Reflections on the Four Cups – A Guest Post by Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb

4cupsHere is a guest post written by my friend and colleague, Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, founder of Shomer Shalom Institute for Jewish Nonviolence. Read it around your seder table:

Talmud Yerushalmi (Pesachim 10a) associates the four verses that describe the liberation of the families of Israel from subjugation with the four cups of wine at the Passover table. As it is written, “Say, therefore to the Families of Yisrael, ‘I am Adonai and I will take you out from under the burdens of Mitzryim, and I will save you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments and I will take you to Me as a people…and you shall know the Spirit that draws you forth from under the burdens of subjugation.”

The four words imply a process a process of transformation. This process has four parts: Mitzryim is the Hebrew word that refers to the condition of structural subjugation. Pesakh moves from limping under the burden of the oppression to leaping like a liberated lamb through the parting seas that lead to freedom. The process happens in stages.

V’hotzayti~I will take you out: Complete subjugation is resisted by resisting the occupation of the mind that oppression imposes. In this stage we must ask questions that release us from the narratives that justify subjugation. That is why the seder begins with a collective invitation to the poor and oppressed to speak their stories and share a meal. The four children are a way of exploring one’s own relationship to subjugation.

V’he’tzal’ti~I will save you: Mitzryim is not mentioned by name, implying a lessening of the power of subjugation. At this stage, the community engages in acts of resistance and noncooperation-direct action in order to embody the liberation and begin the long journey of stepping out of subjugation. The midwives boycotting Pharaoh’s order to harm children, and instead, made the healing of children their first priority. Some traditions say they were non-Jewish midwives, and other traditions equate them with Miriam and Yochevet. What is clear for all of us? Liberation depends on multicultural, intergenerational and multifaith solidarity. Freedom is a country without borders.

V’ga’al’ti~I will redeem you:  Redemption requires collective mass action and the building of pillars of support in sections of society that have not yet taken action. Systematic and structural violence can be overcome when the society as a whole no longer accepts the normative status quo. Oppression is moved out of the margins into the center as a social issue.  During this stage oppression can increase because people are moving closer to the goal of overcoming subjugation. Pharaoh sends his armies to attack those seeking liberation. At this moment we need to call upon the entire nation’s faith that the seas will part.

Lakach’ti~I will take you in beloved relationship: Liberation requires a communal effort to building alternative institutions, and to create alternatives to the violent narratives of oppression. Liberation is the creation of a new reality outside the subjugation framework where the dignity of every single human being is valued. Dignity is a country without borders, it is the promised land.

As the process of liberation proceeds, we come to V‘yadatem~and you shall know. This knowledge is the knowledge of the heart that comes from faith in nonviolence and compassion.  When liberation is internalized  it is a powerful turning point in the healing process.  It is awakening to the realization that we are all equal and precious in the eyes of the Creator.

4 thoughts on “Reflections on the Four Cups – A Guest Post by Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb

  1. Nancy Bruski

    Wow. This is so wonderful. I will look forward to hearing it at our seder. I really wonder how Israelis can conduct seders, which by their very nature must explore the issues of oppression, slavery, and freedom, and NOT think about what their government is doing to their Palestinian neighbors. It is odd how people who have suffered so much oppression themselves become the perpetrators of oppression of others. This continues to be very hard for me to comprehend.

    1. Vicky

      I was thinking the same thing just the other night, when I saw that a settler educational institution had quoted Hillel in some publicity material about fostering community spirit: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, who am I? And if not now, when?” This settlement has expropriated a lot of land and its inhabitants are renowned throughout the West Bank for making life miserable for the local Palestinians. Their whole existence seems to scream ‘only for myself’. I was baffled as to how they could use that passage and not see the glaring inconsistency between its central idea and the way they live their lives.

      A few hours later, the time for Compline came (traditional Catholic night prayer). As I was finishing my examination of conscience, lines from a prayer I don’t usually use came to mind: “Forgive the sins I have confessed to Thee. Forgive the sins I do not see.” I had to laugh at myself, because of course there will be glaring inconsistencies between the things I do and the things I hold holy – I just can’t see them. For every time that I’ve wondered how Havat Ma’on settlers can possibly justify the fear they have instilled into the children of Tuwani in light of their Judaism, a friend of mine is probably thinking to herself, “I don’t know how Vicky can behave how she does – always doing A when she believes B.” If there is an eleventh plague, it’s blindness like this, and it seems to be a universal affliction.

  2. Steve Hinman

    Happy Passover, Rabbi Brant and to the readers and commentators on this blog. In the spirit of a holiday that celebrates freedom, thank you all for exercising your right to freedom of expression and in doing so creating an always interesting and lively forum.

    I’d also like to point out how hard it must be to be a synagogue Rabbi and also take stances that one knows will be unpopular. While I may not agree with many of your stances, Rabbi Brant, I respect you for taking them. For readers of the blog interested in seeing what life can be like from the point of view of the clergy, take a look at the books written by Paul Wilkes. It’s an eye opener.


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