פסח (Pesach), Passover is a Biblical holiday that celebrates the beginning of spring and the miraculous exodus of the enslaved Israelites from Egypt. The holiday is rich in spiritual teachings for personal growth and social change. Every year the themes of oppression and liberation resonate in new ways and the insuppressible energy for renewal surfaces like the growth emerging from dormancy at the cusp of a new season.
Opportunities to reflect, imagine, create and celebrate are deeply embedded in the core ritual of the holiday—the seder. This festive meal, structured as an immersive experience, provides a concrete way to transmit history and heritage using time-honored techniques that are intended to make the ideas personally meaningful, relevant and engaging for all ages.
Our themes this year are: Leaning Back; As If; The Strait and Narrow; and Enough Is Enough. We invite you to explore questions such as: what connections might there be between the work of liberation and the act of letting go? How does imagination factor into the process of redemption? What moves us from narrowness to openness? What happens when we ground ourselves in gratitude?
At JSP we invite you to make art as a way to meaningfully connect to the holiday and its themes and to explore what resonance these themes might have for your life today. We’ve designed a series of prompts to support reflection, spark insights and bring pleasure. You can use these prompts whenever you’re ready—before, during or after the holiday. The themes transcend the specific holiday and the creative process is an endlessly vital force.
With blessings for a meaningful, joyous, and liberatory holiday!
PROMPT #1: THE STRAIT AND NARROW
Framing: Psalm 118:5 reads: “From the narrow straits I cried out to Yah, Yah answered me with an open expanse.” The Hebrew language, with its three-letter root structure, is ripe for wordplay. Making a connection between the words can open new avenues for exploration and meaning-making. For example, the Hebrew word for “narrow straits” is meitzar and the name of Egypt in Hebrew is mitzrayim (the plural form of meitzar). The story of Passover is one of moving through the narrow straits—from the narrow confines of slavery in Egypt, through the split-open Sea, to the open expanse of freedom on the other side. The holiday gives us a chance to reflect on the narrow places in our own lives, what an “open expanse” might look like or feel like, and what it might mean for us to “cry out” from where we are as an act of moving us towards where we want to be. In many ways, this past year has been one of narrowness due to the global pandemic. As we approach our second pandemic Passover, still socially-distanced and apart, yet with the reality of “opening up” in the not-too- far-off distance, we have a chance to reflect on the year that has been and our hopes for the future.
- Paper and pen
- Any drawing, painting, or sketching supplies
- Use the the symbolic foods of the seder plate as prompts for personal reflection on this past year:
- Shank bone (ְזרוֹ ַע ) - What have you sacrificed?
- Charoset (ֲחרֹ ֶסת ) - What has been sweet?
- Maror (ָמרוֹר ) - What has been bitter?
- Karpas (ַּכְר ַּפס ) - What seeds have you planted?
- Chazeret (ֲח ֶז ֶרת ) - What has brought you to tears?
- Egg (ֵּבי ָצה ) - What have you experienced as a new beginning?
- What came up for you in your reflection? Did anything surprise you? • What of this past year do you want to carry with you?
- What of this past year do you want to release?
- What narrow straits are you moving through now? What might it feel like to be in a place of open expanse?
PROMPT #2: LEANING BACK
Framing: One of the Four Questions that jumpstart the מגיד Magid (literally, “the telling”) section of the seder asks: Why do we all recline at the table tonight? Indeed, the custom is to be arranged leisurely around the table, on pillows or couches, leaning back or to one side. While this is usually understood to be a symbol reflecting the way free people dined (as opposed to servants, who stood) Hebrew College instructor Rabbi Ebn Leader attaches far greater significance to the act. He describes the preparation for, and the structure of, the seder, as well as the act of reclining as the expression of a deeper form of freedom—the freedom to let go and be open to the unearned redemption that is God’s grace. Leader cautions us not to focus our seder solely on all that is wrong in the world, the varieties of oppression and ongoing enslavements. To do so, he says, is to miss the opportunity to let go and be held, to release the illusion of control that drives and exhausts us. Have you had the experience of embodying surrender, letting go of control, allowing yourself to be held? Can you imagine or recreate that experience as a Passover practice?
