Introduction to the First
Adoption Seder (Revised)
Before we start, I want to tell you a little about the order of the
seder, which, by the way, in Hebrew means "order." With its
questions and four rounds of wine, the seder is based on the Greek
first of our four cups of wine or juice, we "set" our table, making this
space and time holy. We'll do that with blessings that we'll read together
in English after the leader recites them first in Hebrew.
the second cup of wine we pose four questions, the nature of which have
varied over time and place for two millennia. I answer them, from an
adoptee's perspective, with a new telling of the old story of the Exodus.
What I've done is added stories, (or in Hebrew, midrashim) to the
original story in the Bible. Some of the midrashim come from the
Talmud, some come from the historian Josephus, and some are based on the
feelings that are companions to an adoption, a search for kin or a reunion
with birth family. These latter "adoption" midrashim I preface
always with the word "perhaps."
retold the story of Moses in the literary form of the haggadah. A
haggadah is the traditional booklet for the celebration of Passover
that recounts Moses' leading the Exodus out of Egypt. Also contained in a
haggadah are psalms, prayers, songs and rituals. They all act like
synapses that make the main story that much more deeply felt.
want to make a quick aside here: midrashim have a very long
tradition in Judaism, as a way to elaborate on puns in a text, to give
names to the unnamed or to explain inconsistencies. To give you an
example, it's said in the Bible that Moses preferred to speak to Pharaoh
and the Hebrews through an intermediary from his birth family, his brother
Aaron. The rabbis came up with a midrash that explained Moses'
reticence by saying that Moses was a stutterer. So later, when we go
around the table taking turns reading from this text, if you'd rather not
read aloud or if you stutter over a line, you should remember that you are
following in the tradition of Moses.
Then while we digest Moses' story, we ingest it literally by eating the
symbolic foods on our table. Over the third cup of wine we will share the
symbols of our own stories of adoption, search, and
biblical Moses was born a Hebrew, raised as an Egyptian, and married into
the tribe of Midianites. Thus he can serve as an archetype for anyone who
is trying to synthesize the two (or more) selves of a variegated
background. Different readers of the story of Moses will bring different
meanings to the words "Egyptian" and "Hebrew."
people who rediscover spirituality as Moses did, "Egyptian" may symbolize
their secular side while "Hebrew" symbolizes their religious
For people who emigrate as
Moses did, "Egyptian" may represent the people of their land of origin and
"Hebrew" may represent the people of their Promised Land.
people who have an extended family of many faiths, "Egyptian,"
"Midianite," and "Hebrew" may each mean family to them. (And in this
version of the Exodus story, not all the non-Jews are bad
But for people who were
adopted like Moses and like me, "Egyptian" means adoptive home and
"Hebrew" means birth heritage.
For those of us who have found something to celebrate at the end of our
Search, we say part of a prayer called Bareich before the fourth
cup of wine. But for those who have not yet found an end to their Search,
or who have found a truth to mourn at journey's end, we can only offer our
company and acknowledge that pain. And we can hold out a hope for the
coming of the Prophet Elijah who is said by Judaism, Christianity and
Islam to be the harbinger of a perfect, messianic age.
this evening leads us higher than ourselves. I know that it could do the
opposite by reducing the telling of one of the greatest epics of the
Bible, the emancipation of an entire people, to a literary allusion, a
mere psychological metaphor. The rabbis had a related concern: that if the
telling were not carefully wrought, it would lead to the deification of
Moses himself and detract from the message of monotheism. You can see how
they resolved this problem when you read traditional haggadot; the
name of Moses appears not even once, but the names of the Higher Power
appear many times.
knowingly accepted both these risks, especially in the interpretations of
the Ten Plagues and in the addition to the haggadah of the Three
Types of Leavetaking, in order to make the telling more intuitively true
for an individualistic audience. Only by relating the grand event of the
Exodus to the adoption, emigration and teshuvah of an individual
named Moses and to the individual who is our self, do I think we can hear
it more personally.
believe that our Searches, our teachings and our attempts to humanize
adoption law can, in fact, lead us higher than ourselves. They are what we
call, in Hebrew, tikkun olam. Tikkun olam means a repair of
the broken parts of the world that brings us all a little closer to a
messianic age. May this be an evening of tikkun olam for
~Michele Kriegman, April 1995
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