Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Interfaith Seder: "With Open Arms"

Click here to access the supplementary materials used at last night's Interfaith Seder at Grace Farms.  Below are the Four Questions we used to base our discussion of the topic, "With Open Arms."

Four Conversations 

1. What is the meaning of home at a time when 65 million people are refugees and when the average American moves 11.4 times in his/her lifetime? There are now an estimated 258 million people living in a country other than their country of birth — an increase of 49% since 2000. An unprecedented 65.6 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 22.5 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. There are also 10 million stateless people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment, and freedom of movement. The UN reports that nearly 20 people are forcibly displaced every minute. 

2. The Five Books of Moses instruct us to love three different things: God; your neighbor; and the stranger. But the command to love the stranger is repeated 36 different times. Why this added emphasis on the stranger? 

3. Why is it even more important now than ever that our society become radically inclusive? How can we do that? 

4. What are we to make of the following rabbinic commentary on what happened during the night of the Exodus? 

The Last Night in Egypt: Knocking in the Night 

When Moses said: “I will smite all the firstborn” (Ex. 12:12), some of the Egyptians were afraid and some not; those who were afraid brought their firstborn to an Israelite and said: “Do please allow him to pass with you this night.” When midnight struck, God smote all the firstborn; as for those who took asylum in the houses of the Israelites, God passed between the Israelites and the Egyptians, depriving the latter of life while leaving the Israelites alive. 

The preceding midrash (rabbinic story) describes what happened on the night of the last plague, the slaying of the Egyptian first born. Egyptian mothers have taken their first-born children to the homes of Israelites and beg the Israelites to take their children in so they will escape death. What would you have done? What should they have done? Keep in mind that a) these were their oppressors for 400 years, b) God’s plan was to smite them, so they were defying God if they took them in and c) historically, the midrash came from the 10th century (Exodus Rabbah 18:2), a time of considerable persecution. The Israelites tried to save the Egyptians but could not alter God’s plan. Even though it was doomed to failure, they had the courage to try. One wonders whether that was also part of God’s plan all along.

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