I offer 4 items to include in your Seders with suggested placement in the ritual. Why 4? Because the #4 and multiples (i.e. 40 - 400) occur repeatedly in Jewish tradition, cross-culturally and in the Seder itself The number “4” is symbolic representing sh’lei-mut (wholeness, completion, stability, continuity, and renewal).
Examples of “4”:
In Jewish literature the flood lasted 40 days and nights signaling at once a return to primordial darkness and to new beginnings. There are 4 matriarchs and 3 patriarchs (plus 1 if we include Joseph, as suggested by some commentaries) who embodied all human virtues and vice. Tradition holds that the Hebrews were enslaved for 400 years and wandered for 40 years before entering the land of promise, time-spans representing long periods that closed generations and ushered in new ones. Moses received the Torah including the Written Law (the Hebrew Bible - Tanakh) and the Oral Law (Rabbinic tradition – the Talmud and subsequent rabbinic law and lore) in 40 days and nights representing the complete Revelation at Mt. Sinai. There are 4 poles of a chupah symbolizing the beginning of a new generation and a fulfillment of the old. And the holiest name of God (YHVH) is composed of 4 letters. Mystics teach that this four letter Tetragrammaton represents the entirety of existence; the lower and upper worlds, the hidden and the seen, the concrete and the abstract, the physical and metaphysical, eternity and infinity.
The number 4 is significant cross-culturally, as well, suggesting the totality of existence: 4 directions, 4 seasons, 4 elements.
In the Seder we ask 4 questions, tell of 4 kinds of human beings and we drink 4 cups of wine symbolizing all the ways God inspired the Hebrews to be freed from bondage. For Jews, freedom is not the endgame. It is, rather, a necessary precondition for a covenantal partnership with God that will usher in the messianic era. In the “time to come” tradition teaches that the Jewish people will be gathered from the 4 corners of the earth to Jerusalem (Y’rushalayim, also known as Ir Salem, the city of wholeness, a city possessed of 4 quarters, like the 4 chambers of the heart).
4 suggested additions to your Seders:
1. Say a blessing for the people and state of Israel – place following the recitation of the 15 steps of the Seder ritual:
Eternal God, receive our prayers for the peace and security of the state of Israel and its people. Spread your blessings upon the Land and upon all who labor in its interest. Inspire her leaders to follow in the ways of righteousness. Awaken all to Your spirit. Remove from every heart hatred, malice, jealousy, fear, and strife. Let the Jewish people scattered throughout the earth be infused with the ancient hope of Zion and inspired by Jerusalem as the eternal city of peace. May the Jewish state be a blessing to all its inhabitants and to the Jewish people everywhere, and may she be an or la-go-yim, a light to the nations of the world. Amen!
2. Affirm that to be pro-Israel means to be pro-Palestinian - after Halachma Anya (“This is the Poor Bread”):
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a tragedy because it is a struggle between two rights. Therefore, to be pro-Israel must mean also to be pro-Palestinian, for as long as the Palestinians are an occupied people without a state of their own, not only are they not free but neither are the Israelis free. Peace will require painful concessions from both sides of this conflict for each people to find peace, security and fulfillment. Amos Oz has warned that those who refuse to compromise will be doomed to destruction for “the opposite of compromise is fanaticism and death.”
3. Include the olive on the Seder plate - read following Ba-shanah Ha-ba-ah Biy’ru-sha-la-yim (“Next Year in Jerusalem”):
The olive embodies our prayers for peace in the Middle East and in every place where war destroys lives, hopes and the freedoms we celebrate this night. Today, in the land of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Hagar, and Ishmael, living olive trees bring sustenance and roots to their families. Where they are uprooted, let them be replanted, for the sake of life, for the sake of justice and peace.
Next year, wherever we may be, may we be whole and at peace.
4. Offer these words as the final statement in the Seder:
May I recognize my failure to understand those who oppose me.
May I be able to look at the face of my enemy and see the face of God.
May we all be instruments of peace.
(Rabbis for Human Rights, North America)