Recognizing Passover Will be Different This Year

Rabbi Joshua Caruso recently shared reflections on the upcoming Passover Holiday and “how the refrains of Let My People Go ring differently” –


Passover will soon be upon us, and along with the festival brings the beauty of the Seder, the symbolic foods, and the gathering of family and friends. This year, however, the refrains of “Let My People Go” and “Dayeinu” will ring differently this year, as will the familiar words that punctuate the conclusion of the Seder, “Next Year in Jerusalem.”

I’ve been talking to a number of people in the community who recognize that Passover will be much different this year. They have shared that they cannot just go about “business as usual”. As a result, how might we attend to our Seder duties while recognizing the state of the world, and the state of life in Israel and its environs?

In one of the Seder’s most memorable moments, we open our doors for Elijah the Prophet. Elijah is a mythic figure in Jewish tradition. We set aside a special chair for Elijah at a bris, and at the conclusion of Shabbat we sing “Eliyhau HaNavi” at the Havdalah ceremony, trusting that the great prophet will return to us. As tradition has it, the appearance of Elijah, in fact, is a messianic sign that we will all be redeemed.

There is something so comforting and familiar about beckoning Elijah each year at our Passover Seders. That is why it is surprising for many who learn of a difficult passage, in more traditional Haggadot, that is read just after we open our doors for Elijah. In the traditional Passover readings, the Haggadah features a passage that is commonly known simply as, “Shfokh.” This section, featured at the same time that we open the door for Elijah, includes a number of biblical passages tied together by the rabbis. Here is the reading in its entirety:

“Pour out Your wrath 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).”

To many of you this passage may be unfamiliar, and that is because it has been omitted from many modern Haggadot. And a legitimate question for today might be, “Why include such a strong and violent passage at our joyful Seders? Why proclaim to God, “Pour out your wrath” on anyone?

Our sages believed that speaking the words of “Shfokh” is incredibly cathartic. At the time it was written, in the period of blood libels when Jews were accused of using the blood of Christian children to prepare Matzah, “Shfokh” probably felt quite fitting. To the Jews of the 13th century, Shfokh acknowledged the pain and loss of the Jewish experience.

Importantly, in lieu of practicing violence against our enemies, this passage directs us to use our words, to pour out our feelings of resentment and anger safely, in the presence of loving family and friends. The comfort of the home provides an understanding place to voice our vulnerabilities and resentments – and even the human desire for vengeance. With the door open, we can “unload” the hurts, and perhaps even embrace them without lifting up a weapon or raising a fist.

This Passover, I reference this text – filled with anger, resentment, and the penchant for revenge – to be a touchstone as we have reached almost six months since the events of October 7th. In all transparency, when I learned of the brutality perpetrated by Hamas terrorists there were emotions boiling up inside of me I had not known before. The moment provided a terrible test for some 15 million Jews around the globe, and more pointedly, for the government and military of the State of Israel.

That moment challenged our resolve – and our resilience. It also presented another test: how might we respond to an enemy that does not desire peace nor reconciliation? How might we respond to an enemy that has outwardly admitted that they want us gone…from the “river to the sea”?

How might we respond to an enemy that purposefully embed themselves inside hospitals, schools, and places where innocents live so when we try to eliminate them, the result far too often results in sacrificing the vulnerable and the young.

How do we respond to an enemy that has held Israelis captive, in horrid conditions, for what will soon be 200 days? How do we respond to the rage, anger, and fear that we feel?

It is in our human DNA to feel the rage….and the thrust of vengeance…but it isn’t who we ultimately are as Jews – rage can never be the end of the story.

We are a people steeped in joy, in values, in the centrality of love and respect for every creation of God. We are a people who hold fast and true to standards of loving-kindness. After all, that has been the hallmark of who we are, and will continue to be when we become Congregation Mishkan Or. It is this very notion that has planted itself within me, alongside the rage, since the start of the war.

