Yitziyat Mitzrayim and the Pedagogy of Passover

“You will observe the [Feast of] Unleavened bread, for this very day I brought out your ranks out of the land of Egypt; you will observe this day down through the ages as an institution for all time. (Exodus 12:17)

Itsiyat Mitzrayim—the Exodus from Egypt – was a monumental milestone in the history of the Jewish people.

Rabbi Irving Greenberg puts it so eloquently in his book “The Jewish Way: Living the Holidays”: “The secret to the impact of the Exodus is that it does not present itself as an ancient story, an event Since the keystone to remembering the Exodus is re-enactment, the event offers itself as an ongoing experience in human history. As free people relive the Exodus, it transforms memory into a dynamic morality. The experience of slavery that breaks and crushes slaves does not destroy free men. It evokes feelings of revulsion and determination to help others escape this state. As participants eat the bitter grass , they remember the heartbreaking story and the death of the children. They also remember that slavery gradually conditioned people to accept servitude as the norm. The Israelites fell into this trap and were delivered, not by their own merit. The lesson is that a slave needs help to begin his release. (Page 65)

Our tradition teaches us to relive the exodus from Egypt. We refer to it regularly in our daily liturgy and tell the story every year at our Passover. Sedarim (Seders).

I have always believed that the Passover holiday, more than any other holiday or holiday in the Jewish year, was a model of brilliant pedagogy. we live again Itsiyat Mitzrayim through stories, food, many specific rituals and over several days. I don’t know if the data is the same now, but I remember from grad school that sociological studies of the Jewish world always included a question about Passover observance and that many Jews who did not identify strongly with Jewish life in many other ways often indicated that they would always attend a Seder or eat matzah during Passover.

The ritual is powerful – it connects us to our history, to the Jewish people and to our families. I will NEVER forget the time my brother found a system to find out in which room our father hid the afikomen in; I may never forgive my brother either.

But the Passover Seder ritual is more than family memories. We join Jews around the world in observing an incredible period of Jewish history; where our people have gone from slavery to the status of people; where the rituals we engaged in defined who we were then and who we are now.

The themes of slavery and freedom are constant in the Haggadah, just as they are constant in our lives today. I believe the Passover Seder implores each of us to uplift those who need help to move from hunger, poverty, and ill health to the highest quality of life possible.

The Haggadah is one of the most printed books – families often create their own and many of us like to collect them. Although commentaries vary, the core of the Haggadah has specificity Seder, ordered. I bet many of you, when you think of the Haggadah, have one or more favorites tefillot (prayers) or comments that resonate with you.

I have always been fascinated by the story of the four children. The Haggadah instructs us to respond differently to each child – wise, naughty, simple, and unable to ask – based on their ability to understand. The rabbis have understood that we do not learn in the same way; we don’t have the same abilities; and we don’t make the same choices. Pedagogy 101!

• The wise child wants to understand the laws and observances as Gd has commanded us.

• The naughty child wants to know about it — “what does this observance mean to you?

• The simple child does not understand the most elementary concepts and asks: “What is this?

• And the child who does not know how to ask a basic question receives a basic introduction.

Throughout my life, I have viewed this story less as about different kinds of children and more as how we each come through Judaism – and life in general. We don’t know how to ask. We just don’t understand. We don’t care. We want to understand and participate. Sometimes we seem on the right track, and sometimes we don’t even know a lead exists.

The first Seder will take place on Friday, April 15 this year. I wish each of you and yours Sedarim that are enjoyable – that challenge you to move from slavery to freedom, to feel separated to engage more in community, and to observe the enslavement of others to offer help to help them walk towards their own freedom.

Hag kosher v’sameah!