Passover, Freedom and Education

The reason behind having freedom is that life without a purpose is in itself a form of slavery. When freedom is referred to in the Torah, it is linked to a purpose.

Before our journey out of Egypt, our redemption from slavery to the Egyptians, G-d clearly says, “Let my people go – and they will serve me”. With 613 mitzvot, Jewish laws and traditions, the Torah gives us an educational blueprint for living. Our values and history, the ethics of our fathers, all combine to guide us in living a life where we can choose to make a difference.

We find ourselves in an unusual situation in modern history. Now more than ever we are surrounded by values that lead us back into slavery. The trials of living in a modern world, where we are bombarded by advertising, confusing choices, and a rat race of competition are at odds with the education we try to give our children. When did freedom become a exercise in keeping up with the expectations of others?

Pesach is a festival where we take the commandment of teaching our children and have to apply it at our Seder Night. In fact, the primary function of the traditional Seder Night is to teach our children.

According to the former UK Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks – “The message of Passover remains as powerful as ever. Freedom is won not on the battlefield but in the classroom and the home. Teach your children the history of freedom if you want them never to lose it.”

We tell the story of the four sons.

The eldest son is wise, he asks for education – “What are the testimonials, statutes and laws Hashem our G-d commanded you?” We see here that education is so ingrained within our communal psyche that the eldest son is asking for more information, he wants to learn.

We learn that the second son is wicked and considers himself separate to everyone else. Yet he too asks a question – “What does this drudgery mean to you?” It is interesting to note that his question defines him as wicked by use for the word you. He has taken himself our of the question. Yet that is no different from the eldest son, who also used the word you when he asked what was commanded.

The third son is simple, his question is basic – “What’s this?” Although we refer to him as simple he is merely copying his brothers on his own level and asking for explanation.

And the fourth son cannot ask. He is too young, so we are told to tell the story, to explain the history, to answer the questions of the older brothers. Simply by being at the Passover Seder the youngest son, although too little to ask his own questions is still beginning his education.

We have to teach our children. Judaism puts this requirement among the highest of all our laws. We say the phrase at least twice a day in prayers and from biblical times to modern day we teach in every way possible. Our history, our laws, and our traditions.

But we have to consider the subtle dangers of unrestricted freedom.

What are we are teaching our children about this freedom?

We are only strong as a nation if we understand that we are all the same regardless of outside appearances. We all have the same basics rights and education is one of them. As a people we are commanded to help others and without empathy, considering others as ourselves we cannot achieve this.

One argument from Passover is that the wicked son does not believe this is relevant to him. He doesn’t want to learn and demonstrates by his question that he has missed the point of being a part of our Jewish world and the wider community.

History throughout the ages teaches of the difficulty we have as human beings to move on from a culture of slavery to others. But slavery still exists. Slavery to modern day ideals and idols, money, fame and possessions.

Real freedom is the understanding that we have the ability to choose how we live our lives, how we can help others, and how with this education we can truly impact the world.

About the Author
Abi Taylor-Abt is an outstanding Jewish Educator and Curriculum Developer who has worked in the field of Jewish Primary and Secondary Educational Curriculum Development for over twenty years. She is the author of Lessons in Jewish Learning - a grab and go curriculum for communities and Jewish schools. Originally from London, Abi spent time living in Israel, South Africa, England and the United States. After working in Boise, Idaho, Abi spent 5 years in Israel for the second time whilst her children served in the army. She is currently Director of Education for Yachad a combined educational endeavour between the conservative congregation of Beth Shalom and the reform community of Temple Emanu-El in Michigan, USA. A 2018 recipient of the Klein/Grinspoon Award for Excellence in Jewish Education, Abi is also awaiting the video version of her recent ELI Talk Detroit Speaker Fellowship.