Four quotes for discussing before beginning Rabbi A.L.P.E.R.N. Seders
1.) (Amos 5:21-24) I hate, despise, your feasts and festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. If you offer burnt offerings and meal offerings I will not accept them. I pay no heed to your fat prayers, they make me nauseous. Spare me the sound of your worship, let me not hear the music of your praise, I will not listen, but let justice well and righteousness flow like an everlasting stream.
2.) A focusing story of the Apter Rebbe:
When I was young I had a plan to save the world, to bring Peace.
As I grew older I focused on peace in my homeland.
Older and wiser yet, I prayed for peace in my home.
Now, in old age a sage I pray for peace in my own mind and heart.
3.) There is no need to leave your home. Stay at your table and listen. Do not even listen, just wait. Do not even wait, be silent and alone. The world will offer itself to you to be unmasked; it cannot do otherwise, in ecstasy it will turn you. (Franz Kafka)
4.) Selections from The Alphabet by Karl Shapiro:
The letters of the Jews are strict as flames
Or little terrible flowers lean…
The letters of the Jews are dancing knives
That carve the heart of darkness seven ways.
These are the letters that all men refuse
And will refuse until the king arrives
And will refuse until the death of time
And all is rolled back in the book of days.
Table services for your Home sanctuary:
True religion always returns to the fundamental questions, such as: “What gives my life meaning?”, and “How do I create a morally coherent life?” Also,” How do I understand truth?” “What is a true in religion?” How and where do I begin?
Karl Shapiro speaks of the death of time in his poem quoted above and the arrival of “the king.” As a poet he is speaking of an ideal leader (Small case k) who will inspire humanity to delight in peace. The poet, as Franz Kafka explains above, need never leave their home to experience the truths revealed in the rich life of the imagination. True religion defines all aspects of the peaceful kingdom, from peace in our hearts to peace on earth and goodwill toward all. How do we create Peace, and the kingdom of heaven on earth?
What follows is my personal answer. I think of these programs as Active Learning Programs or Arête Learning Programs. They are active because you must be involved in the process of their creation. They are Arête because they are visionary, as I will explain in a moment.
Where do we begin? How do we create a holy life? The ancient model of holiness was thought of as a series of concentric circles with the Holy of Holies in Jerusalem as the center. The next circle was Jerusalem and after Jerusalem Israel. Our model is based on the story of the Apter Rebbe quoted above and the following teaching of the Talmud (Bechoroat 8b):
When Rabbi Joshua Ben Hanania went to Athens to dispute with the philosophers there, they asked him many questions and he answered them all successfully.
One of their questions was: “Where is the center of the earth?”
Rabbi Joshua pointed with his forefinger to a spot on the ground nearby, and said “HERE.”
They said” How do you know you are right?”
He said “Bring your measuring rods and measure for yourselves.”
In our time the Holy of Holies are the mind and heart, the next circle the family, and then community, and finally the world at large.
Switching metaphors these Active Learning Programs are “Arête” because of the need to climb to the top of a mountain to experience the vision from the peak. Arête is a Greek term that means the sum quality of all virtue. Arête also means a sharp crested ridge in rugged mountains (as the Alps). One must make the ascent to experience the vision. We follow the paths of Moses and Elijah and others who ascend the mountain.
The narratives of the following homemade Haggaddah are often in Elijah the Prophets voice. Elijah is the hero of our history and these learning and living programs because he is an Arête person. Most people focus on what Moses and Elijah say at the bottom of the mountain more than what was seen on the top. These active learning and living programs are for “peakers”, those willing to ascend to the Arête.
We encounter Rabbinic Narrative in this voice, and meet the author of these Seders, Rabbi Alpern. (A.L.P.E.R.N. =Arête (Active) Learning (Living) Programs Encountering Rabbinic Narrative).
Elijah is the character in the bible that learns the most from history. Of course he has the advantage of being around for three thousand years, since he ascended to heaven and never died. In legend Elijah walks the earth, and has become a comforter for all who suffer. This is in stark contrast to the Elijah we encounter in The Book of Kings, since the post- biblical or post- ascension Elijah, to paraphrase Elie Wiesel, (Five Biblical PortraitsUniversity of Notre Dame Press,1981), morphs into every persons friend and companion. The transformed Elijah brings comfort and joy, light and warmth. He teaches wisdom to the sages and compassion to all by suffering every humiliation with us. In the end Elijah resolves all disputes and announces our redeemer. The angry prophet of the Bible becomes our most popular and gentle folk hero.
The anger of the prophet confuses. Amos, in the quote above, and other prophets, portray a God who is sickened by some forms of religion. Abraham Joshua Heschel (The Prophets) explains that God is angry with those who confuse the trappings of religion with true Revelation. Gods voice thunders at Revelation and our task is to see the thunder. The orthodox miss the paradox. Worship is pleasing to God when it leads to a moral life and social justice. Otherwise religion and ritual become abominations. God demands righteousness and justice.
How do we teach disciples and our children to have character and to do justly? The prophets did not object to worship. Prayer and praise and song may be preludes to right practice and are more than acceptable to God.
I am a Rabbi and not a prophet, but I do enjoy speaking in Elijah’s voice in these table services. My voice is expressed (often off tune) in lyrics that jump and skip around like sheep grazing on the arête more than the orderly two by twos of those entering and exiting the Ark. You must shepherd the ideas into your own coherent script for your table service.
The scripts for the Seders may all be thought of as rough drafts. This is precedented. I know of very few people who do not personalize and customize the Passover Seder.
Unlike a linear book, where you start with chapter one, these Seders revolve around the year according to the season. Also every day may be made holy so I offer a Seder of daily prayer, and the “Live It”, the Seder for food. The Shabbat Shalom Seder may be done weekly. If you go to any Judaic website such as Aish.com you will find the text of the Torah and Prophetic reading.
These websites (see the Top Ten which follow) will also remind you of the next opportunity for a family holiday celebration. Remember the goal is to create a Haggadah that will work for those joining the meal and be age appropriate. The script may well change every year. Google the holiday. Download the readings for the day such as the Song of Songs for Passover and Ruth for Shavuot. If children are involved have they help design the cover of the Haggaddah. Personalize. Enjoy. Send us a copy.
Make time for yourself and family. Think about how you will pass on your core values to the next generation. The future, to paraphrase Rabbi Jacob Neusner, will not be decided by the edifices of our houses of worship nor by the millions or billions raised for education and culture. The future will be decided by our ideals. The buildings are all built. Make your home into a house of worship. This is the foundation of our future.