Passover: 7-14 April 2012
To explore the link between Passover and freedom.
by Helen Levesley
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To tell the story of the first Passover, and by encouraging students to imagine the events of Passover taking place in the community where they live, to explore the link between Passover and freedom.
Preparation and materials
- Background: Passover usually coincides with Maundy Thursday and continues for eight days.
- See ‘Deliver Us’ from The Prince of Egypt (Stephen Spielberg/DreamWorks) for images of each section of the Seder plate (these are during the early part of the film); or use http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passover_Seder where there are images of the plate and table.
- Prepare ten readers: two readers to ask the Four Questions, and eight readers for the section about the Seder plate. You may also like to ask the readers to hold up the images of the symbolic food, or project these images (see section 8).
- I would like you to close your eyes for a little while. Now take a second to relax. (Pause)
The best thing about our imaginations is that they can take us anywhere. I want to go back to a time long ago. Imagine that you are a slave. You work for a cruel master who forces you to keep working even when you’re exhausted and feel you can work no more.
Even when you finish your day’s work, and go home, you still don’t feel that you’re safe. Those around you treat you as a second-class citizen, and you have to practise your religion in secret. You are beaten if you dare to disobey the slave masters.
You desperately want to get out of this country where you are enslaved. You long to escape to a country where you can be free. You long to return to the land of your ancestors, the Promised Land, given to them by God.
You desperately want to feel hope, but when you try to think what it might be like when things are better, you don’t want to hope too much, just in case it doesn’t come true.
- Now, open your eyes. How did that make you feel? (You may like to get the children to respond.) Do you feel trapped, lonely, upset, sad and angry? Maybe all of those emotions, including many more.
I could be talking about any time in history – black slaves in America, people imprisoned for their beliefs, or Christians in times of persecution. However, I am going to talk to you about when the Israelites (the ancestors of today’s Jews) were slaves in Egypt.
- Every year in March or April Jews celebrate one of their key festivals – Passover or Pesach. This festival recalls the story of Moses and how he led the Israelites to freedom from the slavery and persecution they were experiencing in Egypt.
Moses is a key figure for the Jews and this is why they celebrate the festival of Passover. Every year at Passover, Jews tell of how Moses returned to Egypt from exile with a task from the Lord. He was to go to the Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Let my people go.’
Pharaoh was too proud to obey the God of his slaves. Besides, he needed his slaves to build Egypt’s cities and make Egypt great. He refused.
God sent plagues on Egypt: water turning into blood, a plague of locusts, of darkness, of boils and many other things. Moses always warned Pharaoh in advance, but Pharaoh paid no attention to the warnings and each time he 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. Moses warned Pharaoh that if he did not let the people go, the angel of death would pass through the land, and kill all the first-born male children. The Israelites were given special knowledge from God. They were told that if they sacrificed a lamb, and put some of its blood on the doorposts and on the tops of the doors of their houses, the angel would ‘pass over’ their homes without stopping. This would show the slaves that they were God’s chosen people.
The Israelites did as they were instructed, and their children were safe but all the first-born boys of the Egyptians were killed, including the son of the Pharaoh. Having lost his child, he finally released the Israelites. In the middle of the night, when his son had just died, he called for Moses and told him to lead his people away from Egypt.
The story can be found in the book of Exodus, in the Bible. The word ‘exodus’ itself means evacuation or flight. The Israelites had to leave in a hurry in the middle of the night. They had made dough for bread but there was no time to add yeast (leaven) and wait for the bread to rise and then bake it. They put their dough without yeast in bowls and took it with them and then after they had left Egypt, they baked unleavened flatbread on campfires.
- The Jewish Festival of Passover recalls this very event – the passing-over of the angel of death and the liberation of the people from their slavery in Egypt. The festival lasts for eight days, and in Israel all eight days are observed as full rest days, while in non-Jewish countries, just the first and the last two days are rest days.
On the first night of the festival, Jews come together in their own homes for the Seder meal, which is a family meal held to remember and celebrate the first Passover. Seder means ‘order’ and the ceremonies are all done in a particular order. Special plates and cutlery are used, which are kept exclusively for Passover. At the Passover meal, the food is always the same, and symbolizes the events of the Passover.
- The Haggadah is a text which tells in 14 steps the story of the Jewish experience in Egypt and of the Exodus and revelation of God. It contains songs, blessings, psalms and 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 which are meant to hold their attention. In fact, it is the youngest child who asks the Four Questions during the Seder meal. The purpose of these questions is to remind everyone of the importance of the Seder meal and the meaning of the symbols.
Reader 1 Why do we eat unleavened bread?
Reader 2 Unleavened bread, or matzo, is eaten to remember the Exodus when the Israelites fled from 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 Seder plate on which the symbolic food is arranged.
(Each reader holds up an image (use PowerPoint if that is easier) of the following, while saying the words.)
Reader 1 Matzo (unleavened bread), which is eaten symbolically three times during the meal.
Reader 2 A bone of a lamb to represent the lamb that was sacrificed.
Reader 3 An egg, also to represent sacrifice. Eggs become harder when they are cooked. So the egg also symbolizes the Jews’ determination not to abandon their beliefs under oppression by the Egyptians.
Reader 4 Greenery (usually lettuce) to represent new life.
Reader 5 Salt water to represent a slave’s tears.
Reader 6 Four cups of wine to recall the four times God promised freedom to the Israelites. Everyone, even the children, drink these cups of wine.
Reader 7 Charoset (a paste made of apples, nuts, cinnamon and wine) to represent the mortar used by the Israelites to build the palaces of Egypt.
Reader 8 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 with the words: ‘Next Year in Jerusalem, next year we will be free.’
This festival is incredibly important because it not only recalls the flight from Egypt, but it reminds Jews of the times when they have been persecuted in the past, and also reminds them that God will always 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 there is no one else to help me, remind me that you are there.