To understand the link between Passover and freedom.
by Helen Bryant
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To understand the link between Passover and freedom.
Preparation and materials
- Passover usually coincides with Maundy Thursday and continues for eight days; it begins on 30 March 2010.
- You will need images from the ‘Deliver Us’ section of the film The Prince of Egypt showing the eight elements of the Seder plate. This is during the early part of the film.
- Either two readers and eight people to hold up images, or use PowerPoint to show these images.
- I would like you to close your eyes for a little while. Now just take a second to relax. The best thing about our imaginations is that they can take us anywhere. I want us to go back to a time long ago. I want you to imagine that you are a slave. You work for a cruel master, who makes you struggle on when you feel you can work no more. Even when you finish your day’s work, and go home, you don’t really feel that you are safe there. You are a prisoner in this country; those around you treat you as a second-class citizen, and you have to practise your religion in secret. Friends and family are beaten if they do not respond correctly. You desperately want to get out of this country, you want to get to the Promised Land. You desperately want to feel hope, but when you think what it might be like when things are better, you don’t let yourself hope too much, just in case it does not come true.
- Now, open your eyes. How did that make you feel? (You may like to take responses.) Trapped, lonely, upset, sad, angry? Maybe all of those things, including many more emotions. I could be talking about any time in our history: slaves in America, people imprisoned for their beliefs or even Christians after the time of Jesus. However, I want to relate this idea particularly to the time of Moses, when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt.
- Around this time of year, Jews celebrate one of their key festivals: Passover, or Pesach. It recalls the story of Moses and how he led the Israelites to freedom from the slavery and persecution they experienced in Egypt.
Moses is a key figure for the Jews. The festival of Passover recalls when Moses came to Egypt with a task from the Lord. He was to go to the Pharaoh and say to him: ‘Let my people go.’ Pharaoh was of course proud, and knew that he needed his slaves to build palaces and temples in Egypt and make it great. He refused.
God sent plagues on Egypt to persuade Pharaoh: of water turning into blood, of swarms of locusts, of darkness, of boils, and other unpleasant things. Still the Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites go.
- After nine plagues, a final one was sent. This was a plague that would surely make the Pharaoh change his mind. The Angel of Death was to pass through the land, and kill all the first-born male children. The Israelites were given special knowledge from God, that if they sacrificed a lamb, and painted its blood over the doorframes of their houses, the angel would ‘pass over’ their homes, and they would be spared. This would show them that they were God’s chosen people.
They did what they were instructed, and the angel passed over their homes; but all the first-born boys of the Egyptians were killed, including the son of the Pharaoh. Having lost his child, Pharaoh finally released the Israelites and told them to leave Egypt.
The story can be found in the book of Exodus in the Bible. The word ‘exodus’ means evacuation or flight. The Israelites were in such a hurry to leave that they did not have time to let the bread they had made for the next day rise, and so they took the unleavened flatbread with them for provisions.
- The Jewish festival of Passover recalls this very event: the passing over of the angel of death and the liberation of the Jews from their slavery in Egypt. The festival lasts for up to eight days. In Israel the full eight days are observed as rest days. In non-Jewish countries, it is only two days, the first and the last.
On the first night of the festival, each Jewish family comes together for a special meal, called the Seder meal. Seder means ‘order’ and the ceremonies are all done in a particular order. Special plates and cutlery are used that are kept exclusively for Passover.
- The Haggadah is a Jewish text that tells in 14 steps the story of the Israelites’ experience in Egypt and of the Exodus and revelation of God. It contains songs, blessings, psalms and the Four Questions, all of which are read and sung during the meal.
As the story of each of the ten plagues is read out a drop of wine is spilt to remind Jews that their liberation was tinged with sadness at the suffering of the Egyptians.
Children are central to the festivities and there are special games that are meant to hold their attention. In fact, it is the youngest child present that asks the Four Questions during the Seder meal. The purpose of the questions is to show the importance of the symbolism:
Reader 1: Why do we eat unleavened bread?
Reader 2: Unleavened bread or matzo is eaten to remember the Exodus when the Israelites fled Egypt with their dough to which they had not yet added yeast.
Reader 1: Why do we eat bitter herbs?
Reader 2: Bitter herbs, usually horseradish, are included in the meal to represent the bitterness of slavery.
Reader 1: Why do we dip our food in liquid?
Reader 2: At the beginning of the meal a piece of potato is dipped in salt water to recall the tears the Jews shed as slaves.
Reader 1: Why do we eat in a reclining position?
Reader 2: In ancient times, people who were free reclined on sofas while they ate. Today cushions are placed on chairs to symbolize freedom and relaxation, in contrast to slavery.
- Each of the components of the meal is special, and there is a special Seder plate, which contains all of these symbolic things. (The eight images are held up by volunteers, or shown on PowerPoint, while saying the words.)
Matzo (unleavened bread), which is eaten symbolically three times during the meal.
A bone of a lamb to represent the lamb that was sacrificed.
An egg, also to represent sacrifice, but which also has another symbolism. Eggs become harder when they are cooked. So the egg symbolizes the Jews’ determination not to abandon their beliefs under oppression by the Egyptians.
Greenery (usually lettuce) to represent new life.
Salt water to represent a slave’s tears.
Four cups of wine to recall the four times God promised freedom to the Israelites. Everyone, even the children, drinks from these cups of wine.
Charoset (a paste made from apples, nuts, cinnamon and wine) to represent the mortar used by the Israelites to build the palaces of Egypt.
An extra cup of wine is placed on the table, and the door is left open, for Elijah. Jews believe that the prophet Elijah will reappear to announce the coming of the Messiah and will do so at Pesach.
- The Haggadah ends: ‘Next year in Jerusalem, next year we will be free.’
This festival is incredibly important, because it not only recalls the flight from Egypt, it reminds Jews of the times that they have been persecuted in the past; it also reminds them that God will free them from their chains, because they are the chosen people.
Time for reflection
When I feel that I am trapped, give me space.
When I feel that I am persecuted, give me courage.
When I feel despair, give me hope.
When I need someone to look up to, send me a leader.
When I feel that there is no one else to help me, remind me that you are there.