What the Bible says on remembering the Exodus

In this lesson the themes of the Exodus in Judaism and Jewish history are explored, including the importance to remember the Exodus, and the lasting impact that this experience has had on Jewish national memory, on the Jewish psyche, ethics, and living.

Resource Ages: 15-18


Shemot 13:3-4

And Moses said to the people, “Remember this day, on which you went free from Egypt, the house of slavery, how the LORD freed you from it with a mighty hand: no leavened bread shall be eaten.

You go free on this day, in the month of Aviv.

וַיֹּ֨אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֜ה אֶל־הָעָ֗ם זָכ֞וֹר אֶת־הַיּ֤וֹם הַזֶּה֙ אֲשֶׁ֨ר יְצָאתֶ֤ם מִמִּצְרַ֙יִם֙ מִבֵּ֣ית עֲבָדִ֔ים כִּ֚י בְּחֹ֣זֶק יָ֔ד הוֹצִ֧יא ה’ אֶתְכֶ֖ם מִזֶּ֑ה וְלֹ֥א יֵאָכֵ֖ל חָמֵֽץ׃

הַיּ֖וֹם אַתֶּ֣ם יֹצְאִ֑ים בְּחֹ֖דֶשׁ הָאָבִֽיב׃

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Foundations for Planning

Essential Questions

  • How do values and tradition impact my Jewish practice?
  • How do Jewish practices reflect Jewish values?
  • How do Jewish rituals and practices enrich the way I experience my life and the world?
  • What is morality and what are the factors that have an impact on the development of our morality?
  • What are the responsibilities of the individual in regard to issues of social justice?
  • How can literature serve as a vehicle for social change?
  • What does it mean to be “free” in Judaism?
  • What is the relationship between freedom and responsibility?
  • What are the Jewish values (e.g., freedom, responsibility, justice, community, respect of diversity etc.) that should be honored in an ideal society?
  • Why is it important for people and cultures to construct narratives about their experience?
  • How is the Torah story my story?
  • How would we define a utopian society?
  • How can exploring the past impact our present?


Content Questions Related to the Essential Questions

  • Why does the Torah emphasize remembering the Exodus every day?
  • How does Jewish ritual practice help us remember the Exodus? What impact do these rituals have on me in my life?
  • How does the Exodus narrative impact my day to day life as a Jew and a human being?
  • What is the connection between Shabbat and the Exodus, and what does that teach us for how we live our lives and what our society should look like?
  • If God pre-planned the national Jewish experience of slavery in Egypt, for what purpose was this historical experience?
  • Why is protecting the vulnerable in society a core Jewish value?



Background for Teacher

Shemot 13:3-4 and Devarim 16:1-3 The Significance of Remembering: These two passages, the first from Shemot and the second from Devarim, emphasize the significance of remembering the Exodus from Egypt. The first was stated by Moshe while the people were still in Egypt, even...

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Shemot 13:3-4 and Devarim 16:1-3

The Significance of Remembering: These two passages, the first from Shemot and the second from Devarim, emphasize the significance of remembering the Exodus from Egypt. The first was stated by Moshe while the people were still in Egypt, even before they had physically experienced the Exodus, in the context of an introduction to the laws of the annual observance of Pesach (Passover). The second text was said forty years later, just prior to their entrance into Canaan. What might  have made the event so significant that even prior to leaving Egypt Moshe felt it necessary to bring to their attention the importance of remembering what it was they were about to experience?

Freedom as a Mentality: One might suggest that Moshe’s charge to the people while they were still enslaved was an effort to free them mentally, even before they were physically free, even before they had walked out of Egypt. The vision of freedom, of being in a place in their future when they would be looking back on their slavery is an empowering psychological suggestion.

The importance of remembering the Exodus is reflected:

  • in daily prayer (included in the daily services are references to having left Egypt, especially in the Shema)
  • in rituals, such as the tefillin – rabbinic tradition understands that wearing them is meant to serve as a sign “that with a mighty hand the Lord freed you from Egypt” (Shemot 13:9). 
    • Some commentaries (Rashi, Ramban) explain that one will see the tefillin and this will bring to mind the miracles and they will speak about it in every generation. 
    • Others (Rashbam) suggest that one should remember the Exodus as if the story is written upon the skin of the hand, and that it should lay upon the forehead as an ornament – “adorn yourself with the Exodus.” One should “bejewel” themselves with it openly in the way that others adorn themselves with fancy head-jewelry, perhaps indicative of a certain sense of pride and willingness to let it be known to everyone the great miracle that was done for the Israelites at the time of the Exodus.
  • and in special holy days such as shabbat (in kiddush) and festivals (especially Pesach, including the Seder service where we spend the evening remembering in an active and experiential way the Exodus). 


