Published in Ayeka by Debra Shaffer Seeman
Posted on April 28, 2019
For almost 20 years, I’ve been taken by the idea that the Haggadah is constructed as the movement from silence to words to song – the enactment of freedom through the very modality through which we express it. Meaning, at the beginning of the Haggadah, there are no stories, no tales, no history lessons. There are simply technical words to accompany ritual acts. In effect, there is a sort of silence. In slavery, we don’t have the choice to speak as we wish, to articulate that which is in our heart, to casually connect with another through words. And in the beginning of the seder, when we’ve accessed these narrow spaces of slavery within us, there are very few words to be shared.
The seder moves forward, with the approach of Maggid, into hours of storytelling – give and take, curiosity and response. Regaling one another with thoughts and ideas and stories, we parse the meaning of some words and see others through a different lens than the one through which we originally approached them. The speech act emulates that of the Divine, creating and reinventing through our words. At this point, we’re journeying out of slavery. We have access to words, to stories that can be shared with little concern for time or constraints. At times we choose our words with intentionality and at times they simply flow, perhaps with a smile or laughter, perhaps with leaking eyes.
And then the songs begin. For some, melodies sneak in even before the meal of a free person, which has been elevated to new heights as a newfangled addition to Hallel. For others, the songs accompany dance when we make it to Yerushalayim. And for all, they are the embodied enactment of our freedom. Our inner voice, once silenced by oppression, now sings.
This year, I wonder differently about this movement, which once seemed so clear and linear to me. This year, I’m much more interested in the implications of blurred boundaries and processes towards … Of freedom of self within constructs that bind. Of freedom from those constructs through silence and words and song. Of constructs within self that silence. Of constructs within self which invite song. I’m interested in the movement between and among those, the movement that pirates song from freedom and reestablishes it above and below, within and without. And I find myself thinking about the power of meaningful music shared within a strong bond – not as an enactment of freedom, but as a way to achieve it.