Haggadah Supplements 5779: Who Sits At Our Seder?

Haggadah Supplements 5779

The seder as we know it is actually the outline that our sages created for what was to take place on seder night. Rather than simply read the outline, as many us do, we were to fill it with discussion, debate and commentary. For many years I (and many others) have published supplements to the Haggadah designed to help us do what our rabbis had intended. Here is the English version of the supplement that I and ‘Torat Tzedek-Torah of Justice” have created for this year.


Eloheinu v’Elohei Kadmoneinu (Avoteinu, Avoteinu vEmoteinu), our God & God of our ancestors, we are gathered around this seder table as b’nei khorin, free people commanded to remember our dark nights of oppression. Your Torah warns us never to become oppressors ourselves, reminding us, “For you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Yet, when we’re honest with ourselves, we know that we have been Pharaoh to other peoples, and to the disadvantaged among our own people. Our awareness that, “In every generation there are those who arise to destroy us” often causes us to harden our hearts, perceive hatred where it does not exist and justify the oppression of others.

We therefore turn to You, as in days of old. Stand with us, so that our fears not rise up to be our taskmasters. Help us to banish Pharaoh from our hearts, and let the rest of humanity in.

With Pharaoh at bay, we are better able to perceive the desecration of Your Image found in every human being. As with the plagues of old, our joy is diminished when we hear of those whose lives remain embittered. “Hashata Avdei,” “This year we remain slaves because of their oppression.” We remove additional drops of wine from our cup of celebration and renew our commitment to winning their freedom, thereby completing ours. We make room in our hearts and at our table for:

(Choose one or more. One person can read out loud, & all participants can read the final line together)

Ibrahim {not real name) organized the Bedouin shepherds around the “Omer’s Farm” outpost. He always had a smile on his face, and would even flirt with the women soldiers. One day Omer’s brother and two additional thugs beat him up. The army managed to arrive and recover his stolen sheep and donkey. He declined to lodge a police complaint, fearing what would happen if Omer would decide to take revenge. A month later soldiers detained him. Knowing that Omer didn’t want to see uppity shepherds in the area he had claimed as his, the soldiers targeted the leader. Shortly after, Ibrahim says that Omer showed up in his home in the middle of the night, put a gun to his head, and told him that he would kill all his sheep if he dared to come into “his” territory again. Ibrahim’s father made him sell his sheep the next day. More recently, masked soldiers “visited” Ibrahim’s neighbors, warning them not to enter “Omer’s territory.”

Tonight, when we open the door for Elijah we remember the years that we didn’t know who or what was waiting for us in the middle of the night. We know we must do what we can to stop the terror stalking Ibrahim and the Bedouin shepherds by night, and the expulsions from grazing lands by day. Omer doesn’t want them anywhere near his table, but they have a seat at ours.

Sima (not real name) is an Israeli single parent mom. She lives on the edge, and suffered for months because she couldn’t afford a dentist. She met somebody in the tents of the 2011 social protest movement, but can’t marry because she might lose the public housing apartment she fought for. Sima doesn’t just fight for herself. She runs a legal clinic that has helped many to put a roof over their heads. The clerks and bureaucrats know that when she accompanies another single mother, they can’t play around.

The midrash teaches that we were redeemed from Egypt because the women maintained hope and persevered, even when the men had given up. Tonight we invite Sima to our table. We honor her tenacity, and the perseverance of the single parent moms for whom a laden table is a far away dream.

Ali (not real name) used to make a living from his olive trees. But his bad luck is that his grove is next to the violent Khavat Gilad outpost. He once had 450 trees there, but only 230 remain. He can’t get to the grove without army protection, and when he does get there he finds every year that most of his olives have been stolen. Khavat Gilad homes have been built in the grove. Now in his sixties, he has been forced to become a day laborer in Israel. After a Government Cabinet vote to legalize Khavat Gilad, he asks whether anything will remain. In October, bulldozers cleared land, apparently to build another home. He lost 22 trees that day. After months, he finally received protection to plant new trees, only after Israeli organizations asked why the army was demanding Ali again prove ownership in order to replace the trees their negligence had allowed to be cut down. One officer promised to help protect the new trees. The army had also promised in October..

