In the Passover Haggadah — a kind of “roadmap” through the Passover story recited at the Seder meal — there is a handwashing ritual at the beginning before the eating of the saltwater-laden greens and the matzah, often referred to as the “bread of affliction.”
At this year’s Seder table, that ritual hand washing will certainly take on new meaning: In this time of pandemic, the entire world now sees such a quotidian act as one that can literally save lives. But even before this year, the act of pouring water over your neighbor’s hands has always been very meaningful to me. Like many of the small acts and Haggadah recitations performed during the Seder, the handwashing ritual reminds me of why this Jewish tradition is the one I find most meaningful. Whether it’s the caring intimacy of washing another’s hands or the reminder that — as the water trickles into the bowl on our bountifully-laden table — limited access to clean water has lead to death in places like Gaza or Flint, on this one night I will be ritually connected with a community that shares my values and vision of the future.
Many know the story of Passover is focused on liberation, with the narrative traditionally centered on the biblical one of the enslaved Jews of Egypt being set free. But many in the Jewish community increasingly choose to broaden the view of liberation and insist that it apply to the right of all to a life of freedom and dignity, including Palestinians.
Rabbi Brant Rosen of Tzedek Chicago recently shared what he is preparing for the congregation’s virtual Seder, framed by Psalm 118:5: From the narrow place I called out to God, who answered me with wide open spaces.
“… like the Israelites of our story, we will not make it through without each other. So too, if the current pandemic has taught us anything, it is the lesson that was learned so painfully by the Israelites in our story: that we are all in this together. That my liberation is irrevocably bound up with yours. And that in the midst of the narrow place, there is no other way but forward.”
Rabbi Rosen’s words resonate clearly in this historical moment. The steps we take now will determine if we stay in that narrow place or cross the breach into the “wide open spaces.” Will we allow the most vulnerable in the occupied Palestinian Terrritories to suffer the scourge of this virus without access to proper medical treatment and supplies? Will we allow Gaza’s health system and clean water resources to remain teetering on the brink of collapse, even before the Coronavirus appeared? Will we forget the hundreds of Palestinian children held in military detention by the Israeli authorities? Or will we act knowing that “my liberation is irrevocably bound up with yours.”?
As the Rabbi teaches:
So as we lift the cup to another Passover, let this be our blessing:
Blessed is the one who shows us how to stand together.
Blessed is the One who inspires us to show up for one another.
Blessed is the One who leads us all toward the wide-open spaces of a new day.
Alison Glick is CMEP’s Director of Development.
This was a powerful reflection for me. Many thanks for writing it and helping us to connect prayerfully to what our Jewish brothers and sisters are praying this week. Not only being together in prayer but also in being together in solidarity with Palestinians…a solidarity that opens us up to ALL who are in profound need at this time of pandemic. I’ve traveled a few times in Palestine/Israel and I have read/studied a bit about the Passover Ritual. But as you point out, I never paid much attention to the ritual of the handwashing. In addition each year about this time I am usually called upon by a couple of different groups to present a retreat based on Christian discipleship. We end the retreat by reading John’s account of the footwashing and then we symbolically wash one another’s hands mindful of the Spirit and the life of Jesus. This year, of course, we couldn’t gather for the retreat, much less wash one another’s hands. But I did convert the retreat to be an online individual experience and invited the retreatants to imagine that we were washing hands. A couple made the connection…which I had not made…to the importance of washing hands during the pandemic. Which, as you point out, can literally mean life or death for us! Much to ponder. Thank you so much!