Do you know when the first Seder took place?

Do you know when the first Seder took place? Stop reading for a moment – what do you think?

Perhaps you imagine the Israelites in the wilderness, with Mitzrayim/Egypt behind them and the wide, open desert in front of them as their first taste of freedom and having a matzah picnic on the shore of the Sea of Reeds. Or maybe you picture the first Seder a year after liberation, marking the anniversary of the Exodus with the Israelites telling each other that crazy story about how they rushed like mad to get out of Egypt, so fast that their dough didn’t rise and then they ate matzah and each person talked about what they remember of slavery and what they are learning about the challenges and gifts of freedom. Or perhaps you imagine the Israelites celebrating Pesach only once they entered the land of Israel, once the entire generation of those who had been slaves had died and they celebrated their liberation in a place where they also had sovereignty, moral responsibility and had to learn what freedom means when it is coupled with power.

Well, none of those are correct.

It never fails to amaze me that the first Seder, in the Torah’s description, took place in Egypt. Still slaves, still trapped in Mitzrayim, in the place of may’tzar/constriction and narrowness, the Israelites were commanded to a hold a Seder. Nine plagues had already struck the Egyptians. The forces of oppression were being shaken but were still in tact.  Before the final plague, before Pharaoh releases his grip, Adonai commands each household to select a lamb on the 10th of the month of Nissan and to slaughter it and cook it on the 14th of Nissan. The Israelites were to mark their doorposts with its blood and that very night, while the angel of death struck the first-born Egyptians, the Israelites gathered around tables to eat the Pesach offering.  They were instructed, “This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly” (Exodus 12:11). They ate maror, transforming the overwhelming and direct experience of bitterness and suffering into something symbolic, abstracted and contained. And they ate matzah – tasting the bread of freedom, internalizing it into their bodies, even as their bodies were still enslaved.  Sitting in the heart of oppression, they put on the clothes of liberation, sat down to the first feast of freedom, and embodied the beginnings of a new reality as the first step toward its realization.

Ritual has the power to do this – to shift our relationship with our current reality and help us live into new possibilities. 

It is painful that we won’t be sitting around our tables this Pesach with all our nearest and dearest people.  Our elders and our children likely won’t be in the same room and won’t be easily exchanging wisdom and laughter with each other in the ways they do when sitting side by side.  We are in the midst of profound loss around the world.  We are in the midst of so much uncertainty and fear.  We are in the thick of suffering and constriction, and we are about to sit down to a feast of freedom.  What are the internal possibilities and outer transformations we want to imagine, taste, hold in our hands, wear on our bodies and live into in these challenging times?  Who do we want to become and what is the world we wish to inhabit on the other side?  I imagine forms of compassion and generosity, courage and interdependence that this crisis is training us in, if we choose to take it on.  I imagine deep humility, awe and buoyancy in the face of life’s fragility and its magnificence.  I imagine seeing your faces around our virtual Seder table and simply want to dance with you, dancing the fear out of our bodies, dancing in joy.

May it be a Pesach of grieving, of healing and of celebrating, and may we be blessed with the wisdom and resilience gained through each of them on the road to something new.

Community Seder – Thursday April 9th

Part 1 – 5:00-7:00pm and Part 2 – 8:30pm

As the full moon of the second night of Pesach rises in the sky, we will gather by the glow of our computers to see each others’ faces and journey together from slavery to freedom. Get out of your pajamas and put on something spring-like and celebratory! We will begin at 5pm for ritual, song and exploration together until 7pm. Then we’ll pause for folks to eat dinner.  For those who would like to rejoin the group at 8:30pm, we will conclude the Seder with further learning, discussion and a whole lot of singing! Feel free to join in or jump off the call as you need to. 

In addition to the ritual items below, please have at the ready: 1) some paper and markers or pens, 2) a sign of spring and 3a) an object in some way connected to hearing the cry of constriction or oppression (inner or outer, personal or political/social); AND/OR 3b) an object in some way connected to liberation (inner or outer, personal or political/social).

Below is a lot of information to help you prepare for Pesach and gather the ritual objects and foods for the Seder.

*A note about Zoom safety – There have been incidents of Jewish groups’ Zoom gatherings being hacked by “Zoom bombing”, interrupting with anti-Semitic hate speech. We will be able to mute and remove any disruptive individuals but we also encourage you to change your screen name so it doesn’t display your full name.

Where can I get Pesach foods? – If you are in the East End, you can place an order for dry goods (eg. matzah, matzah meal, etc.) with Chabad Beaches for pick up. If you are unable to pick up food, Chabad might be able to deliver. If they can’t, please let our Chesed Caring Committee know and we will arrange for a DJC volunteer to deliver your order.