- Watercolor set & brush
- Small container for water
- Watercolor or other absorbent paper (paper towels
- Wet your brush and saturate parts of your page with water, leaving some areas dry
- Dip your brush in paint and experiment with dropping colors onto parts of the page using different motions
- Notice what happens as the paint touches the wet and dry parts of the page
- What happened when you dropped paint on the wet parts of the page, as opposed to the dry parts?
- Imagine this exercise as a lesson in surrender. What might it have to teach?
- Are there areas of your life in which you are able to surrender and let yourself be held? What supports you in doing so?
- What role might the act of surrender or allowing ourselves to be held have in the work of liberation?
PROMPT #3: AS IF
Framing: At the heart of the Passover seder is the imperative to see yourself as if you had personally left Egypt: ַChayav adam lirot et atzmo ke-ilu hu yatza mi-mitzrayim. How might we understand this idea of כאלו k’ilu (two words in English: “as if”)? While “pretending” is often associated with fakery and manipulation, there are many positive ways to act k’ilu: as an expression of optimism allowing us to act from a belief that positive change is possible; as an effective strategy for cultivating empathy and prompting gratitude; as part of a process of experimentation with behavioral change; or as an act of imagining into what else could be. Contemporary British rabbi Benji Stanley writes: “Redemption begins with the obligation to imagine.” K’ilu, then, is an invitation not only to imagine another way—but to make that vision manifest by acting as if it were true.
Perhaps the imperative to see ourselves as if we had personally left Egypt is less about identifying with the יצא “yatza” (exodus) or the experience of “mitzrayim” (Egypt) as we tend to focus on and more more about “k’ilu” itself—to be expansive in our thinking about the world around us and revisit the boundaries of the “possible” and the “impossible.” What do you imagine could be different about the world? How might you act “as if” that were true?
- Paper and pen
- Brainstorm an aspirational list of ways you’d like to be in the world using the phrase “as if...” For example: I’d like to act as if.... I’d like to see the world as if...
- Write 8 statements, cut them out on separate strips of paper and pick one for each day of Passover to keep in your pocket or on your nightstand as a source of inspiration
- What was it like to try on these different ways of being and seeing the world?
- What, if anything, felt challenging? What, if anything, felt exciting?
- How might the idea if “k’ilu / as if” be a tool in the work of personal and collective liberation?
PROMPT #4: ENOUGH IS ENOUGH
Framing: The liturgical poem דינו “Dayenu” holds an important place in the Passover seder, yet its recitation is often rushed on the way to the meal that follows. Framed by a rhetorical question: “How much goodness has God bestowed upon us?” Dayenu parses Jewish history from being taken out of Egypt through the building of the temple, pausing at different stages along the way to express gratitude for God’s beneficence. The chorus consists of one word, dayenu, an expression of contentment, as if to say about whatever event is being recalled that it would have been enough.
There are many steps and stages in the process of liberation, the work is never done. Contemporary rabbi Lisa Goldstein teaches that each step of Dayenu serves to break down “the enormity and abstraction of leaving Egypt into smaller component parts—each one miraculous—so that we might fall on our knees before the whole in gratitude and awe.” Whatever we are working towards or hoping for the future, Dayenu offers us a framework for feeling and expressing gratitude for this moment, right here, right now. This year, we might meditate on the organizers, activists, caretakers, support systems, protestors, healers, mutual aid networks—each intervention, action, and act of care that moved us closer towards collective liberation. As you reflect back on this past year, what struggles for liberation have you been a part of? In this moment, to whom or to what are you grateful?
- A piece of paper
- Any drawing, painting, or sketching materials
- An envelope and stamp
- As you think about this past year, who has inspired you in the work towards liberation? This could be a friend, colleague, family member, neighbor or even someone you follow on social media
- Meditating on the word dayenu, create a piece of artwork to send to this person to let them know you are grateful for the ways their work has touched your life and made an impact in the world
- What did it feel like to create something for someone else?
- What thoughts, feelings, or images came up for you as you created?
- How might the concept of Dayenu—feeling gratitude for this person in this moment even when there’s more work to do—help you continue to work towards liberation?