Devarim 5:12-15

The Torah here links Shabbat with the Exodus from Egypt. What is the connection? Is not Shabbat a commemoration of the creation of the world, an event that predates the Exodus by a significant amount of time? A careful reading of this text might provide an answer.

Connection between Shabbat and the Exodus: The creation of the world is not the only foundation for Shabbat. The Israelites are commanded to rest along with their subordinates, human and animal, “so that your male and female slave may rest as you do.” Shabbat teaches the proper treatment of those less fortunate. It instills the value of abandoning all class distinctions for one day each week. The commandment is not merely to treat subordinates kindly and compassionately on Shabbat, but rather to rest from labor along with them. How does one know this? From the experience in Egypt, where all Israelites were equally subjected to second-class status and slavery. God saved the Israelites from that predicament and allowed them to develop and prosper as free human beings. But freedom often leads to distinctions in terms of wealth and status. God wanted to ensure that the people recognize that, despite appearances, one Jew is really no

different from another. There is no true basis for divisions between Jews based on financial or social status. God therefore established Shabbat in which Jews are to acknowledge that none is superior to another.

Devarim 24:17-22

The Exodus as an Essential Component of Israelite Character: God foretold the suffering that Israel would endure as foreign slaves in an alien land. The moment God chose to relay this was specifically as part of the covenant with Avraham (Bereshit 15:13–14). This suggests that the Egyptian experience is somehow of fundamental significance to the very reason of being for the Jewish nation. What was the purpose of this experience?


The Torah and Jewish tradition consider the Exodus from Egypt a pivotal event not just because of its significance in Jewish national history and not just because of what was revealed regarding the nature of God. It is important because it provides much of the basis for social justice and morality.


In a variety of passages, the Torah instructs the Israelite in proper behavior toward the underprivileged

  • one is not to subvert the rights of strangers and orphans; 
  • one is prohibited from taking a widow’s garment as a guarantee (for a loan); 
  • when reaping the harvest, if a sheaf or two are overlooked, they are not to be retrieved; 
  • when picking and gathering fruit, one must not pick a second time – instead, one is to leave the remainder for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow.

Jewish notion of Tzedakah rooted in justice: In contemporary society, one ordinarily refers to gifts to those less fortunate as charity. Charity is understood as that which is given voluntarily, out of the goodness of one’s heart. There are no laws regulating one’s charitable activities. The more compassionate one is, the more likely they are to give (putting aside for the moment any tax benefits that may come to the individual or to the corporation). The Torah takes a different view of charity. The word tzedakah ( צְדָקָה ), commonly translated as charity, is related to tzedek ( צדֶֶק ), justice (while “charity” is related to the Latin caritas, from the heart). The Torah instructs that assistance to those less fortunate is a matter of law. One is required to act in a way that reflects sensitivity and concern for those who are vulnerable. Part of what God has seen fit to give to a person

must be shared with the needy, regardless of how hard one may have worked for it or how attached one may be to it.

Slavery experience serves to instill the values of human rights: What is the basis for God’s imposition of such lofty demands? “Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and that the Lord your God redeemed you from there.” Jews were once (and sometimes still are) a persecuted ethnic group who suffered at the hands of oppressors. They were deprived of their dignity and were treated with great cruelty. God, in an act of great mercy, redeemed them and restored their self-esteem. But it was God who wanted for the Jews to endure in the first place, and God insists they never forget what it was like to be deprived of freedom and basic human rights. After the Exodus, there continue to be orphans, widows, and people who suffer abuse for various handicaps, all in need of support. Those who have been privileged with the divine blessing of the Exodus must never forget their humbling experience and must show compassion and sensitivity towards others at all times.

Devarim 15:12-15

Slavery experience teaches how to treat one’s workers: The Israelites were once slaves in Egypt. They understood the humiliation involved in slavery. God understood this as well. God created all humans in God’s own image to live with respect and dignity. God therefore freed Israel and punished their oppressors. But God warned against letting one’s good fortune go to one’s head. If an Israelite at some juncture in ancient times was forced to sell himself into slavery because of dire financial circumstances, one must be sympathetic to his situation. The period of slavery for that Israelite must be limited to six years, after which he is to be released. And when the Israelite slave is freed, he must not go empty-handed: “Furnish him out of the flock, threshing floor, and vat, with which the Lord your God has blessed you.” Jews must share their blessings because, after all, they were

also once slaves bereft of personal possessions. 

