Class 4: Pesach - Full Moon of Liberation
The festival of Pesach or Passover, which falls on the 14th of Nisan, is a biblical festival honoring the going out of Egypt and also the first barley harvest. Since talmudic times it has been celebrated with a seder or festive storytelling meal.
- Exodus 1-1
- Arthur Waskow, Seasons of Our Joy, 133-184.
- Jill Hammer, Jewish Book of Days, p. 222-247.
- Amichai Lau-Lavie, “Sex and Seder: A New Queer Midrash for Passover"
On the fifteenth of Nisan, the full moon sometime after spring equinox, Jews celebrate the festival of Passover and relive the going out of Egypt. The Bible calls this festival Chag haMatzot, the feast of matzah. The feast includes the eating of a lamb, flat bread (matzah), and bitter herbs, and the telling of the story of the Exodus. From the bitter taste of slavery to the wonder of the parting sea, Jews all over the world retell the story of freedom as if they had personally lived it.
As part of the preparation, houses undergo a thorough cleaning, and many Jews change everything about their kitchens: dishes, food, utensils. For a week, traditional Jews refrain from eating products with yeast. The matzah, the flat bread of Pesach, is a reminder of the hasty departure from Egypt, when there was no time for the bread to rise. The avoidance of yeast began perhaps as a wish that the crops not be tainted by any mold as if to remind us that liberty requires the willingness to change.
Other foods on the seder plate include the egg, the charoset or fruit paste, and greens, all of which represent new life, as well as a bone to represent the Temple sacrifice at Passover (modern vegetarians often use a beet). The seder that Jews know today was invented by rabbinic Jews and based on the Greek symposium, a meal during which philosophy was discussed. For the seder meal, all are present and the philosophy discussed is the Exodus in its many facets. The afikomen is not a Greek after-entertainment, but rather a final piece of matzah to remind one of the taste of slavery and the taste of freedom.
Jews in the diaspora often hold two seders, one on each of the first two nights. The feast of Passover lasts eight days (seven for the land of Israel and some liberal Jews). North African Jews end the festival with Maimouna, a food-filled celebration of spring.
The Omer, the forty-nine-day period beginning on the second night of Passover and ending with the festival of Shavuot, celebrates the journey of the sprouting grain (Leviticus. 23:15–17). Once, our ancestors reaped a sheaf on the first day of the Omer, and baked bread was baked on the last day,: the transformation of life into life. In Jewish mystical tradition, each day of the Omer connects us to a mystical attribute of the Divine. As Nisan and Iyar unfold, we travel through all forty-nine of these attributes.
Other cultures around the world recall rebirth, freedom, and sustenance at this season. In spring, the Babylonians celebrated the triumph of the god Marduk over the sea goddess of chaos, Tiamat. in the spring In Greece, Persephone, the Greek goddess of the underworld, returned to the earth at this time of year to rejoin with her mother, Demeter, the earth. Europeans once celebrated Eostre at the spring equinox, honoring the goddess of spring. Eostre The name of that festival gave rise to the English word "Easter," the Christian celebration of the resurrection of divinity, which also falls at this time of year.
Liberation happens to us not once, but each year at this season. At Passover, looking around us in the spring, we remember we are part of the tribe of life. This is a birth that draws us out of ourselves.
A sample seder celebrating Shekhinah, thirteen priestess voices, and all journeyers toward liberation.
Charoset: The Goddess on the Seder Plate
n the kabbalah, one name for Shekhinah is the Holy Apple Orchard. In the ancient Near East, the date palm was closely associated with the Goddess. The charoset, made of apples, dates, and other fruits, reminds us of the mortar the slaves used in Egypt, yet it is also an embodiment of Shekhinah, the divine presence, the Etz Chayyim, the Tree of Life. Each Pesach is an opportunity to reclaim the charoset as a sacred food.
onsider the following texts related to charoset. In this first talmudic text, there is a debate about whether charoset is an obligatory custom at Pesach.
They set the meal before him: He dips the greens before he has reached the accompaniment to the bread (maror). They set before him matzah, hatzeret (lettuce) and charoset and two dishes, though the charoset is not compulsory. R. Elazar son of Rabbi Zadok said: it is compulsory. And in the Temple, they would bring the body of the Passover offering before him.(Talmud, Pesachim 114a)
n this text from Maimonides, the charoset is said to commemorate the mortar:
The charoset is a mitzvah ordained by the words of the sages, to commemorate the clay wit which they worked in Egypt. How is it made? We take dates, dried figs, or raisins and the like, and crush them and add vinegar to them, and mix them with spices, as clay is mixed with straw.”(Maimonides, Hilchot Chameitz U’Matzah 7:12)
Yet in this text, there is a midrash that an orchard of fruit trees appeared during the crossing of the Sea of Reeds to satisfy the former slaves (notice that the story particularly speaks of women). This too could be a charoset myth: the appearance of the Tree of Life in the midst of the sea:
Rabbi Nehorai said in a midrash:the daughters of Israel passed through the sea holding their children with their hand, and when the children cried, they would stretch out their hands and pluck an apple or a pomegranate from the sea and give it to them, as it says: “And God led them through the depths, as through a wilderness” (Psalms106:9). Just as they lacked nothing in the wilderness, so also in the depths they lacked nothing.(Exodus Rabbah 21:10)
n this text, the apple tree is connected to the people of Israel:
Rabbi Azariah made an comparison. Just as from the time the apple-tree produces its blossom until its fruit is ripe is fifty days, so from the time Israel left Egypt until they received the Torah fifty days went by. (Song of Songs Rabbah 2:11)
And in this legend, there is an apple orchard in the Exodus story. A midrash tells that even after the Hebrew women were threatened with the death of their children, they used the orchards as a secret birthplace to deliver their babies.