Tonight when we declare “Let all who are hungry come and eat we know that it would be better if Ali could support himself, rather than come to our table. We share his hope against hope that the seedlings he has planted contain the seeds of redemption.

Sheikh Sayakh: Last year Sheikh Sayakh slept on the ground near where his village once stood. Now he is serving a 10 month jail sentence for “trespassing” on his own land, and couldn’t attend the opening of the court hearings in which he and his family seek to prove their ownership. The judge offered to cancel his sentence if he would agree not to return to Al-Araqib, “Why at your advanced age do you need to spend 10 months in jail?” Some of his friends agreed. But, Sayakh knew that an agreement on his part would undermine his determined effort to hold on to his tribe’s land, despite over 130 demolitions of whatever he and a handful of family members manage to rebuild. Sheikh Sayakh says that those Israeli Jews who support El-Araqib help give him strength.

Our sages ask what gave our ancestors strength, and how much longer they could have survived Egyptian oppression had not God fulfilled God’s promise to stand with us. Tonight we know that we must stand with El-Araqib, and all of Israel’s Bedouin citizens.

African Asylum Seekers: A mass expulsion was supposed to take place last Passover. Israel’s High Court originally intended to allow it, but issued a temporary order when the judges realized that there was no truth to government claims that they had an agreement from a safe country to welcome them. There were all too many stories of their friends who “agreed” to leave and were killed, drowned, became slaves and/or were tortured. Many of parties poised to form Israel’s next government are committed to passing laws making it easier for them to override the Court, when it thwarts their plans. Asylum seekers know their future is perilous.

We were once slaves, and our Torah commands us not to return fleeing slaves to their owners. Tonight we commit to redoubling our efforts to stop plans to condemn others to slavery, or worse.

Some say that our sages of old spent seder night planning how to resist and end tyranny. Recalling the midwives of old, we know that the seeds of redemption are planted when we oppose Pharaoh’s command. Now we must decide whether the story we tell tonight is only a tale of long ago, or a story instructing us what we must do tomorrow. The rabbis taught that the seder moves from from gnut to shevakh, from degradation to praiseworthiness. Will we?



Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch, Commentary to the Torah,

You shall not wrong a ger (Non-Jew living among you and living by your rules) or oppress him/her, for you were gerim in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 22:20)
The great, meta-principle is oft-repeated in the Torah that it is not race, not descent, not birth nor country of origin, nor property, nor anything external or due to chance, but simply and purely the inner spiritual and moral worth of a human being, that gives him/her all the rights of a human being and of a citizen. This basic principle is further protected against infringement by the additional explanation, “For you were gerim in the land of Egypt.” … Your entire misfortune in Egypt was that you were “foreigners” and “aliens.” As such, according to the views of other nations, you had no right to be there, had no claim to property, to homeland, or to a dignified existence. It was permissible to do to you whatever they wished. As gerim, your rights were denied in Egypt. This was the source of the slavery and wretchedness imposed upon you. Therefore beware, so runs the warning, from making human rights in your own state conditional on anything other than on the basic humanity which every human being as such bears within him/her by virtue of being human. Any suppression of these human and civil rights opens the gate to the indiscriminate use of power and abuse of human beings, to the whole horror of Egyptian mishandling of human beings that was the root of abomination of Egypt.

About the Author
Rabbi Arik Ascherman is the founder and director of the Israeli human rights organization "Torat Tzedek-Torah of Justice." Previously, he led "Rabbis For Human Rights" for 21 years. Rabbi Ascherman is a sought after lecturer, has received numerous prizes for his human rights work and has been featured in several documentary films, including the 2010 "Israel vs Israel." He is recognized as a role model for faith based human rights activism.
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