Below is a collection of Pesach lesson plans, interactive tools, and articles created by The Lookstein Center staff or contributed to the site by Jewish educators.
Pesach Holiday overview
- What: Pesach, or Passover, is the Jewish holiday celebrating the Exodus from Egypt described in the Torah. It is also called the Chag HaMatzot (Holiday of Matzah), Chag HaAviv (the Holiday of Spring), and Chag HaCherut/ Zman Cheruteinu (the Holiday of Freedom/ Time of our Freedom).
- Where: The story of Pesach takes place in Ancient Egypt, and has been told throughout the centuries at the Seder table of Jewish homes.
- When: In the Hebrew calendar, Pesach begins at nightfall of the 14th of Nissan to the 22nd (or the 21st for those celebrating in Israel). In the year 2020, Pesach starts at sunset of Wednesday, April 8th until nightfall on Thursday, April 16th.
- Why: Pesach commemorates the Exodus from Egypt as the Israelites’ freedom from slavery, and the birth of the Nation of Israel.
- How: Pesach is celebrated for eight days (seven days in Israel), during which many Jews eat matzah and refrain from eating leavened foods. The Pesach Seder takes place on the first two nights of the holiday (and only the first night in Israel) where the story of the Exodus is recited and experienced.
Pesach Mitzvot and Customs
Central Mitzvot and Customs of Pesach Are:
- Checking for Chametz (unleavened bread) (בדיקת חמץ): The search for chametz takes place the night before the start of Pesach (the 14th of Nissan). During the search for chametz it is customary for a person/family to turn off all the lights in the house and use candles (or flashlights) to search throughout the home for chametz in order to thoroughly rid the home of chametz. Many people “hide” ten pieces of bread throughout the house in order to ensure that they find chametz to burn the next day. A bracha is recited before beginning the search.
- Burning/Destroying Chametz (ביעור חמץ): Biyur Chametz takes place the following day in the morning. The chametz that was found in the search of the previous night is burned and it is declared that any chametz not found is “nullified like the dust of the earth.”
- Retelling the Story of the Exodus (סיפור יציאת מצרים): Throughout the Seder on the first two nights of Pesach, we tell the story of the exodus from Egypt through the use of the Hagaddah. A central idea is to relive the story of the Exodus and appreciate what it means to leave slavery and become free.
- Eating Maror (Bitter Herbs) (אכילת מרור): At the Seder, Maror is eaten to symbolize the bitter experience of servitude.
- Eating Matzah (אכילת מצה): Matzah, which is also called “the bread of affliction,” is unleavened bread which is eaten throughout the eight days of Pesach, but specifically at the Seder night. This is reminiscent of the matzah that was baked by the Israelites as they left Egypt since their departure was so swift that there was no time to allow the bread to rise before baking.
- The Four Cups (ארבע כוסות): Throughout the Seder, 4 cups of wine (or grape juice) are drunk.
- Leaning (הסבה): The 4 cups of wine and eating of matzah are to be consumed while leaning to the left, as a symbol of relaxation and freedom.
The Order of the Seder
The traditional Passover Seder follows a specific order, as outlined in the Hagaddah. The order is as follows:
- Kadesh (קדש): The Seder is opened by reciting Kiddush and drinking the first of the four cups of wine.
- Orchatz (ורחץ): Orchatz is the ceremony of ritually washing hands without reciting the bracha “al netilat yadayim” before beginning the rest of the Seder.
- Karpas (כרפס): After washing hands, a bit of karpas is taken (leafy green herbs or even potatoes) and dipped into salt water, with the bracha “Boreh pree ha’adama.” This represents the growth of springtime (greens), but counterbalanced with the tears of slavery (salt water).
- Yachatz (יחץ): During yachatz the middle of the three matzot is taken and split in half. The bigger half is set aside to be used as the afikomen at the end of the seder.
- Maggid (מגיד): Magid is typically the longest section of the Seder. It includes the youngest child present asking the Four Questions, followed by the discussion about the Four Sons, the Ten Plagues, and the song Dayenu, along with many other topics focused on in the Hagaddah, like stories from the Torah and Talmud. Families often customize their seder and expand on different aspects of the storytelling with commentary, activities for children, and more (*see our quick educational activities for Pesach below for some examples.) Magid ends with drinking the second cup of wine.
