Tag Archives: sustainability

Passover: Freeing the Earth from Bondage

Debbie says:

A seder plate

Laurie and I are both Jewish. Although neither of us is very observant, we both love Passover — the antislavery holiday, the liberation holiday, with marvelous food and often great joy. I know I missed it this year.

I can’t say I ever thought about Passover (which I also call Pesach) as a holiday with an ecological message. I was fascinated by Rabbi Ellen Bernstein’s new Haggadah (the book of the Passover ritual) on this connection. Rabbi Bernstein writes about her work in Yes! Magazine. The whole Haggadah, The Promise of the Land, can be purchased here.

On Passover we celebrate the Jewish people’s journey from slavery to freedom and the coming of spring. We tell the story year after year. Yet, for every story about peoplehood, there is a backstory about land and the natural world. Our biblical holidays commemorate the harvest and the land, the very soil out of which Judaism grew. The Haggadah, the Jewish people’s origin story, is necessarily embedded in an earthy reality. Today, we are deeply aware that our well-being and our freedom depend on the Earth’s well-being. If the Earth and its systems are compromised, our freedom is compromised; life is compromised. This Haggadah seeks to enlarge our focus. It seeks to reveal the Seder’s ecological dimensions and awaken its quiescent environmental meaning ….

The promise of the land” refers to the primary blessing that God gives all the ancestors in the Bible: eretz, or land. That the Hebrew word eretz means not just “land” but also “earth” conveys a profound ecological sense. The land or earth is the home of the swimming creatures, the flying creatures, the walking, climbing, crawling, hopping, and sprinting creatures, and us. The land, the Earth, is our habitat, and we are its inhabitants. Land or earth is the most precious blessing a people can receive—it is the source of sustenance; it is the promise of life, the promise of freedom.

Passover is a week-long holiday. It began last Monday, and is still going on today. As an unobservant Jew, I eat bread during the holiday (though I also eat the traditional unleavened bread known as matzo). I make my signature dish of chopped apples, walnuts and honey which I have been making since I was too small to work at a table. And I take time to think about slavery and freedom, about peoples liberating ourselves from servitude. Opening this up to include liberating the earth from bondage feels very strongly in keeping with the spirit of the holiday and the needs of our times.

The telling of our story begins with wide-open arms. The Seder bids us to invite those who are hungry to partake of our meal. It also bids us to invite those who are hungry in spirit—lonely, lost, heartsick. We bring everybody into the circle, regardless of gender, sexuality, race, age, and religion. The freedom we aspire to depends on our sharing.