As we fill the fourth cup of wine and Elijah’s goblet and open the door, the haggadah instructs us to read the following verses:
Pour out Your wrath upon those who do not know You and upon the governments which do not call upon Your Name. For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his dwelling place (Psalms 79:6-7). Pour out Your fury upon them; let the fierceness of Your anger overtake them (Psalms 69:25). Pursue them in indignation and destroy them from under Your heavens (Lamentations 3:66).
These are not verses that I remember reciting at past seders. In the seders I remember, we opened the door and sang “Elijah the Prophet.” And yet, as I read these disturbing verses, I am struck by their power. They are a visceral reminder that part of the experience of oppression is the anger it produces in those of us who have been oppressed.
Revenge is not pretty; it is even embarrassing. And yet, these passages acknowledge that anger and the desire for revenge are a part of our legacy. They seem to suggest that before the Messiah can come, we must be able to express our rage at what has been done to us.
As I reread these passages from the haggadah, I am keenly aware of the necessity as well as the difficulty of expressing anger. As feminist poet Audre Lorde reminds us, anger is loaded with information and energy. It is not something to shy away from or to be afraid of. This is why the author of these verses devotes so much of his text to expressing his rage. Although those violent passages are difficult to read and recite aloud, I believe they need to be spoken.
Audre Lorde argues for the eventual translation of anger into “action in service of our vision and our future” but first demands that we claim our anger. There can be no final time, no messianic era unless we first acknowledge these brutal desires. If they cannot be expressed, we may never know a better future. And, for those of us less inclined to imagine this ritual as a step toward a distant messianic future, the expression of such emotions may simply enable us to live more fully in the present.
Although these brutal biblical passages express a real desire for revenge, it is important to remember that they are revenge fantasies—creative, imaginative interventions. They are to be recited, not acted out. For those of us who have been brutalized, whose lives have been threatened, who have known oppression in our bodies, these fantasies can be truly liberating only if we find the courage to fully express our indignation, our pain, and our fury.
Used by permission of author