The Exodus from Egypt as a Jewish Calling

This unit explores the centrality of the Exodus from Egypt in Jewish life. It suggests several reasons for its importance, and discusses the moral lessons from it that have guided human behavior throughout history.

Unit Ages: 15-18 | 4 lessons


This unit demonstrates the centrality of the Exodus from Egypt in Judaism, and the biblical imperative to remember it in all generations, offering several reasons as to why it is considered of such central significance. Indeed, so many Jewish religious observances revolve around this one event in history.
One reason offered for the significance of the Exodus is that it provided a basis and background for the commandments concerning morality and social justice.
Several texts demonstrated the use of the Exodus as a powerful event in world history that launched the quest for freedom for all nations, a process that is still incomplete.
As many communities have attained success, the reminders of history serve as an inspiration to fight against suffering and disadvantage to allow all people to experience freedom.
Everyone should understand that the story of the Exodus speaks directly to him or her as an eternal call for action.

Desired Outcomes

Big Ideas
  • The experience of the Exodus has had a lasting impact on how Jews have seen themselves throughout history and today.
  • The impact of the Exodus on Jewish ethics and living. 
  • How the Exodus story has been an inspiration for Jews and non-Jews alike during historical periods when freedom and liberty could not be taken for granted. 
  • How to protect the vulnerable in society has become a central ethical value because of the historical experience of the Exodus. 
  • The importance to create a personal connection to the story, and how this can change us as people.
Essential Questions
  • How do Jewish practices reflect Jewish values?
  • 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 can exploring the past impact our present?
  • How do challenges and struggles lead to growth?
  • Students will know that remembering the Exodus is a priority for Judaism found in the Torah
  • Students will know that there is an ethical imperative found in the Torah to protect the vulnerable in society, and this is linked to the national memory of slavery and Exodus from Egypt.
  • Students will understand that the Exodus has not just inspired Jews throughout history, but many non-Jewish communities and nations have found it a source of hope during their own struggle for freedom.
  • Students will understand that the Exodus has inspired Jews as a collective and as individuals to hold themselves to a higher moral standard.
  • Students will be able to analyze biblical and talmudic texts in order to ascertain the ancient source for Jewish rituals that are still practised today.
  • Students will be able to analyze the impact of historical events and national narratives on the national and individual psyche of Jews.
  • Students will be able to analyze and explore their own personal connection to Jewish texts.
  • Students will be able to navigate a Tanach, finding the chapter and verse when provided with a reference.

Assessment Evidence

What evidence will students provide to demonstrate that they:
Know the knowledge; Can do the skills; Can respond thoughtfully to the EQs and BIs

Teacher creates authentic assessments before beginning the unit

Learning Experiences

Possible Unit Plan

Possible Unit Opener: 

Interviewing ancient Israelites: In order to encourage your students to consider the importance of the Exodus narrative in what the Jewish people have become and who we are as Jews, ask for three volunteers (you can switch these with three further volunteers half way through to include more students) to role play three Israelites who have just left Egypt. You can say they are waiting at the foot of Mount Sinai for Moses to return, and in the meantime they are being interviewed by your class. 

  • Ask for volunteers to pose questions to the Israelites about the experiences as slaves and the wonders and miracles that brought them their freedom.
  • Then turn the tables. Allow the Israelites to ask the class questions similar to these:
    • How do you know so much about the Exodus?
    • Why is it important to you?
    • How often do you speak about it?
    • How has the Exodus impacted the Jewish people throughout their history?
    • Tell us a little about the Jewish people today? 
    • Are Jews today different because of the Exodus that happened to us four thousand years ago?
    • What role does the Exodus story play in each of your lives today?

Instead of asking for volunteers from your students to role play Israelites, you could find 2 or 3 people from outside your class (friends, teachers, older students, etc.) to dress up as Israelites and join you through a video conferencing call, which may help your students relate to them as strangers from history (rather than their friends pretending). 

Content Study: 

Each of the four lessons in this House stands alone, and can be taught independently.

Unit Closing/ Assessment: 

  • A creative final project could be to ask your students (in groups) to create a series of four profile pieces (either for a magazine/website article, or a television/youtube documentary/vlog) on the following personalities and how the Exodus has impacted their lives:
    • An Israelite who experienced the Exodus first hand
    • A Russian refusenik in the 1980s
    • An American revolutionary during the American War of Independence (late 1700s) or an American civil rights activist in the 1960s
    • A recovering alcoholic/substance addict
    • You (one of the students in the group)