As we sit around the table at the Pesach Seder, with all its beautiful traditions and meaningful symbols, take a moment to look around and appreciate every individual. We are each unique and different, and yet we have a shared history and destiny that unites us and brings us together on this special night.
That is often how I feel as a teacher before my lesson begins. I look around the room and see each student for the person they are and the journey they are on. And I ask myself “how can I make this lesson engaging and meaningful for each of my students in the way that they need?” That is both the challenge and the joy of teaching.
You know, from the child’s perspective there are the teachers and there are the parents. But in Judaism there really isn’t such a distinction. In many places in the Torah, we see teachers described as parents. For example:
- Rashi tells us (Devarim 6:7), on the famous words from the Shema, “Veshinantam Levanecha – and you shall teach your children,” ‘Eilu HaTalmidim – this refers to the students.’
- When Eliyahu HaNavi goes up to heaven, his student Elisha cries out “Avi, Avi, Rechev Yisrael – my father, my father, chariot of Israel (Melachim Bet 2:12)!”
- The Talmud (Sanhedrin 19b) teaches that Aharon’s sons are called “the sons of Moshe and Aharon” (BaMidbar 3:1) because Moshe taught them, which shows that whoever teaches Torah is like a parent.
Because to really impact a child it is not enough to be an expert in the subject matter. You must also love the child and know them like a parent does.
But it goes the other way as well. Seder night reminds us that parents are the ultimate teachers. The whole Haggadah is based on the verse “VeHigadeta L’Vincha… – And you shall tell your child on that day for this reason God did all this for me when He took me out of Egypt” (Shemot 13:8). And almost every paragraph of the Haggadah mentions either parents, teachers, students, or children. We do many unusual things during the Seder “so that the children will ask.” We read about the Four Children and the unique way the parent is supposed to educate each one. And we are told that when the child cannot ask “At Petach Lo – you open it for him,” meaning that we are to do something to trigger his or her curiosity and interest.
Just as teachers sometimes need to think like parents, parents need to sometimes think like teachers. And the 1st thing every good teacher needs is a lesson plan. After all, we expect our children to sit and read text for hours before they finally get to eat anything other than bitter herbs and cardboard matzah! So we need to plan. What are the big ideas I want to teach? How do the children at my Seder each learn best? What can I do to make it engaging for them so that they will be active participants and so that the lesson will make a lasting impression? How will I assess whether learning took place?
This Haggadah is an amazing text. But it takes a master teacher to make the text come alive, feel relevant and interesting, and have a lasting impact long after the lesson. Maybe you can bring props to the table and act out parts of the story. Maybe you can give clues and have contests to see who can find the answer in the text. Maybe you can throw out a moral dilemma from the story and invite two people at the table to each choose a famous personality from Jewish History and debate the issue. There is no end to the fun and creativity you can have (even while still making sure that everyone is fed and happy). It just takes a little planning.
I bless each of us that this seder will be the best one we have ever had. If we think like both parents and teachers, I guarantee that it will be a lesson our children will hold onto for the rest of their lives.
P.S. Here is a list of Seder Discussion Themes that I have compiled over the years which you are welcome to use at your seder.