In every generation, each person must see him/herself as if they left Egypt.
As it is said, “And you shall tell your child on that day, ‘This is done because of what God did for me when I came out of Egypt.’” (Exodus 13:8)
The blessed Holy One did not redeem only our ancestors; we were redeemed with them.
As it is said, “And God brought us out from there, in order to bring us, to give us the land that was promised to our ancestors.”
From the Passover Haggadah
בְּכָל דּוֹר וָדוֹר חַיָּב אָדָם לִרְאוֹת אֶת עַצְמוֹ כְּאִלוּ הוּא יָצָא מִמִּצְרַיִם,
שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: “וְהִגַּדְתָּ לְבִנְךָ בַּיוֹם הַהוּא לֵאמֹר: בַּעֲבוּר זֶה עָשָׂה יְיָ לִי בְּצֵאתִי מִמִּצְרָיִם” (שמות יג ח).
לֹא אֶת אֲבוֹתֵינוּ בִּלְבָד גָּאַל הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא, אֶלָּא אַף אוֹתָנוּ גָּאַל עִמָּהֶם,
שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: “וְאוֹתָנוּ הוֹצִיא מִשָׁם, לְמַעַן הָבִיא אֹתָנוּ, לָתֶת לָנוּ אֶת הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע לַאֲבֹתֵנוּ”
(דברים ו כג)
You will not harass a stranger or oppress [a stranger], because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
וְגֵר לֹא תוֹנֶה וְלֹא תִלְחָצֶנּוּ כִּי גֵרִים הֱיִיתֶם בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם.
(שמות כב, כ)
Foundations for Planning
- What is the relationship between freedom and responsibility?
- What does it mean to be “free” in Judaism?
- What are the Jewish values (e.g., freedom, responsibility, justice, community, respect of diversity etc.) that should be honored in an ideal society?
- How does the Haggadah help us to think about situations of freedom and slavery in our own time?
- Who around us is oppressed (literally or metaphorically)? What can we do to help alleviate that problem?
- What does the story of the exodus from Egypt teach us about our responsibility toward those who are not free?
- What does modern slavery look like?
Toward the end of the Maggid section of the Seder, after we’ve talked about the slavery of Egypt and the exodus from Egypt, we reach the In Every Generation passage, which teaches us to experience the story of the exodus from Egypt as something...
Toward the end of the Maggid section of the Seder, after we’ve talked about the slavery of Egypt and the exodus from Egypt, we reach the In Every Generation passage, which teaches us to experience the story of the exodus from Egypt as something that we each personally experienced. The identification with the story gives rise to an obligation to praise and give thanks for the miracle, which is how the Maggid concludes after this passage. Over the course of history, there have been other times of distress and exile for the Jewish people and the sense of identification with the story of the exodus from Egypt has given birth to faith and hope in the possibility for redemption from the current distress.
The first two sources presented here are found next to each other in the Haggadah and they both come from the Mishnah (Pesachim 10, 5). The third source is a verse from the book of Shemot (Exodus) that testifies to the ethical principle that is repeated throughout the Torah: Do not deceive or harass the stranger, for we ourselves were strangers in Egypt. A similar idea is repeated many times in the Torah. Jewish tradition draws a direct link between the slavery experienced by the Children of Israel, who were strangers in a strange land, and our ethical obligation toward strangers and others who may be oppressed. (The Torah speaks about three vulnerable populations: strangers, orphans and widows. Today, we can expand that obligation to include every individual or group that is oppressed or exploited.) The identification with the exodus from Egypt teaches about the tangible connection to the miracle that was done for our ancestors — which we celebrate — as well as the empathy that we need to have for all those who are currently weak and oppressed or have been in the past.
Show the students the picture of a young girl forced to work, from the “Where Children Sleep” photography project by James Mollison.
About the girl in the photo: Indira, age 7, lives with her parents, brother and sister near the city of Kathmandu in Nepal. In her home, there is one room with one mattress and one bed. Indira has been working in a local quarry since she was 3. Her family is very poor, so they all need to work. There are 150 other children who work in that same quarry. Indira works six hours every day and then helps her mother with the housework.
Ask the students:
- How does the picture make you feel?
- What’s the connection between the pictures and the holiday of Passover?
Have each student write out answers to these questions and then have them share their answers with the class.
