The Passover Seder is really a model of education for children and adults. Here are six fundamental ideas:
1. Preparation and Effort: Nothing important or substantial is achieved in life without effort. Inherited money is much more easily squandered than money earned through sweat and hard work. Passover preparations are very labor intensive, but it is through this effort that we become more deeply invested in the holiday. Not only do we focus on cleaning the chametz from our souls as well as our homes but we immerse ourselves in the ideas and reality of Passover. Having worked hard to prepare, we are not just ready for the holiday with a clean house, a full fridge and a new dress but we care about the ideas, about the insights, about the goals.
2. Ask Questions: Answers are great but questions are even more important. They show involvement and engagement with the ideas. Questions demonstrate that the ideas matter and that we are awake and thinking. The youngest child asks the four questions so that they learn from an early age the value of questions. At our Seder table we give our candies for thoughtful questions. We want everyone on their toes, following the Hagaddah and thinking about what it says. Anyone can look up answers. Questions show you care and open you up to receiving an answer.
3. Treat each child differently: Through the example of the four sons, we learn to play to our children’s unique strengths and weaknesses. They are not carbon copies of us and we need to understand, validate and appreciate who they are. Then we need to teach them according to their individual interests, tendencies and desires. It’s a tall order but this is a parent’s job.
4. Tell Stories: The Hagaddah is the story of the creation of the Jewish people. Our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob made choices to recognize the Almighty and develop a relationship with Him but only through the national experience of slavery, redemption and the receiving of the Torah (49 days after Passover on Shavuot) did we become a people. This is our narrative. Passover is about God and the Jewish people, about the miracles He performed to liberate us so that we could deepen our relationship with Him. Stories are an ideal teaching tool. They involve the listener, keep their attention and may even take us back to questions.
5. Experiential Learning: There is knowledge that strictly intellectual; then there is da’at, intimate knowledge that combines the intellect with emotion, when an idea become truly real. Through eating symbolic foods like matzah, maror and charoset we internalize the experience of slavery. It becomes real to us. We identify with our forebears. And through leaning and feasting and other symbolic actions, we internalize the experience of freedom. Our appreciation of both elements is enhanced and we indeed feel like we were taken out of Egypt and can therefore experience the salvation and the gratitude.
6. Make It Fun: We want the Passover Seder to be an enjoyable experience for one and all. One year our guests bought T-shirts saying “We survived Passover at the Bravermans!” I think they were joking but if not, we missed the boat. It shouldn’t be an endurance test. It shouldn’t be dry or boring. (And neither should your menu!) We want to make it alive and exciting. Creative props have become the rage and a key element to keeping young (and old) children involved. Besides the standard throwing marshmallows for the plague of hail and sunglasses for the plague of darkness, I like to put jujube fish in red jello for the plague of blood and my husband does some magic tricks where he turns the sand into bugs (you’ll have to come over to see how he does it) – turning the bugs back into sand is the trickier part! Be creative and don’t be afraid to enjoy yourself. That’s actually the most important and fundamental idea of all.