- Rachtzah (רחצה): Rachtzah is the section of ritually washing hands with the recitation of the bracha “al netilat yadayim” in preparation for eating matzah.
- Motzei Matzah ( מוציא מצה): The top two matzahs are eaten after reciting the bracha “ha’Motzei lechem min ha’aretz” along with a second bracha about the mitzvah of eating matzah.
- Maror (מרור): During Maror, a piece of bitter herbs is dipped in charoset and eaten. The bitter herbs used vary by custom (horseradish root and romaine lettuce are commonly used) and represent the bitterness of slavery. Charoset (a sweet mix which commonly includes apples, red wine, sugar/honey, and nuts, though recipes differ by tradition and cultural custom) symbolizes both mortar of slavery and the redemption.
- Korech (כורך): During Korech, a “sandwich” is eaten by putting maror and some charoset (varies by custom) between two pieces of matzah. This sandwich dates back from Talmudic times, when Hillel would combine meat from the Korban Pesach (sacrificial lamb offering), matzah and marror.
- Shulchan Orech (שולחן עורך): Shulchan Orech is the section of the Seder in which the main meal is eaten.
- Tzafun (צפון): Tzafun is the section in which the afikomen– the bit of matzah that was set aside earlier- is eaten. It is customarily the last food eaten on the Seder night.
- Barech (ברך): During Barech, Birkat Hamazon, Grace After Meals, is recited followed by drinking the third cup of wine.
- Hallel (הלל): Hallel is the point in the Seder when psalms praising God are sung followed by drinking the fourth cup of wine.
- Nirtzah (נרצה): Nirtzah is the section in which it is declared “Next year in Jerusalem!” and according to different traditions, various piyutim are sung (a famous one being “Chad Gadya”).
The Seder Plate
- Egg ביצה – The egg represents the chaggiga offering that was given on every holiday during the times of the temple. It also represents life-cycle and spring.
- Shankbone זרוע – The shankbone represents the korban pesach- the roasted lamb- which was a central mitzvah of pesach during the times of the temple and in the story of the exodus.
- Charoset חרוסת – Charoset is a sweet mix frequently including apples, red wine, sugar/honey, and nuts that symbolizes both the mortar of slavery and the redemption.
- Maror מרור – Horseradish root is commonly used to represent the bitterness of slavery.
- Chazeret חזרת – In addition to the horseradsh, bitter leaves like romaine lettuce are placed on the seder plate to represent the bitterness of slavery. This is what is generally used in the Hillel sandwich/korach.
- Karpas כרפס – Sweet green herbs (like parsley) or potatoes are also placed on the seder plate. Different meanings are given as to why. Some say karpas is representative of spring and others say it is as an additional symbol of slavery.
- Some people add other items such as an orange (as a symbol of inclusion) for modern symbolic purposes.
Pesach Traditions Around the World
- Among Persian Jews, it is common to use scallions to act out the whip of slavery.
- Syrian Jews and Jews from other communities in North Africa may break their matza into the shape of Hebrew letters during yachatz.
- It is a custom among Jews from Gibraltar to put brick dust in their charoset.
- Jews from many regions take pieces of the afikoman and save them in their pockets or home throughout the year for good luck.
- Many Morrocan Jews celebrate Maimuna the night after the final day of Pesach during which they invite family and friends to eat sweet pastries.
- People also like to personalize their seder plates with symbols of modern issues that they find meaningful.