Click here to view our consolidated list of suggested interactive pedagogies for classroom discussion.
- Why do you think individuals are obligated to see themselves as if they themselves went out of Egypt? Why isn’t it enough to learn about the story of the exodus from Egypt as something that happened to our ancestors? What’s the difference between an experience that we experience for ourselves and something that we have heard about happening to someone else?
- How can we see ourselves as if we came out of Egypt if we were born and raised as free people?
- Past difficult experiences can affect a person in different ways. A person can become more empathetic to others who have faced similar experiences or may become hardhearted to the suffering of others. For example, think about a child who has been bullied. Do you think that that child will tend to help others who find themselves in the same situation, or not? Explain.
- We were strangers in the land of Egypt, an oppressed minority group, and the Egyptians were cruel to us. Who among us is oppressed today? Think about people and groups living nearby and around the world. How can we help them?
- Why do you think that the Torah draws a connection between the Children of Israel in Egypt and the obligation to act in a morally appropriate manner with the strangers who live among us? What does this teach us about the relationship between freedom and responsibility?
- Why is it particularly important that we, the Jewish people, show particular empathy and responsibility with regard to the distress of oppressed members of society? Think about different eras in Jewish history that can teach us to act this way.
- The obligation for us to see ourselves, in every generation, as if we came out of Egypt teaches us to consider the difficulties we face each day and to find the elements of “slavery” and “freedom” in our own lives, notwithstanding how far we are from actual slavery. In Hebrew, the word מצרים (mitzrayim, Egypt) is similar to the word מיצר (meytzar, strait) from the root צר (tzar), which refers to distress or hardship. Think about a hardship that you experienced and got through. Was there a “Moses” who helped get you out of that difficult place? What “Red Sea” (stumbling blocks and challenges) did you need to get through on the way to freedom? What was the “promised land” that you reached?
- In the Optional Hooks section, we saw an example of slavery and suffering that exists today. How is this related to the passage from the Haggadah: “in every generation”? Many of the products that we enjoy are made by people who lack rights and freedom. We can avoid this by buying items that carry fair-trade certification. Research this type of certification, how it can be linked to the idea of “in every generation” and how we can act responsibly with regard to child slavery.
- To take a closer look at the subject of our responsibility toward those who are oppressed or those around us who lack rights, conduct a research project in the classroom. Have the students choose one subject to investigate, for example, modern slavery, child slavery, refugees, a struggle for freedom that occurred in the history of your country, etc. This research could include video clips, pictures, personal stories, etc. Afterwards, have a discussion with the class about different ways to help in each of the cases. If possible, think of a small project in which the students can participate. (Examples: Collecting bottles for their deposits and then giving the money to those in need, donating clothes and toys, an in-school campaign to raise awareness of the issue, etc.)
- Maimonides (Mishnah Torah, Laws of Chametz and Matzah, chapter 7, clause 6) presents this issue using language that is different from that of the Haggadah. He wrote, “In every generation, a person is obligated to present himself as if he himself, this moment, left Egyptian slavery.” Following Maimonides’ words, which point to an obligation for actual visibility, ask each of the students to bring in an object that represents slavery or freedom for them. Have the students present their objects to the rest of the class and explain their choices. Discuss: In what areas are we controlled by a person/object/habit/behavioral pattern from which we would like to free ourselves?
- Some people have a custom to have an empty chair at their Seder table, to represent people who lack freedom and cannot celebrate the holiday. Ask the students to choose a person or group that lacks freedom and to write their name on a special piece of paper, to be hung on such a chair. Have them decorate the paper appropriately. They could also design and decorate a chair in a way that expresses the distress of someone living under such conditions. This could be done as a drawing or as a sculpture.
- Study the following quote from Edmund Fleg, which concerns the moral, human obligation to act on behalf of those who are oppressed:
Because on that day God acted for me, I must act on behalf of all of those who are pursued. Because that is what our ancient Haggadah orders us: Not only all Jews but all people are obligated to see themselves as if they themselves left Egypt and to free all those moaning in captivity.
(Edmond Fleg, Toward the Coming World, originally in French)
Discuss the universal values that can be learned from Judaism and how those values are also found in other cultures. Bring examples from different historical periods of other nations helping the Jewish people and other peoples.
- Read the study resource “We Were Slaves” about slavery in Egypt. What are the similarities and differences between the two texts? What is emphasized in each text?