Haggadah Pesach (Unit 3)

  • 40 minutes
  • Grades: 7-8
  • Lesson Plan

by: Laura Notowitz and Alison Hurwitz of Milken Community Middle School

This unit was designed to help students learn more about the Haggadah and how to actively participate in the Pesach Seder. The unit uses “A Different Night: The Family Participation Haggadah” as the central text. This lesson focuses the four questions, and its historic content in the mishna.



Lights off, music playing, dressed up in costume, have food on tables.


What’s different about our classroom today? Make a list of your questions on your worksheets.

Set Induction:

What triggers a person to ask a question? (potential responses: curious, don’t know something/understand, to be contrary, information, something’s different than normal.)

Mah Nishtana are questions that are being asked because something is different than normal.

Activity One:

Mah Nishtana in A Different Night (p.14) – chant together.

Read the questions in English:

i. Usually bread, now matzah.

ii. Usually, vegetables, now maror.

iii. Usually, don’t dip, now dip twice.

iv. Usually sit upright, now recline.

Activity Two:

Actually, the questions first appear in the Mishnah. Read the three questions in the Mishnah.

Mishna’s questions are different – why?

(Holidays/Moed, Pesachim Ch.10)

Activity Three:

In chevruta, do the following exercise.

1. What are the questions in the Mishna?

2. Make a chart and fill it in.

  • How are they similar/different to the 4 Questions in the Haggadah?
  • What’s added? What’s missing?

Activity Four:

Work through the handouts to find out why the change was made:

4 Questions in the Mishnah:

In ancient times, it made sense for the children to ask the 4 questions at the beginning of the Seder because the Passover meal was eaten first. So, the child had already eaten the matzah, dipped the parsley in the salt water and the bitter herbs in the haroset, and had eaten of the roast meat of the paschal lamb. They referred to things that had just taken place.

The original questions concerned three things:

1) why eat matzah,

2) why dip the parsley in the salt water and the bitter herbs in the haroset, and

3) why eat of the roast meat of the paschal lamb.

According to the Mishnah, if the child did not ask on his own, the father would coach him to ask these 3 questions.

4 Questions in the Haggadah: (Outline for the Haggadah came from the Mishnah-Tractate Pesahim, Ch.10)

Questions and the Haggadah recital have been advanced to a position before the meal

Today, the timing of the four questions before the meal doesn’t really make sense – loss of a direct immediate relation between the Questions and the ritual of the meal (Goldschmidt and Glatzer, p.7)

A fourth question was added in the Haggadah, probably to match the four sons and the four cups of wine. The additional question was about the bitter herbs (overlapping the question about the dipping of the bitter herbs in the haroset). After the Temple was destroyed, the question about the roast meat had become obsolete so it was substituted with the question about the leaning posture at the Seder service. This custom was copied from the Roman festive meal custom of leaning in order to emphasize they were free. But this leaning question is now obsolete because we no longer really recline on couches during the Seder.

The Haggadah does not provide a direct answer to this question. The answer about the paschal lamb relates to a question that is no longer asked, and the question about the leaning posture is not answered at all!

Today, the children are taught in advance how to ask the four questions.

Since you have been taught in advance how to ask the four questions and what their answers are, it seems that they’re meaningless.

Return to set induction: Why do people ask questions? Maybe we should create our own questions.


Say: This year, create your own questions about the seder, after looking over the Haggadah. Come up with 10 questions about Pesach (on index cards) and ask your parents at home – reversing the traditional power. Questions can be multiple choice or matching questions, while others can be open ended.

Hand out assignment and rubric (see homework).

Say: How would you use this? How are you going to get their family to ask better questions? You could take their cards and put it in people’s places. Alternatively, you could put a blank card on each person’s place and each has to write a question either about Judaism or something meaningful about an Exodus experience.


Read p.15 in Haggadah – Izzy story – questions are really valuable!


Further Unit:
Unit 4

Previous Units:
Unit 1
Unit 2