the widow, along with the rest of the poor
and despondent. But whoever locks the doors of the courtyard, and eats
and drinks with his wife and children, and does not provide food and drink
for poor or suffering people, this is not a mitzvah celebration
(simchat mitzvah) but a celebration of the belly
(simchat kray-so)... and this kind of celebration is a disgrace (Maimonides,
We continue this Biblical
tradition of hospitality today by collecting money to fund preparations
for the holiday by the indigent (Maot-cheeteem), and
by inviting guests to the seder table. Communities should provide networks
of hospitality so that no Jew, whether a newcomer or an elderly person,
need spend the holiday alone and forsaken.
Ben Shahns poster,
Hunger, was used to appeal for help for refugees after World
War II. It is modelled on a photograph taken in the Warsaw Ghetto. top
of Us Are Equal"
AT A SEDER the poor are often invited to eat at the home of the rich.
This may reinforce their sense of shame and dependence on others. Therefore
we begin by the eating of dry, broken matza which is supposed to be an
equalizer. Don Isaac Abrabanel explains that the hosts must make
clear to the guests: All of us are equal. Though you are poor, you
will not feel estranged at my table for all of us were impoverished in
(Don Isaac Abrabanel, Zevach Pesach Haggadah.I n
1492 Abrabanel was a cabinet minister to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.
When the decree expelling the Jews from Spain was issued, he was offered
an exemption. Nevertheless he chose to be expelled in solidarity with
all the Jews). top
But Not Necessarily Poor"
SOMETIMES the rich are needy. Though they have lots of food they may not
know how to make a seder. Therefore the text says all those in
need and not only all who are hungry.
One should also
invite travellers in a strange town far from home for they are certainly
sad so far from their families... you are obliged to bring them to your
home and make them happy on this holiday. (anonymous
medieval Talmudist). top
DAVID BEN GURION, first prime minister of the State of Israel, described
the importance of the memories preserved on Pesach as he argued for the
right to a Jewish State in 1947:
years ago a ship called the Mayflower set sail to the New World. This
was a great event in the history of England. Yet I wonder if there is
one Englishman who knows at what time the ship set sail? Do the English
know how many people embarked on this voyage? What quality of bread did
they eat? Yet more than three thousand three hundred years ago, before
the Mayflower set sail, the Jews left Egypt. Every
Jew in the world, even in America or Soviet Russia knows on exactly what
date they left - the fifteenth of the month of Nisan; everyone knows what
kind of bread the Jews ate. Even today the Jews worldwide eat matza on
the 15th of Nisan. They retell the story of the Exodus and all the troubles
Jews have endured since being exiled. They conclude this evening with
two statements: This year, slaves. Next year, free men. This year here.
Next year in Jerusalem, in Zion, in Eretz Yisrael. That is the nature
of the Jews.
(Testimony to the U.N. Commission on the Partition of
Palestine, 1947) top
Year We Are Slaves"
WHAT CAN these words mean?
We are slaves because
yesterday our people were in slavery, and memory makes yesterday real
We are slaves because
today there are still people in chains around the world and no one can
be truly free while others are in chains.
We are slaves because
freedom means more than broken chains. Where there is poverty and hunger
and homelessness, there is no freedom; where there is prejudice and bigotry
and discrimination, there is no freedom; where there is violence and torture
and war, there is no freedom.
And where each of
us is less than he or she might be, we are not free, not yet.
And who, this year,
can be deaf to the continuing oppression of the downtrodden, who can be
blind to the burdens and the rigors that are now to be added to the most
vulnerable in our midst?
If these things be
so, who among us can say that he or she is free?
(Leonard Fein, founder of MAZON:
A Jewish Responseto Hunger, 1985) top