Something reflective – Seder as Solidarity
‘In spite of it all, I choose love:’ these words were spoken by a colleague of our close friend Rabbi Marc Soloway at a huge online solidarity gathering for Boulder last night. The rabbi told of how she knew personally the baggers and workers at the King Soopers grocery store where ten people were murdered by a gunman. She had made them her friends, her community, people for whom she cared and who cared about her. Beneath her outrage, she said, the shootings made her feel vulnerable ‘for ourselves and for our children’. But vulnerability is the price for love, and ‘in spite of it all I choose love.’
The Seder is about comradeship, the fellowship of the story. It is at once uniquely Jewish, the history of our people on the long, unfinished road from persecution to freedom, and at the same time the story of all humanity, the unending struggle for justice and dignity. It opens with a call to comradeship: ‘Who ever is hungry come and eat; whoever needs, come share the Pesach.’ It culminates with an appeal to imaginative identification: ‘In every generation, everyone must see themselves as if they went out from Egypt.’
This solidarity is the core of moral being. The French Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas wrote that
The traumatic experience of the slavery in Egypt constitutes my very humanity, a fact that immediately allies me to the workers, the wretched, and the persecuted peoples of the world. (Difficult Freedom)
I believe we must try to live this solidarity is concentric, outward-moving circles: towards our family, our community, the Jewish People, the society we live in, and any group suffering persecution. That, more than anything, is what the Seder means to me. This year Jewish communities across the world are particularly marking our connection with the Uyghur People. [add link to Uyghur Seder Reader ]
Levinas continued: ‘My uniqueness lies in the responsibility I display for the other.’ That responsibility, or, in the words of the rabbi from Boulder, that love, is the purpose for which we are here.
Something Halakhic – ‘This night we dip twice.’
Everyone is familiar with the first dipping at the Seder: we dunk our karpas (parsley, celery, watercress, whatever vegetable we use) in salt water. This is understood to represent our ancestors’ tears because of the cruelty, family separation and slave labour to which they were subjected. The green hope of life is ruined by cruelty.
The second dipping is less familiar: the maror is momentarily immersed in the charoset. According to the Talmud, the reason is to neutralise the venom of its potentially life-threatening sap. The Tosafot quote the geonic tradition that the charoset must be made from fruits and spices mentioned in the Song of Songs, such as figs, dates, apples, wine and cinnamon. (Talmud, Pesachim 116a) Charoset is thus the Jewish version of ‘the food of love’. What mitigates the bitterness and unfairness of life is the love we show one another, the companionship and solidarity we share.
Something Practical – Charoset recipes
There are charoset recipes from all over the world, Sephardi, Ashkenazi and Yemenite; there are versions from Curacao and India. For years, we’ve had the family tradition of making two or three different kinds. It’s a culinary form of inclusivity, acknowledging the rich diversity of the Jewish People and the range of Jewish geography. Go online and you’ll find tens of charoset options. If you can, adventure beyond your familiar recipe. It’s fun.