Anger, love, and the seder

Anger, love, and the seder

This was a hard Pesach.

Don’t get me wrong. Pesach is usually hard. It’s the longest stretch without childcare. We labor to turn over the kitchen. One of my kids must subsist for eight days without any of his main food groups: buttery pasta, nachos, and Cheerios. The preparations always come at a busy work time. I stress over going hungry and trying to coerce kids to eat foods they don’t like that much. This year, I also got a concussion 2½ weeks before Pesach started.

I always intend to make our sederim more meaningful. What can we do that will teach and engage the kids?  Since the seder is one of the few Jewish rituals that are hosted at home, and without the benefit of institutions, my husband and I always worry that we’re not doing it right. We grew up practicing a different brand of Judaism than how we’re raising our kids. We are like immigrants trying to teach something we don’t always know well. There are lots of layers.

It also was hard to celebrate freedom when it feels like Jews are becoming less free. There are massive pro-Hamas protests globally, including in my town and at my university. Images and video clips of keffiyeh-wearing white students screaming hate about Jews flood the internet. After almost seven months, we still have hostages suffering in the opposite of freedom. Our family lost a relative violently on October 7. Her name was Vivian Silver. She co-founded Women Wage Peace, was on the board of B’tselem, and was very involved with peace activism. I admired her passion despite not being totally aligned with her values.

Despite this backdrop, I had one of the most memorable sederim of my life. Sometimes, the second night drags. We wait until late to begin preparations and we just conducted a seder the night before, so the kids’ eagerness to show off their projects has worn off. Everyone is tired.

Not this year.

There were six of us around a table that a few hours before had been bisected by a ping pong net. We set seven places. My husband, his father, my three older kids, and I attended. The seventh seat had an empty chair. We wanted to make the place setting feel real, so we covered it with the kids’ projects from past years. We adorned it with the macot hats the boys lovingly prepared, a decorated pillow Tova made last year, Ezra’s first grade placemat, and Hillel’s art-themed kindergarten Haggadah.

We pulled a couch over to the table, innovated the maggid section, pointed to the special foods, and coerced the youngest to just try the maror. There was some bickering. We are still us. Rather than round-robin reading through the Haggadah’s maggid section, we went around the table, each sharing five words to tell the Pesach story. It was challenging and fun enough to keep everyone, from 5 to 83, engaged. Lots of silliness, and we all enjoyed it. The kids referenced midrashim the adults didn’t know, and the adults referenced Yul Brynner. We all taught each other. (Yes, that’s five words).

After a rousing afikomen search, we wrangled the kids back to the table. Everyone was getting tired, and we felt like we were nearing to the final stretch of the seder as we sang birchat hamazon. We poured the fourth cup and opened the door for Elijah.

Then, we got to the Shefoch Chamatcha (pour out your wrath) section.

Pour out Your anger upon those who do not know You and upon the governments which do not call upon Your Name. For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his dwelling place (Psalms 79:6-7). Pour out Your fury upon them; let the fierceness of Your anger overtake them (Psalms 69:25). Pursue them in indignation and destroy them from under Your heavens (Lamentations 3:66).

This section has always made me a little uncomfortable. The idea of asking Hashem to let his fierceness and anger rain down on people always struck me as … well, icky. It felt anachronistic and uncivilized. I never identified with violence — we are modern, after all! We talk through differences and depend on laws to adjudicate problems. We don’t fight — we intellectualize. We use big words or dark humor. We don’t hit.

My cousin told me that Vivian used to replace “anger” with “love” in the above paragraph during family sederim. The rest of the family would read the lines quietly to themselves. Over the years, they would discuss the different approaches — they never came to an agreement on “anger” or “love,” but the discussion was respectful and thought-provoking.

Adina told me this soon after we found out that Vivian was murdered viciously. Perhaps the perpetrators were relatives or friends of Gazans she used to drive to medical appointments in Israel proper. I often wonder if the men who killed her knew who she was and the values she held. The injustice enrages me. I struggle to process and talk about it, so I haven’t been able to explore it sufficiently.

I hadn’t planned a tribute for Vivian as part of the seder.  I didn’t want to simply copy her tradition because it doesn’t honor how we conduct the seder.

But in the moment, I was inspired. I paused us.

I briefly explained how she used to adjust the text from “anger” to “love” and the reasons why.

I recited the paragraph according to the Haggadah and inserted “and love.” I didn’t replace the “anger” text. Instead, I augmented it. I had to pause to compose myself twice. I’m still working through the discomfort with bold, “fury”-type liturgical language. I’m not done evolving, but I also intuitively reject the extreme of just loving everyone. There are evil actions in the world. Being blind to that is either short-sighted or simply foolish.

For now, I’m focusing on holding both perspectives respectfully. I’m trying to find stability on my personal post-October 7 journey. Ultimately, I hope to respect and give voice to the uncomfortable feelings. Aspirationally, I endeavor to accept that life isn’t always fair and instead dwell in the liminal space between anger and love.

Rachel Bernstein is a Vice President of Global Product Management for Gartner. She lives in Teaneck with her supportive husband and four delightful children.

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