Passover: Slavery and Freedom

This unit examines the theme of freedom on Passover and its implications for our lives even beyond the Passover seder.

Unit Ages: 9-11, 12-14 | 2-3 lessons

Introduction

On Passover we commemorate the Israelites’ exodus from slavery in Egypt to freedom, a moment in time that symbolizes their becoming a nation. Chazal (our Sages) called this holiday “the time of our freedom”. In this unit, we will examine the following questions: What is the meaning of freedom? What value is inherent in it? And what is our responsibility, as people who were ourselves once slaves, to care for other oppressed people? We will also examine the concept of freedom – both our own and that of our community – through a contemporary prism.

Desired Outcomes

Big Ideas

Freedom is a value that has accompanied our nation throughout its history and remains significant for us as a nation and as individuals, as expressed in the Passover Haggadah.

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?
  • What is the relationship between freedom and responsibility?
Knowledge
  • Students will be familiar with passages from the Maggid section that deal with freedom avadim hayinu (”we were slaves”) and bechol dor v’dor (“ in every generation”).
  • Students will understand the meaning of the various customs and foods that symbolize slavery and freedom on Passover (matzah, maror, charoset, etc.)
  • Students will be familiar with examples from their own community’s recent history of a lack of freedom (if they exist).
Skills
  • Students will be able to identify the location of the various passages in the Passover Haggadah.
  • Students will be able to find examples  that illustrate the concept of bechol dor v’dor (“in every generation”) in their personal lives or in contemporary society.
  • Students will be able to explain how the exodus story remains a relevant symbol for them and other people in the world, both Jewish and non-Jewish.

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

The teacher will determine a means for assessment before beginning to teach the curriculum module.

Learning Experiences

Possible Unit Plan

Possible Unit Opener:

If the students have computers, send them a link to a shared word cloud that they can open on the Mentimeter website. In the first stage, each student will list words that remind them of slavery, and after that will list words that remind them of freedom. At each stage, check with the students: What words repeat themselves often? What can we learn from this about the topics of slavery and freedom?

 

Content Study:

  • Begin by learning the passage: Avadim Hayinu – We Were Slaves. Explore the meaning  and consequences of the statement: “We too were slaves, not just our ancestors.” After studying the sculpture presented in the resource, use body movements to illustrate the feeling of slavery, and in contrast, the feeling of freedom.
  • The passage  In Every Generation takes us one step further – to the responsibility that comes with freedom. Discuss the responsibility that we have today, as descendants of slaves, to take care of oppressed people in our midst. Who are these oppressed people?
  • The exodus from Egypt was possible thanks to the people’s faith and trust in God’s promise. Study the passage Vehi She’Amda – God’s Promise to Abraham and consider how this trust has influenced  the nation throughout Jewish history up until the present day.

Unit Closing/Assessment:

  • Freedom and responsibility: Suggest an activity for helping those in need, inspired by the idea of our responsibility to the oppressed,  having been oppressed in Egypt (stated in the verse from Exodus and in Edmund Fleg’s ideas, both found in the resource In Every Generation  (source and further study). Look for people in your area who could use assistance, and organize activities that the students can take part in (i.e. collecting food, clothes and games for people in need). 
  • Divide the students into pairs and have them come up with suggestions for how they can convey the ideas of slavery and freedom on Seder night with their family or community. They should then share their thoughts with the rest of the class.