Shabbat Eve Kiddush

This blessing, the Shabbat evening Kiddush, recited traditionally in the home on Friday nights prior to the meal, first addresses Shabbat in the context of the creation of the world – “a reminder of Creation.” As stated in the Torah (Shemot 20:11), “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth and sea, and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.” Here Shabbat observance is associated with God’s creation of the world, a testimony passed down through the generations.

Then, in the second half of the blessing, reflecting the link between Shabbat and the Exodus noted in Text 3, one declares Shabbat to be the first of holy days, marked as a remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt.

Notes on the text:

  • The first paragraph of the Kiddush is taken from Bereshit (Genesis) 2:1–3.
  • Some actually begin the Kiddush with some or all of Bereshit 1:31.
  • The instructions contained in the text indicate the blessing for wine. Should wine be unavailable, or should one not be drinking wine for other reasons, one may substitute bread for wine and replace the blessing for the wine with the blessing for the bread – hamotzi lekhem min ha’aretz ( .(הַמּוֹצִיא לֶחֶם מִן הָאָרֶץ
  • The blessing presented in the text follows the standard Ashkenazi practice.
Optional Hooks
In-Depth Discussion
Suggested Activities
  • Write or project the following quote on the board at the front of the classroom:

“There is a profound difference between history and memory. History is his story – an event that happened sometime else to someone else. Memory is my story – something that happened to me and is part of who I am.”

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks


  • Ask your students what they think Rabbi Sacks is saying is the difference between history and memory? Is Jewish history ‘history’ or ‘memory’ for us? 
  • Explain to your students that Rabbi Sacks means that history that happened to your people before you were born can feel like your own memory, and contributes to who you are today – the product of generations of your ancestors and their experiences. 
  • Ask your students (individually, in small groups, or as a whole class) to discuss how an event that happened to your ancestors (before you were born) contribute to who you are today? 
  • Then ask them to compile a list of the events in Jewish history that they feel have made an impact on who they are today.
  • Explain that in this lesson they are going to explore the Exodus (that no doubt featured in the list) and how it has impacted Jews to this day.

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

The following resource bank of teaching strategies may be useful in bringing some diverse discussion methods for your lessons. For example:

  • Big Paper – Students have a written conversation with peers (can be used as a strategy for remote learning also)
  • Cafe conversation 
  • Give one, Get one -Students seek out and share ideas and information with classmates through this cooperative learning strategy.

These first two texts introduce to us the importance of remembering this historical event. They do not explore why it is important. You may wish to ask your students why they think it is important, and how the rabbis have legislated for this remembering in our daily and yearly Jewish lives:

  • Why do you think the Torah thinks it is so important to remember the Exodus?
  • When and how do we remember the Exodus in our daily and yearly lives as Jewish people?
  • What impact do you think these rituals and special days have on us as a people? 

Devarim 5:12-15 shows how one of the basis for Shabbat observance is as an anecdote to slavery. It does this by explaining that the Exodus is a reason for Shabbat observance. Shabbat is a weekly experiment in creating a utopian existence where there is equality for all people. This is the opposite of slavery.  The following questions may help your students make this connection:

  • What do you think the connection between shabbat and the Exodus is?
  • What do you think the greatest injustice of slavery is?
  • Is this addressed in any way in the ideas behind shabbat?

Devarim 24:17-22 provides a list of laws that protect the weak in society (e.g. orphans, widows, strangers). The Torah tells us that we must keep these laws, protect and show compassion to these disadvantaged people, because we were slaves in Egypt. The connection suggests that we know what it is like to be the weak individuals  in society, and therefore it should be natural for us to want to protect those who are weak in our society. There are also some that suggest that the continuation of Jewish history until today contains traumatic persecution that reminds us what it feels like to be the persecuted minority, continuously encouraging Jews to fight for the oppressed and for justice in society. These questions may help your students understand these ideas:

  • Which categories of people do these verses ask us to protect?
  • What do they all have in common?
  • Why does the Torah tell us we have to protect them?
  • What is the connection between being slaves ourselves and these mitzvot?
  • Do you think these verses help us understand why God chose for slavery to feature at the beginning of Jewish history?
  • Do you think there are aspects of Jewish history since the Exodus (until today) that are similar to slavery? Do you think these have had a similar impact on Jews to slavery in Egypt? How?