With this background, I was captured by a colleague’s eulogy for a dear family member just this week. In eulogizing his stepfather, none other than Senator Joe Lieberman…Rabbi Ethan Tucker asserted that Senator Lieberman was a man of deep integrity and values. If he felt the pain, rage and vengeance featured in the “Shfokh” passage of the Haggadah, you would never see it in public. Here is part of Rabbi Tucker’s eulogy that highlights a story about the ethical standards raised by the ancient sage, Rabban Gamliel:

“The Talmud records a crisis from 2,000 years ago, when Rabban Gamliel, the political head of the Jewish community, was deposed as the leader of the main rabbinic academy. His sin? It seems his standards were too high: Rabban Gamliel demanded that all who entered the house of study meet the standard of tokho ke-varo, that their insides should be like their outsides. Like the ark in the Tabernacle, a scholar was meant to be a person of gilded character, inside and out, a paragon of integrity and principle. This was a standard most people cannot meet.”

Rabbi Tucker compares Rabban Gamliel to his revered stepfather. Senator Lieberman, who found himself so close to becoming America’s first Jewish Vice President. I was struck at the accounting of Rabban Gamliel’s flawless standards of ethical behavior. As Jews, we must be Tokko Kevaro…individuals of integrity inside and out. We must strive, every day, to be principled people who seek to move the world to a place of Tikkun…a place of healing. We must strive to not cause more hurt than is necessary, and scrutinize decision-making with all of our resources. And, when we are in a position of power, and in a position of strength, we must, at all costs, hold ourselves to standards of which our enemies fall short.

How does that vision fold into the message of “Shfokh” …the human need to exact revenge and harm on the people who have harmed us? How might we fulfill the image Rabbi Tucker suggests to us…the one that Rabban Gamliel exemplified when Israelis today are facing an existential crisis? How do we temper our craving for vengeance with our yearning for peace?

This past week, the IDF mistakenly launched missiles that killed 7 aid workers affiliated with the World Central Kitchen. The World Central Kitchen trucks had just delivered much needed provisions to the malnourished in Gaza. While IDF top brass admitted to the error, it was not the first time that aid workers and journalists have been wrongly killed as a result of the war.

Friends, I have never fought in a war, I don’t have knowledge of the intricacies of battle. War is hell, and collateral damage is always a terrible result of these entrenched battles. But…as the weeks wear on, I continue to be overcome with the unfathomable number of Gaza’s dead. I fear that the Nation of Israel, led by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, a self-possessed authoritarian who will do just about anything to stay in office, is not being led by the principles that we hold so dear – far from the integrity attributed to Senator Joe Lieberman or Rabban Gamliel.

While my deeply-held Zionist beliefs remain firmly intact, my trust in governmental leadership has waned.

To put it bluntly, I fear that Netanyahu is leveraging the pain, anger, and vengeance that every Israeli is feeling as a weapon to build a bigger fundamentalist coalition that has no interest in the lives of the Palestinians, and no interest in seeking any kind of reasonable peace towards a two-state solution.

Internally, I fear that Israel’s prime minister does not have the interests of his nation in mind, the accountability for security shortfalls, the humility to absorb what his people are experiencing every day, or the vision for an endgame. We know this because after Oct 7, he never truly accepted responsibility that this calamity happened on his watch, and instead blamed the military infrastructure – the very people who put their hides on the line to protect their country every single day. In fact, it is the soldiers and the citizens of Israel that have held the country together…and I fear that Netanyahu’s ego will result in it being torn apart.

Israel deserves better.

As for what will transpire at our own Seder tables…I will not give public voice to the words of “Shfokh” in my Seder as I have done in previous years (the words are too harsh for my young nephews), but I will be using the moment when we open up the door for Elijah to engage in a primal scream of anger, hurt, and may very well include tears. I need it, and I imagine many of you do, too.

That scream will take on the texture of the many emotions and “feels” that have been running through me. It will include my incredulity at the brutality practiced by Hamas. It will comprise the hurts I feel for a nation that will never be the same. It will evoke the cries of the childless and the victims of rape, the malnourished, the weak and infirm, and the incomprehensible fallout whenever the “Day After” arrives.

But my scream will also anticipate a new day, and the possibility of new leadership that recognizes the deferred dream of a better day when Israelis and Palestinians mutually recognize that both peoples belong on that small patch of land. My scream will be hopeful, too, recognizing that hardening our hearts, and hardening the hearts of the other will only cause more pain. I will scream with the hope that every Israeli and every diaspora Jew will strive to live up to the values of our tradition…because saving a life is as if one has saved the entire world.

Rabbi Joshua Caruso