Israel was redeemed on account of the righteous women of that generation. What did they do? When they went to draw water, the Holy One deposited small fishes in their pitchers, with the result that they found them half-filled with water and half with fishes.These they brought to their husbands, and they put on two pots, one for hot water and one for fish, and they used to feed them wash them, anoint them,and give them to drink, and cohabited with them between the mounds in the field, as it is said: ‘when you lie between the mounds, the wings of the dove are covered with silver” (Psalms 68:14). Because they lay between the mounds, Israel merited to obtain the treasure of Egypt, as it is said: “the wings of the dove are covered with silver.” And as soon as they became pregnant, they went back to their homes, and when the time of their giving birth was due, they went to the field and gave birth under the apple tree, a sit is said: “Under the apple tree I awakened you; there your mother was in labor with you” (Song of Songs 8:5). Godthen sent an angel from on high to cleanse and beautify them, like a midwife who makes the child look beautiful, as it is said: “And as for your birth, in the day you were born your navel was not cut, not were you washed in water for cleansing.” God then provided for them two nipples, one made of oil and the other of honey, as it is said: “And God made him to suck honey from the crag and oil from the flinty rock.” As soon as the Egyptians saw them they tried to kill them, but a miracle occurred and they were swallowed into the earth. They then brought oxen and ploughed upon their backs, as it is said: “The plowers plowed upon my back (Psalms129:3). But after the Egyptians left, they burst forth and came out of the ground like the grass of the field, as it is said: “I cause you to increase, like the growth of the field” (Ezekiel 16:7). As soon as they grew up, they came in herds to their homes, as it is said: “And you came to excellent beauty (Ezekiel 16:7). Do not read adi adayim (excellent beauty) but be’edrei adarim (in many herds). When the Divine was revealed by the sea, these children recognized the Divine first, as it is said:“This is my God…”(Exodus Rabbah 1:12)
In the above midrash, the divine presence is revealed in the apple orchard even before the Sea. The children who were nourished directly by the divine presence from the earth are the first to recognize God/dess at the sea.
What ritual could we use to make charoset a part of the seder in which we remember this sacred nourishment?
Spirit Journey: Passover
As we begin a journey into Embodying Passover, we attune to the Wheel of the Year and to the energies of Passover, simply by intending to do so. Attune to the Wheel of the Year and to the energy of Passover now.
Approaching Passover, we find ourselves in a psychospiritual birth canal. The contractions in the narrow places in our lives serve to birth us into a next level of being. We are presented with the possibility of choosing our birthing experience.
What is your desired feeling state in Passover preparations? Do you approach this state of transformation with stress, feeling overwhelmed by pressure to get it right or hyperattention to detail? Do you approach this moment with exhileration or excitement? What is your desired feeling state in preparation for and inside of Passover? As you peel back the layers of your search for chametz, or of your seder oor f your in between days, are you in pleasure and presence? Once you know your desired feeling state in this time, offer attention to what supports you cultivating that feeling state inside of your body in this very moment.
I have often felt the process of chametz-clearing - which as someone who eats grain-free most of the year - is primarily a process of clearing physical, emotional and spiritual stuff - to be intensely focused. The process of giving attention to what no longer serves can feel weighty or stressful. I choose something different than that. Rather than focusing on what I am getting rid of / the chametz, I focus on what I love and need, and from that place, let all else drop away. I become curious about how I can bring joy and flow and ease and grace to the chametz-clear. This year, I’m hosting a Swap and Swim: Because Your Hametz is My Treasure party in the hours before Pesach. I feel particularly excited about this because it allows me to be in pleasurable and fun connection with friends in the hours before Pesach, which in the past have often been high intensity or stress preparing for the holyday.
As I prepare for seder, I sit in inquiry on the blessing of order. I feel curious about what structures serve the experience of remembering and being present to transformation, co-creating liberation, that the seder is ultimately about for me. Most years that I am leading seder, I find myself at first railing about and stressed by the prospect of unfolding into this experience of order until I actually sit down and choose to be in conscious relationship with it. When I let the haggadah, or even my haggadeck, proscribe what I am sharing, co-creating, leading and teaching on Pesach, the life leaks out of the experience for me. Structure for structure’s sake, idolatry. When I am present to my priorities and what matters most to me, I am able to approach the structure with the question of how it can serve that. This reframe is at the core of the liberatory experience of Passover. I live in a place and time where incredible freedom is available to me, and my capacity to experience it depends on my conscious choice, my attention to what I desire to create and my commitment to creating it. Whether I bring this consciousness explicitly to the seders I guide, or implicitly by how I shape the seder and what I state transmit during it, it is necessary for me that the process of preparing and guiding Passover experiences be an energetic match for the liberation I seek to experience and create. The inner state etches the map for the journey. It is those structures and that order - the energetic state and transmission which forms along the sinews of my limbs and fluidity in my spine and my willingness to fully inhabit my body as I approach this moment of birthing, that allows for a transformative co-creative experience that births us whole.
The blessing I am inside of this Pesach is simple and potent. It begins with commitment to show up fully for what most matters to me and to let all else fall away. It continues with a commitment to presence and attune to my desired feeling state again and again and anew and lovingly allow the structures I consciously choose and tend to be in service to and to well-match my desired feeling state and experiences.
May we each be blessed in our birthing and our being birthed. May our liberation be loving. May we tell stories of transformation not simply through remembering the words of what went before but by remembering the wisdom inour bones and our blood, by allowing our consciousness and our presence to transforms us within and in sacred community.