From Slavery to Freedom – for younger students

The song Avadim hayinu, ata bnei chorin  – “We were slaves, now we’re free humans” is based on a passage in the Haggadah that describes the dramatic change the Children of Israel underwent from slavery to freedom. This resource discusses these themes and connects both conditions to experiences in our own lives.

Resource Ages: 6-8


Avadim Hayinu We Were Slaves (words from the Haggadah; melody: Shalom Postolsky)

We were slaves – now we are free people.

עֲבָדִים הָיִינוּ, הָיִינוּ,

עַתָּה בְּנֵי חוֹרִין, בְּנֵי חוֹרִין.

עֲבָדִים הָיִינוּ,

עַתָּה, עַתָּה בְּנֵי חוֹרִין, בְּנֵי חוֹרִין. 

“Now there arose a new king over Egypt […] And he said to his people, “Look, the people of the Children of Israel are more and mightier than we; come, let us deal wisely with them, in case they multiply, and in the event of war they might join our enemies and fight against us, and so go up out of the land.” […] So the Egyptians made the Children of Israel perform hard labor. And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage—in mortar, in brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. All the work they did was performed through hard labor.”

(Exodus 1:8-14)

וַיָּקָם מֶלֶךְ חָדָשׁ עַל מִצְרָיִם… וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל עַמּוֹ: הִנֵּה עַם בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל רַב וְעָצוּם מִמֶּנּוּ. הָבָה נִתְחַכְּמָה לוֹ, פֶּן יִרְבֶּה וְהָיָה כִּי תִקְרֶאנָה מִלְחָמָה וְנוֹסַף גַּם הוּא עַל שֹׂנְאֵינוּ, וְנִלְחַם בָּנוּ וְעָלָה מִן הָאָרֶץ. … וַיַּעֲבִדוּ מִצְרַיִם אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּפָרֶךְ. וַיְמָרְרוּ אֶת חַיֵּיהֶם בַּעֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה בְּחֹמֶר וּבִלְבֵנִים, וּבְכָל עֲבֹדָה בַּשָּׂדֶה. אֵת כָּל עֲבֹדָתָם אֲשֶׁר עָבְדוּ בָהֶם בְּפָרֶךְ.

Foundations for Planning

Essential Questions

  •  What can we learn from different generations?
  • What does it mean to be “free” in Judaism?
  • How is the Torah story my story?

Content Questions Related to the Essential Questions

What does slavery mean? What does freedom mean?

Background for Teacher

According to the Book of Shemot (Exodus), the Children of Israel who had moved to Egypt due to the famine in the Land of Israel multiplied there and came to be perceived by Pharoah as a threat to Egypt (1:8-14). In order to control...

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According to the Book of Shemot (Exodus), the Children of Israel who had moved to Egypt due to the famine in the Land of Israel multiplied there and came to be perceived by Pharoah as a threat to Egypt (1:8-14). In order to control them and prevent them from revolting, the Egyptians enslaved the Children of Israel. The section Avadim Hayinu – We Were Slaves – in the Haggadah is based on a verse from Deuteronomy (6:21): “Then you shall say to your son: ‘We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.’” This section expresses the underlying approach of the Haggadah – that it was not an obvious or trivial thing to come out from slavery to freedom, and that if Moses had not brought us out of Egypt, we would have remained there as slaves for many generations. Elsewhere in the Haggadah we read: “In every generation, every person must regard themselves as if they had come out of Egypt.” This belief shapes the experience of freedom we celebrate at Pesach – the value of being a free human who is not enslaved to anyone.

Freedom is also the possibility to choose and do things independently, unlike a slave, who is not free to plan their own day and to express their ideas and wishes freely. 

The words of the song “Avadim hayinu, ata bnei chorin” are based on this passage in the Haggadah. Shalom Postolsky, who composed the melody, was one of the first members of Kibbutz Ein Harod, and he wrote the tune for the Seder held on the kibbutz. The song only has a few words but contains two distinct and contrasting halves – “we were slaves,” and “now we are free humans.”

Optional Hooks
In-Depth Discussion
Suggested Activities
Further Study
  • Watch this video with excerpts from the movie “Prince of Egypt”. Ask the students to pay attention to the way the figures’ bodies move in the case of the slaves and then again when they are free. What other differences can they see between the slaves and the free people? Now listen to the song Avadim Hayinu and ask the students to perform the movements of the slaves as compared to those of free people. 
  • Tell the students the story from the book of Shemot (Exodus) about the slavery of the Children of Israel in Egypt, the exodus, and how they became free people. Now divide the students into groups. Each group has to tell the story of the Children of Israel in first person, starting from a different part of the story (one group describes slavery, the next one the hope that arose when Moses arrived, the Ten Plagues, and the exodus. ) With younger students the whole class can do this together – ask each student in turn to describe one stage. You can help them begin (“When I was a slave I had to….” “Every morning I said…” etc.)

Click here to view our consolidated list of suggested interactive pedagogies for classroom discussion.

  1. The song says that “we” were slaves in Egypt. Why doesn’t it say “the Children of Israel were slaves.” In what way were “we” slaves?
  2. What do you think was the hardest thing about slavery in Egypt? Explain your answer.
  3. According to the story, what did the Children of Israel do in Egypt? What couldn’t they do, in your opinion? What could they do after they left Egypt?
  4. How do you think it feels to be a slave? How does it feel to be free? What things can a free person be grateful for? 
  5. What’s the difference between a slave and someone who just works hard? What’s the difference between normal work and slavery?
  6. What things stop a slave from becoming a free person?
  7. Judaism attaches great importance to freedom. Why do you think it is such a big and important thing?
  8. There are different kinds of freedom. Can we do whatever we want? (go to sleep when we like, eat whatever we feel like?) Does this mean we aren’t free?
  9. Ask each child to give an example of something they do every day that they are free to decide by themselves. How would you feel if you couldn’t decide this for yourself anymore? Why is it so important to us to be able to choose for ourselves?

The students can draw themselves as “free people” – the descendants of the Children of Israel who came out of Egypt. What colors will they choose? Where is their figure positioned? What objects are around them that they wouldn’t have if they were slaves? Students who can write can add a speech bubble with things we can say today as free people that the slaves in Egypt couldn’t say.

  • Show the students the video of the song, which shows children dressed up like slaves in Egypt. What things about the children show us that they are slaves? Do you think this is a good way to express the idea of freedom? Do you have a different suggestion?
  • Teach the students the background to Pesach, including the different names of the festival and their meanings.
  • For older students: Teach the passage Avadim Hayinu from the Haggadah,  which discusses slavery in Egypt (the unit is for 3rd graders and above). What does this passage add to the song? What parts did the song leave out? What does the song emphasize – and why?
  • To illustrate the idea of “Avadim hayinu – ata bnei chorin” you could make a wall collage using ripped paper. Ask the students to bring a photograph of themselves and stick the photos on the board. In the background the students can draw the exodus or the parting of the Red Sea. Students who can write can add speech or thought bubbles to their figure, including a suitable sentence for their new status as free people.