Passover Poems

I enclose here two poems, one by me and another by Primo Levi written in 1982. I will also post a link to the entire message I gave my congregation this morning leading up to Passover.

Experience the first Passover night.
An angel of death. Holy terror.
Blood on the door.
Wailing mothers and dead sons.
Wailing mothers whose sons were saved.

Deadly silence across the land.
Egyptian neighbors come to the door.
“Here, take these gold things,
Go and worship your God,
he has taken our sons.”

Jewish mothers hold their sons.
And they cry.
“Who cried for our sons
enslaved and mistreated?
Cruelty has begotten cruelty,
sin has precipitated death.”

And from this dreadful night
Israel fled.
Witless and afraid.
Would Pharaoh cut them down?

Carts and oxen.
Burdens and animals.
Children and elderly.
A hard journey ahead.

Passover. Redemption. Freedom. Exodus.
[Derek Leman, 2008]

Tell me: how is this night different
From all other nights?
How, tell me, is this Passover
Different from all other Passovers?
Light the lamp, open the door wide
So the pilgrim can come in,
Gentile or Jew;
Under the rags perhaps the prophet is concealed.
Let him enter and sit down with us;
Let him listen, drink, sing and celebrate Passover;
Let him consume the bread of affliction,
The Paschal Lamb, sweet mortar and bitter herbs.
This is the night of differences
In which you lean your elbow on the table,
Since the forbidden becomes prescribed,
Evil is translated into good.
We will spend the night recounting
Far-off events full of wonder,
And because of all the wine
The mountains will skip like rams.
Tonight they exchange questions:
The wise, the godless, the simple-minded and the child.
And time reverses its course,
Today flowing back into yesterday.
Like a river enclosed at its mouth.
Each of us has been a slave in Egypt,
Soaked straw and clay with sweat,
And crossed the sea dry-footed.
You too, stranger.
This year in fear and shame,
Next year in virtue and justice.

[Schocken Passover Haggadah, pg. xxviii, “Passover,” by Primo Levi, 1982]

A link to the entire message:


About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
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