The Very First Seder in Jewish History – The first Seder was held in Egypt before the Exodus itself. Consequently, the Seder is not a celebration of redemption because the redeeming event had not yet taken place. Rather, the Seder is an expression of faith that there will be redemption in the future, that the world is not yet just and compassionate and that there is to be a more peaceful order of human affairs in a time to come.
The Seder as a Night-time Ritual – The Seder is the only full ritual that occurs at night and in the home. It is also the only time that the Hallel is said at night. Rabbi Levi Meier (z’l) suggested that whereas in daylight all things are public, at night our higher selves are revealed. When Jacob wrestled with a Divine/human being at the river Jabok we learn that following that struggle “Ya-akov shalem – Jacob became whole.” This night-time ritual moves us towards wholeness and integration (per Jungian theory – Rabbi Meier was a certified Jungian therapist) – i.e. the unification of body, mind, heart, and soul with God.
Birth Imagery in the Exodus Narrative – Birth imagery and the role of women in the Exodus narrative is prominently reflected in the Seder and therefore, alongside male images of God as a warrior and liberator, women are ancient Israel’s savers and sustainers of life. Feminine imagery is evoked especially at the Passover season because of the concurrence of the spring equinox when the lambing of the flocks took place. Most importantly, Passover celebrates the birth of the Jewish nation out of slavery. Israelite new-born boys were saved by two Hebrew mid-wives, Shifra and Puah. Yocheved (Moses’ mother) and Miriam (Moses’ older sister) saved the future liberator from certain death by placing him in a basket in the river, watching over him as he floated down the river, watching as he was drawn out of the river and saved by the Egyptian Princess, and by Miriam arranging with the Princess to have Moses’ own mother, Yocheved, act as his wet-nurse in the palace. Moses grew to manhood, never forgetting who he really was because of his engaged mother and sister, Yocheved and Miriam, and he eventually led the people through the opening of the Sea of Reeds, a metaphor of the opening of his womb. The Hebrew name for Egypt (Mitzrayim) means “coming from a narrow or constricted place,” such as a new-born moving through the birth canal. The salt water of the sea might suggest the amniotic fluid heralding both the birth of the Jewish nation into freedom and the beginning of spring.
Moses is Never Mentioned in the Hagadah – This obvious oversight was a deliberate attempt by the rabbis who developed the Hagadah in the first centuries of the Common Era (CE) to remind the people that it was God and God alone that redeemed the people from slavery. Much of the Hagadah developed in the centuries after Christianity made inroads into the Jewish community. The rabbis were concerned that Jews not deify any human leader as the Christians had done with Jesus.
Nachshon Ben Aminadav – The Midrash (rabbinic commentary) describes what happened when the Israelites arrived at the Sea of Reeds with the Egyptian army behind them in hot pursuit. Moses began to pray that God would save the people yet again while a little known figure, Nachshon Ben Aminadav, jumped into the sea and took history into his own hands. This is the first time a former slave acted on his own and on his people’s behalf. At that moment, in response to Moses’ prayer and Nachshon’s courageous deed, God split the sea and allowed the people to pass into freedom on dry land. Judaism affirms that God is a liberating force for justice and good, especially for the most vulnerable in society, and that we Jews are obligated by the Covenant to be drawn at Sinai to emulate God Who acted compassionately, defied injustice and strove to create a Jewish people (the early Zionist movement and the founding of the state of Israel is reflective of this earliest impulse in Jewish history).
Wine and Matzah in Christian Tradition – Jesus reportedly said at the Last Supper (thought to be a Passover Seder) while pointing at the matzah and wine, “This is my body and this is my blood!” (Matthew 26:26) Christian theologians developed the doctrine of transubstantiation (i.e. the Eucharist) and claimed it as legitimate continuation of first century Judaism. The deification of Jesus into a wholly Divine being, however, constitutes a significant theological leap and departure from traditional Judaism that affirms God as unknowable, infinite and eternal. For Jews, the bread represents the lamb of the Pascal offering. For Christians, Jesus replaced the lamb, and the wine symbolized his blood which led Jesus’ followers at that Seder to not be shocked by his alleged identification with the pascal offering. The anti-Semitic defamation in the “blood libel” is a convoluted distortion of the Eucharist turned on itself and against the Jewish people who had refused to accept the divinity of Jesus as the Christ Messiah.
To be continued…