Saturday, March 31, 2007

Alternative Four Children

In a traditional seder, we speak of four children, each of whom asks a different question of the seder’s leader. (Not the four questions. A different four questions.) The idea of this story seems to be to teach children what kinds of questions they should be asking, and what kinds of questions they had better keep to themselves. Presumably, adults already know these things. The traditional “four children” is bad pedagogy, and it’s offensive besides. Tonight, let’s assume that all of us have all kinds of questions throughout our lives. Together, we will consider some of the questions that we all have asked before, and probably will again, as we muddle through the journey out of our narrow places toward liberation.

The first voice asks, “Where does the journey begin?” Ze is ready and eager to change the world, just as soon as someone will tell hir how. Join a picket? Write a letter? Just say the word! To this voice we respond, the journey has already begun. Ze may have a notion that freedom is something ze will be able to hold in hir hands. Ze may be looking so hard toward this goal that ze overlooks all that ze has accomplished already. We need only remind hir that ze is as capable as anyone of working for freedom, that in fact ze is already doing it, and ze will be ready to point hir own way.

The second voice asks, “But, we’re free, right? So, what’s the problem?” She is content with her life; she doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about. This voice needs to be reminded that freedom is not something you own. We respond to her question by again telling the story of how the Israelites came to be slaves in Mitzrayim – how freedom taken for granted quickly turns to chains. And we remind her that Moses himself was raised in opulent comfort in Pharaoh’s own palace – yet he could not experience freedom while his people were enslaved. Likewise our freedom will never be complete until all people, everywhere are free.

The third voices says, “No, no, no! That’s not the way to liberation! Why can’t we do it my way?” To be the best activist has become a point of pride for him. He has lost sight of the goal and become mired in the details. To this voice we respond, Imagine if Miriam and Moshe had stopped to debate which of them was the better prophet, while Pharaoh’s army breathed down their necks! Perhaps Moshe got fed up with Miriam’s incessant singing. Perhaps Miriam thought Moshe’s antics with the staff were childish and ridiculous. So what? They were on the same side. And there was room enough for both of them to lead in their own unique ways. We remind him that we have plenty of enemies to keep track of, without making enemies of each other. Instead we must not only work toward justice, but also work in justice, in community, together, all of us.

The fourth voice cries in chorus from every direction, “The work is too hard. We fight and fight and never win. We are tired. How can we go on?” To these voices we respond, we were strangers in Mitzrayim, and have been strangers in every land of the world, since. And yet we do go on. We are here, alive and kicking, and free enough to ask each other questions, and that means we have won so far. Like the first voice, these overwhelmed voices need to be reminded that they are already doing what seems impossible. And we can also tell them that fighting on the exhausting front lines of our movements is not the only way to work toward liberation. Some other ways are: to hold each other, to ask for help when we need it, to make art, to make love, to make ritual, to teach and learn together, just like we are doing tonight.

For more creative haggadah writing, check out The Love & Justice in Times of War Haggadah, by Micah Bazant & Dara Silverman.


Dane said...

1) Sadly, Micha's website is down. Fyi.

2) Chag Sameach

3) Can I use this for our seder in Prague? I promise it'll throw a few people for a loop...but not too much of a loop as I'm also asking if I can edit the pronouns so I don't have to do Genderqueer 101 over Pesach.

Davey says ... said...

1) No, it's not. Try again. Or, go to; it's linked from there.
2)gut yuntuv!
3)yes, and yes. cite me, please.