Slavery (and poverty) are damaging to a person’s basic dignity. The Torah states clearly that all human beings are created in the “image of God”, which bestows upon them basic human dignity, in equal measure. The laws contained in Devarim 15:12-15 ensure that we remember this when we deal with someone who has been forced to sell themselves into slavery due to their financial situation. Our national experience of slavery allows us to show compassion and empathize with their plight, and the Torah laws ensure that we act on this. These question may help your students explore these ideas:

  • Why would anyone choose to sell themselves into slavery?
  • how do you imagine that must make them feel/
  • How do these laws protect them?
  • Why do you think the Torah connects these laws to the national experience of enslavement in Egypt?
  • How has slavery in Egypt changed us as a nation?
  • Play the following music video of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” (this is a recent live version with the lyrics. There are other versions available online, including the original video from 1989 (without the lyrics) and this fan-created video with pictures from the historical events in the song). 
    • One of the possible messages from the song is how all of these historical events have contributed to who we are today.
    • Ask your students (individually, in small groups, or as a whole class) to compile a list of the events in Jewish history that would have made it into the song of Billy Joel was writing about Jewish history (you could ask your students to actually write their own words to the song). Graffiti boards could be a good way to facilitate this (this is also possible in a remote setting)
    • A Jewish parody band called Shlock Rock wrote a Jewish history version called “We’ve Got a Strong Desire” which you may wish to show as well, or instead of the original version to convey the  same point. You could ask your students to compare their list with the song. 
      • What events did it have in common?
      • How did their list differ from the one in the song?
    • Explain that in this lesson they are going to explore the Exodus (that no doubt featured in the list) and how it has impacted Jews to this day.
  • Ask your students to create an informational campaign (leaflets, posters, digital communications such as email blasts, a website, etc.) to raise awareness and support for a local disadvantaged group, or in support of a global issue (such as the uyghur community in China). They should use references to Jewish history, experiences, laws and ethics, in their campaign. 
  • Create the ultimate Selfie. Ask your students to: 
    • Upload a selfie to a mosaic creator website such as https://mosaically.com/ or  https://www.easymoza.com/  
    • They should then collect as many images as possible that represent important events from history that have had an impact on who they are today (these can be from Jewish history or other events in history that they think are important in explaining who they are today)
    • Upload them to the site so they become part of the selfie.
    • This project can be a collaboration (if the initial selfie is of more than one person)
    • Have your students present their final products to the rest of the class, explaining what images they used and why.
    • The message of this activity is how hundreds of events, many of which were before we were born, contribute to who we are today.
  • Look at the text of Friday night Kiddush (see below and this video) which your students may already be familiar with). Ask your students to analyze the text in chavruta (pairs) and answer the following questions:
    • The root remember appears in two different context in the kiddush. What are they?
    • How can one remember two events they didn’t personally witness? 
    • How are these two events connected?

Shabbat Eve Kiddush

וַיְכֻלּוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם וְהָאָרֶץ וְכָל צְבָאָם: וַיְכַל אֱלהִֹים בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי מְלַאכְתּו אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה וַיִּשְׁבּתֹ בַּיּוםֹ הַשְּׁבִיעִי מִכָּל מְלַאכְתּו אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה: וַיְבָרֶךְ אֱ-להִֹים אֶת יוםֹ הַשְּׁבִיעִי וַיְקַדֵּשׁ אתֹו כִּי בו שָׁבַת מִכָּל מְלַאכְתּו אֲשֶׁר בָּרָא אֱלהִֹים לַעֲשׂותֹ:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱ-להֵֹינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעולָֹם בּורֵֹא פְּרִי הַגָּפֶן:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱ-להֵֹינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעולָֹם אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְותָֹיו וְרָצָה בָנוּ וְשַׁבַּת קָדְשׁו בְּאַהֲבָה וּבְרָצוןֹ הִנְחִילָנוּ זִכָּרוןֹ לְמַעֲשֵׂה בְרֵאשִׁית כִּי הוּא יוםֹ תְּחִלָּה לְמִקְרָאֵי קדֶֹשׁ זֵכֶר לִיצִיאַת מִצְרָיִם. כִּי בָנוּ בָחַרְתָּ וְאותָֹנוּ קִדַּשְׁתָּ מִכָּל הָעַמִּים וְשַׁבַּת קָדְשְׁךָ בְּאַהֲבָה וּבְרָצוןֹ הִנְחַלְתָּנוּ: 

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ מְקַדֵּשׁ השַׁבַּתָּ:


The heaven and the earth were finished, and all their array. On the seventh day God finished the work that He had been doing, and He ceased on the seventh day from all the work that He had done. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because on it God ceased from all the work of creation that He had done.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who has set us apart through [the] commandments and has desired us. With love and desire, [God] has endowed us with the Shabbat that [God] has set apart, a reminder of Creation, for it is the first amongst the designated days that have been [so] set apart – a reminder of the Exodus from Egypt. [God], You have chosen us and set us apart from the nations, and the Shabbat that You set apart You have bequeathed unto us with love and desire. Blessed are You Lord, the One who sets Shabbat apart.