New Understanding of the Enduring Holiday Symbols… Plus an Orange
By RABBI PETER H. SCHWEITZER
From The Liberated Haggadah by Rabbi Peter H. Schweitzer, published by the Center
for Cultural Judaism.
What do all these symbols mean? There are many answers. Some are
preserved as part of our tradition and are explained by the legend we have
told. Others are provided by biblical scholars who remind us of the origins of
the spring festival that are the root of this celebration. And finally there
are the modern interpretations that we write ourselves. These give voice to our
own imagination and creativity in keeping with the idea that the haggadah is
Pesach—To remind ourselves that
we were passed over (pasach) and saved when the Egyptians were plagued and
ruined. And to teach us that the lamb, newly born in the spring, is a reminder
that at this season we celebrate the joy of birth, new life, and continued
sustenance. And to remind us, too, that
we have not always been passed over, but too often have met with the same fate
of slaughter as the innocent lamb.
Matzoh—To remind us that when
our ancestors fled Egypt they had no time to bake their bread. They could not
wait for the yeast to rise. And to remind us that matzoh is the bread of new
life. In ancient Israel, flat bread was baked from the unfermented grain of the
new spring harvest to celebrate the newness of the reborn earth. And to teach
us, too, that we will gladly give up the fleshpots of Egypt with its pretense
of luxury for the simplicity of liberty and the bread of freedom.
Maror—To remind us of the
bitterness of our slavery and the gift of our freedom that we too often take
for granted. And to remind us that our ancestors ate bitter herbs at the time
of the spring festival. The sharpness of the taste reawakened their senses and
made them feel as one with the revival of nature. And to teach us, too, that
not all know the taste of freedom. Let us also remember the embittered lives of
all those in the world who remain in bondage, physically and mentally, and
continue to suffer without relief.
Haroset—To remind us of our
bondage in Egypt when we mixed clay to make mortar and bricks for Pharaoh. And
to remind us that our foremothers took risks for freedom and acted courageously
when they gave birth to the next generation under the shade of the Egyptian
apple trees. And to teach us, too, that just as the parsley is dipped in salt
water to sharpen its flavor, so do we dip the unleavened bread and bitter herb
into the haroset to sweeten our taste. In this season of lie, we remember the
goodness of life.
Baytsa—To remind us of the
special festival offering by which the priests, in Temple days, expressed their
gratitude for the well-being of the people. And to remind us that eggs are the
symbol of life, of birth and rebirth. As all around us nature dances with new
life, so may this season stir within us new strength, new hope, and new joy.
And to teach us, too, that the egg, which becomes harder and tougher when heat
is applied, symbolizes the toughness of the Jewish people to endure and
persevere despite our suffering.
Orange—To remind us that the
Seder is always growing and that new symbols can be included in our celebration
with evolving messages of their own. And to remind us that all people have a
legitimate place in Jewish life, no less than an orange on the Seder plate,
regardless of gender or sexual identity. And to teach us, too, how absurd it is
to exclude anyone who wants to sit at our table, partake of our meal, and
celebrate with us the gift of life and the gift of freedom.