The Seder Paradox


The Seder Paradox
Ari Hart

4/25/2008

In a few short days, millions of Jews around the world will sit at seder tables and make two extraordinary,
paradoxical statements. At the beginning of the seder, we will announce:

?? ????? ???? ????, ?? ????? ???? ?????
All who are hungry, come eat. All who are in need, come and join the Pesach celebration.

Then later, we will say the famous words:

???? ??? ???? ???? ??? ?????? ?? ???? ????? ??? ??? ??????
In every generation we must see ourselves as if we left Egypt.

The haggadah demands that we see ourselves in two radically different ways over the course of the same
night.

We are instructed to view ourselves in a position of opportunity and freedom, eager to share our meal with
others, eager to share our liberation with those still oppressed. At the same time, we are to view ourselves
as if we ourselves were slaves, as if we ourselves were oppressed. We see this seeming contradiction in
many other places in the seder. We are chayav to eat matzah, the bread of affliction and suffering, while
reclining like free people. We dip karpas, the symbol of birth and freedom, in salt water to taste bitterness
and suffering. How can a slave offer food and freedom to others? How can a free person understand what it
is like to be oppressed?

This paradox is not just at the heart of the seder, it is at the heart of the Torah and what it means to be a
Jew. We tell the story of slavery under Pharoah, suffering and torture at the hands of the Greeks and
Romans, medieval persecutions, Inquisitions, the Shoah, terror, countless attempts on our very existence. It
is, sadly, not too difficult to see ourselves ????? ??? ??? ??????.

 

However, as a people, we’ve experienced malchut under King David and Shlomo, enjoyed power and
prestige in Muslim and Persian courts, developed one of the strongest militaries in the world, fought for the
civil rights and liberation of others, and enjoy a position of opportunity and success in the world’s most
powerful country. We can say, with honesty,?? ????? ???? ????.
These realities embedded in our experiences and our texts, these ups and downs make us uniquely
positioned to understand and relate to those in every situation. From the melech to the ger, those in power
and those who are powerless, we’ve been there. This Pesach, as we enjoy our freedom and many
blessings, we must not forget our responsibility, and our unique ability, to fight for those who are still
enslaved, whether it be by human trafficking, poverty, treatable disease, prejudice, religious persecution, or
any other form of oppression.

 

Exactly 40 Passovers ago, Martin Luther King addressed a group of leading American rabbis. At this event,
10 days before he was assassinated, he said “All too often I have seen religious leaders stand amid the social injustices that pervade our society, mouthing pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. All too
often the religious community has been a taillight instead of a headlight.”
The Jewish people have been a headlight for thousands of years. May Hashem bless us this Pesach that we
merit to continue to spread the light of righteousness and justice across the world.