Passover runs from 8 to 16 April 2020
by Helen Levesley (revised, originally published in 2009)
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To consider the link between Passover and freedom.
Preparation and materials
- You will need the PowerPoint slides that accompany this assembly (The Passover) and the means to display them.
- You will also need two students to take the parts of Child and Adult for the dialogue in the ‘Assembly’, Step 5.
- Passover usually coincides with Maundy Thursday and continues for eight days. In 2020, it will begin at sunset on 8 April and end at nightfall on 16 April.
- Let’s start by closing our eyes and taking a second to relax. The best thing about our imaginations is that they can take us anywhere.
Take yourself back to a time long ago and imagine that you are a slave. You work for a cruel master who pushes you to the brink of exhaustion every day. Even when you return home after your day’s work, you don’t feel safe because people 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 leave this country where you are held prisoner and get to the Promised Land. You want to feel hope, but when you imagine getting what you want, you don’t want to hope too much in case your wish doesn’t come true.
- Now, open your eyes. How did that make you feel?
You may wish to listen to a range of responses.
Trapped? Lonely? Upset? Sad? Angry? You may have felt all of these emotions and more. I could be talking about any time in history: slavery in the USA in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, people imprisoned for their beliefs or even Christians after the time of Jesus. However, today, we are going to think about the time when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt.
- Around this time of year, Jewish people celebrate one of their key festivals: Passover, or Pesach. It recalls how Moses led the Israelites to freedom from the slavery that they experienced in Egypt.
Moses had come to Egypt with a task from God. Moses was to go to the pharaoh and ask him to let Moses’ people go. However, the pharaoh was proud and needed his slaves to build Egypt and make it great, so he refused. God inflicted disasters on Egypt to persuade the pharaoh, including turning water into blood, covering the country in darkness for three days and sending plagues of frogs, locusts and boils. However, the pharaoh still refused to release the Israelites.
After nine plagues, God sent down a final one that would surely persuade the pharaoh to change his mind. The angel of death was to pass through the land and kill every firstborn son. However, God told the Israelites that if they sacrificed a lamb, and painted its blood over the doorframe of their house, the angel would ‘pass over’ their homes, and they would be spared. This would show the Israelites that they were God’s chosen people.
That night, the Israelites did as they were told, and the angel passed over their homes. All of the firstborn Egyptian sons were killed, including the pharaoh’s son. Having lost his child, Pharaoh finally released the Israelites and told them to leave Egypt.
This story appears in the Bible, in the book of Exodus. An exodus is an evacuation or flight from somewhere. The Israelites were in such a hurry to leave that they did not have time to let their bread rise, so they took the unleavened flatbread with them for provisions.
- The Jewish festival of Passover recalls this event: the angel of death passing over the Israelites’ homes and the liberation of the Jews from their slavery in Egypt. The festival lasts for seven or eight days. In Israel, Passover is a seven-day holiday, with the first and last days celebrated as legal holidays.
On the first night of the festival, Jews come together as a family and join in a special meal called a seder. The word means ‘order’ and the ceremonies are done in a particular order. Special plates and cutlery are used, which are kept exclusively for Passover.
- The Haggadah is the text that defines the order of the seder. It tells in 14 steps the story of the Jewish experience in Egypt, the exodus and the 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 for them to play. One of them is for the youngest child at the seder to ask the Four Questions.
Ask the students who are taking the parts of Child and Adult to come to the front.
Child: Why do we eat unleavened bread?
Adult: We eat unleavened bread, or matzo, to remember when the Israelites fled Egypt in such a hurry that their bread had not had time to rise.
Child: Why do we eat bitter herbs?
Adult: Bitter herbs, usually horseradish, are included in the meal to represent the bitterness of slavery.
Child: Why do we dip our food in liquid?
Adult: At the beginning of the meal, a piece of potato is dipped in saltwater to recall the tears that the Jews shed as slaves.
Child: Why do we eat in a reclining position?
Adult: In ancient times, people who were free reclined on sofas while they ate. Today, we place cushions on chairs to symbolize freedom and relaxation, in contrast to slavery.
- Show Slide 1.
Each component of the meal is special, and they are all placed on a special seder plate.
- Show Slide 2.
Matzo is unleavened bread and is eaten symbolically three times during the meal.
- Show Slide 3.
A lamb bone symbolizes the lamb that was sacrificed to daub blood on the doorposts.
- Show Slide 4.
An egg also represents sacrifice, but symbolizes something else, too. Eggs become harder when they are cooked, so the egg symbolizes the Jews’ determination not to abandon their beliefs under Egyptian oppression.
- Show Slide 5.
Greenery (usually lettuce) represents new life.
- Show Slide 6.
Saltwater represents the slaves’ tears.
- Show Slide 7.
Four cups of wine recall the four times when God promised freedom to the Israelites. Everyone, including the children, drinks from these cups of wine.
- Show Slide 8.
Charoset (a paste made of apples, nuts, cinnamon and wine) represents the mortar that the Israelites used 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 at Passover to announce the coming of the Messiah.
Time for reflection
The Haggadah ends, ‘Next year in Jerusalem, next year we will be free.’
The Passover festival is incredibly important because it not only recalls the flight from Egypt, it also reminds Jews of when they have been persecuted in the past. It reminds Jews that God will free them from those chains, because they believe that they are the chosen people.
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.
‘When you believe’ from the film The Prince of Egypt. It is 4.44 minutes long and is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NieC8KA0EvI