If you are looking to order prepared foods for Pesach, one option is Toronto Kosher on Bathurst. They are not taking advance orders but their menu is online here

Things to prepare for the Seder ahead of time (and some creative alternatives):

1) SEDER PLATE including:

Zro’a/shank bone – a reminder of the sacrificial Pascal lamb and God’s “outstretched arm” freeing the Israelites – use a slightly charred chicken bone, meat bone or roasted “sacrificial beet” (It’s not eaten but it is part of the Seder);

Beytzah/Egg – use a hard boiled egg – a reminder of the Chagigah/holyday offering in the times of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem and a symbol of life;

Karpas/green herb – the taste of spring – use parsley, watercress, celery or any leafy fresh herb. Some Ashkenazi Jews use a boiled potato as karpas. You can also have other veggies and dips to nosh on.

Charoset – both a connection to the mortar the Israelite slaves used for making bricks and to the taste of sweetness and sensuousness of the apple orchard and love in the Song of Songs, read on Pesach. There are wonderful charoset recipes on-line. Perhaps you want to try a new recipe this year from Sephardic, Mizrachi or Ashkenazi traditions.

Maror – bitter herbs symbolizing the bitterness of slavery. You can use dry pieces of horseradish root or mashed horseradish/chreyn from a jar. If you can’t get these, you can use something else that is bitter – eg. a bitter lettuce.

Chazeret – Another kind of bitter herb, usually green onion or lettuce.

Salt water – tasting the tears of oppression and slavery;

Feel free to add other symbols of enslavement and oppression in our world right now, as well as symbols of hope, freedom and transformation.

If there are items you are not able to get, you can get creative! The aim is that through tasting, we internalize various elements of slavery and liberation. You can find other foods that are spring-like, sweet or lumpy and mortar-like, salty, and bitter. You could also find other ways to connect with these qualities and experiences – write down personal or collective experiences that have each quality. Find a poem, quotation or visual image for each one and place them on your Seder plate.

2) Matzah – both the bread of slavery and the bread of freedom. Put 3 pieces of matzah on a plate for ritual purposes with a matzah cover on top.

3) Afikomen bag or cloth to wrap the afikomen, the half matzah that is hidden early in the Seder and is searched for, found and eaten at the end of the meal.

4) Candles – 2 or more to celebrate the beginning of the holyday.

5) Grape juice or wine – fruit of the vine, symbolic of joy and abundance. The four cups of wine are connected to 4 different phrases about liberation in Exodus 6:6 (“I will free you;” “I will deliver you;” “I will redeem you;” “I will take you to be My people.”)

6) Cos Eliyahu/Elijah’s cup, whose presence connects us to future liberation.

7) Cos Miriam/Miriam’s Cup with water in it, connects us to Miriam’s well, a limitless source of sustenance in the wilderness.

8) Pitcher of water, bowl and towel for 2 different hand washing moments in the Seder.

Other Prepartions before the Seder:

Learning and Creativity – To make the Seder more meaningful, you can choose a section of the haggadah that you’re curious about, have never really understood or want to bring your creativity to and do some exploration in the time leading up to the Seder. Connect it to contemporary struggles and questions. Create a new ritual object. Make a collage, a spoken word piece or song. It would be wonderful to share some of these at our community Seder! *If you would like to share a teaching or creative work, please let Rabbi Miriam know – rabbimiriam@djctoronto.com.

Websites with learning resources and ideas –

Cleaning out Chametz – chametz is leaven. The practice of removing all grain products from our homes for Pesach (bread, pasta, cereal, cookies, etc.), as well as symbolically selling foods that are not kosher for Pesach (like your scotch collection) is linked to our Sages’ interpretation of chametz, foods that are ‘puffed up’, as representing arrogance and the impulse to self-centred and harmful action, embodied by Pharaoh. Freedom from human oppression requires humility, care for others and quick, decisive action, represented by matzah.

This is a great time to clean out your cupboards, to donate food and funds to food banks, to clean out your closets and donate clothing. You can also sell your chametz on-line!

ACTIVITY: Bedikat Chametz/Final Search for Chametz by candle light – On April 7th at night, wrap 10 crumbs of bread in tinfoil and hide them throughout your home (remember where you hid them). Then have a chametz scavenger hunt by the light of candle. Scoop up each bread crumb with a wooden spoon and a feather (if you have them). Put all the crumbs in a bowl and burn them in the morning. May all our moral and spiritual chametz go up in smoke!

Spring Cleaning Ritual on the Eve of the Full Moon of Nisan 

by Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb

Ways you can help:

  • Mazon Canada: A Jewish Response to Hunger – www.mazoncanada.ca
  • UJA’s Global Seder raises funds to help vulnerable Jews, locally and globally, to celebrate Passover in dignity – jewishtoronto.com/global-seder
  • Leket Israel, the National Food Bank, is the leading food rescue organization in Israel – www.leket.org/en

And for a good laugh:

www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/an-open-letter-to-dr-anthony-fauci-asking-for-passover-seder-advice