Found In: Rosh Chodesh Elul: Aug-Sept
By Ellen Dannin | Complete Ceremony
This ritual is best performed in a small group seated in a circle. Each person should have four stones. These will be cast into the center of the circle as the ritual is performed as a symbol of casting away the hardness we have allowed to exist in our hearts.
Readings should be done collectively. Either each person reading a paragraph as moved to do so, or rotating around the circle. Try to be as leaderless as possible.
Why do we need a ritual that talks about how we harden our hearts?
We need it because we identify too easily with the children of Israel when they confront Pharaoh, but day after day we live our lives like the Egyptians.
We harden our hearts so we can exist in modern society.
We harden our hearts because we don’t think of experiences from another person's point of view. Could we live if our hearts were open to every request for our time, our resources, our interest? There are many reasons we harden our hearts. This ritual is designed to help us examine our hearts and understand why we act this way, to consider whether we could or should act differently.
These are not easy questions, and there are no simple answers. But we need to search to live the most fully human/e lives we can.
I - False Worship
Why were the waters of the Nile turned into blood? Some say the Egyptians worshiped it as a god. Some say this plague was a powerful rebuke to the Egyptians and to Pharaoh for false worship.
Beyond God’s own vanity, why does God care what we worship?
We live in a world of waters, rocks, living things, nonliving things. We live in a world of money and objects, money to buy what we need and what we think we need, money to help or to hinder.
We live in a world of other people. Some, we reject out of hand. We let others tell us how we should live our lives.
We relax into indolence and lose any desire to understand how we should live our lives. What are our objects of reverence? What are the objects or persons or ideas for which we sacrifice time, money, love, others, our lives, other people's lives?
Are there ways we are like the Egyptians in our actions? Like the Egyptians do we choose to let our hearts become hardened? Do we worship a false god who cannot save?
And all the Egyptians dug around the Nile for water to drink, for cool clear water, but there was none. In their suffering, they knew that their god could not save. Can only a plague remove this hardness from our hearts?
Set our feet on the paths of righteousness.
V'yadu mitzraim ki ani adonai . . .
And Egypt shall know that I am God . . .
All: Let us cast away this hardness from our hearts.
II - Uncleanness
Why were the Egyptians smitten with frogs?
Because their hands were unclean. They threw the children of the Israelites into the Nile, and the waters cast back this unclean act. Their sin could not remain hidden. They could not escape the frogs who crept into their houses, into their beds, into their kitchens.
Have we come here with unclean hands, our hearts hardened? Do we soil all we touch?
Are we unable to recognize the form our acts have taken? Do our fears pursue us? Do we sully others by the way we live our lives? Do we contaminate our relations with others by our manner of living?
Do our sins refuse to sleep in the depths where we have cast them? Do they take form, creep into our homes, take residence there, living their own lives now?
Are we Pharaoh, living with hearts that are hardened. How can we recognize the frogs who warn us to change?
L'man teida ki ein k'adonai eloheinu . .
In order for you to know that there is no one like our God . . .
All: Let us cast away our unclean acts.
III - Separation
Did the afflictions of the skin, boils and lice, ever break through the reality that skin is only skin and not a limit where humanity stops?
The Egyptians came to believe they had no connection with the lives of others. There is no other way to be a slavemaster. The Egyptians walked their streets and saw the suffering of the Israelites and felt nothing. They never saw a connection between their wealth and the poverty of others. They never felt: this is another person, someone who feels pain and joy, just as I do.
Do we recognize when it is our turn to give back and not only to take? Do we harden our hearts? We stand in the midst of the earth, a part of nature. We live, not singly, but mutually, in community. All around us the earth teams with life.
We are surrounded by others whose lives, joys, pains, fears we can but dimly know. Do we deal deceitfully with others? Do we make others into no-persons, nonliving things?
How many times do we look at another person and think their sadness, their happiness, their pain is less than ours, different from ours? How many times do we see they have the same connection to life as we do?
Is there any way we can open our eyes to our connection to another?
L'man teida ki ani adonai b'kerev ha-aretz . . .
In order for you to know that I am God in the midst of the earth.
All: Let us cast away our unclean acts.
IV - The Earth
Hail rained down on the Egyptians. God sent thunder and fire upon the earth. They crouched in fear. They called to their gods. They wondered how they had lost control.
They paused in the moments between those fiery flashes, breaths in-drawn. They sat in their shelters and wondered if they would ever again walk the earth they had known. They wondered which god they had angered.
Moses raised his hands, and the thunder ceased. They crept out to find their fields of flax and barley smitten.
Would we behave differently if we believed that the stones and the trees and the land and the animals and the waters are God's?
If we could pause for a moment to glimpse the world and ourselves as God's creation, could we learn a more reverent way to touch the earth? Would we strangle the living ground with concrete, with poisons?
Would we let our waters be a sewer, no fit home for the creatures who have lived there for eons? Would we fill the air with poisons so thick they block out our view of wonder, block our view of the heavens and the divine?
If we truly believed that none of this, not one atom is our possession, if we could see and feel and know this was the realm of the divine . . . what then?
L'man teidah ki l'adonai ha-aretz . . .
So that you may know that the earth is Adonai's . .
All: Let us cast away the hardness of our hearts.
V'yadu mitzraim ki ani anodai.
And the Egyptians shall know that I am God.
V'yadanu kulanu ki adonai adonai.
And we shall know that God is God.