Guide to the Passover Seder
The last piece of matzah eaten at the Seder, traditionally hidden by the Seder host and then eaten after dessert as a “last taste” of the Seder, once found by the Seder guests
Hard, backbreaking work (the type of work that the Jews had to do as slaves in Egypt)
Four cups (of wine or grape juice), drunk throughout the Seder
|Arbah Kushiot/ Ma Nishtana|
The Four Questions (part of the Seder, these questions traditionally sung by the youngest Seder guest, sum up the different traditions that take place throughout the Seder)
ארבע קושיות/מה נשתנה
The Exodus from Egypt
Leaning (the way one is meant to eat Matzah and drink wine throughout the Seder, to symbolize our freedom)
The sacrificial Pesach lamb offered during the times of the Temples
The ten plagues (brought upon the Egyptians while the Israelites were enslaved)
Pesach Educational Themes
- From slavery to freedom
- Overcoming obstacles
- Jewish identity
- The creation of a nation
- National identity
- Leadership (Moshe)
- The Ten Plagues
- The importance of sharing stories and continuing traditions
- The power of speech
- Hakarat Hatov (gratitude)
QUICK EDUCATIONAL ACTIVITIES FOR THE SEDER
The following ideas have been submitted to The Lookstein Center to be used at home or in a classroom model seder. Some activities can also work as class projects for students to bring home to use at their family’s seder. If you have any other suggestions for activities which you would like to be included to this list, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
- Catch the Phrase – Prepare phrases cards for use at the Seder. When the Seder begins, everyone picks a card with three words on it. Two are closely related to Pesach, and the third one is a random word. The goal is to ask a question or say a sentence at the Seder using all three of your words, without getting caught. The winner is the first person to use all of the words in a sentence without anyone realizing it. This encourages thought, discussions, and question-asking — in a unique way. Add rules as needed. For example, you’re disqualified if you wrongly “catch” someone three times. Sample cards include matzah, noodles, jump; pharaoh, hail, slippers; freedom, slave, garden; wine, four, radio; sons, questions, airport; wash, bracha, leg; sandwich, bitter, umbrella; custom, tradition, gloves; Egypt, Israel, restaurant; afikomen, hide, paint; charoset, Haggadah, stairs; sea, staff, electricity. (Submitted by Sari Margolis)
- Pesach Poses (Charades) – Before the Seder, make little cards with short Pesach-related scenes on them. Take turns picking a card and acting out what’s on it, by assuming one frozen pose. The others have to guess what you’re doing. (Sari Margolis) Examples include: taking cover from hail; trying to imagine you left Egypt; eating a korech sandwich; finding the afikomen; walking through the split sea; the son who doesn’t know how to ask; opening the door for Eliyahu; Pharaoh’s heart is hardened. (Submitted by Sari Margolis)
- Haggadah Poster – Help keep younger students focused on the Seder by preparing a big poster board in advance with the pictures of each stage in the order of the Seder (Kadesh, Urchatz, etc. etc.) in boxes, and have stickers or velcro-backed images (wine cup, washing cup, matzah, set table, etc.) for the kids to run up to place in the correct place when we get to that part of the seder. (Submitted by Bess Adler)
- Act it Out— This can be performed in a few different ways: Have the children introduce the various different parts of the seder in character as the Wise Child, the Wicked Child, and the Simple Child. (Submitted by Rob Scheinberg); Ask one child to be Moses, one child, to be Pharaoh, etc., and have them act out the Pesach story. Alternatively, ask each child questions and give him/her a chance to respond in character. For instance, ask “Pharaoh,” “How did you feel when your house was filled with frogs? What did you do?” (Submitted by Cara Weinstein Rosenthal); Build a character by going around the table and asking each person to answer a question as if s/he is a former slave leaving Egypt. (Submitted by Gidon Isaacs).
- Afikomen Ideas– To prevent fighting among children during the afikomen search, the leader places bits of matzah in sealed envelopes, each bearing the name of a child at the seder. Each child looks for her or his own afikomen; Hide the same number of pieces of matzah as there are kids, each in a bag with a number. The unnumbered one is the real afikomen which we eat, the numbers are the order in which the kids get to pick their prizes. The children can re-hide a high number in hopes of finding a lower one; For adults- Keep the afikomen wrapped and pass it around the table. As each person holds the napkin containing the afikomen, ask them to describe what it felt like to be in a situation where s/he felt s/he had to hide part of themselves. (Submitted by Beth Hamon)
- Interactive Echad Mi Yodea – Make posters/cards for each number of Echad Mi Yodea. Pass them out at the seder. Each participant has to lift their card at the right point in the song, each time. (Submitted by Paula Pepperstone); Quiz the group on each of the 13 things before singing Echad Mi Yodea. (I.e., name the 3 fathers, 4 mothers, 5 books of the Torah, etc). You can also prep answer cards in advance to help those that may not know all of the answers. It can be a fun twist to pass out a cheat sheet to a young child or someone new to the seder who may not be expected to know all of the answers. That guest can then surprise the table with their knowledge. (Submitted by Mark Sirota)
- Interactive Chad Gadya— Create animal sounds together, or each person gets an animal (Submitted by Ken Richmond); Wear animal masks while singing the song (Submitted by Sara Shapiro-Plevan).
Imagine Me at the First Pesach – This lesson plan allows very young children to connect to the Pesach story in a personal way. Written by The Lookstein Center, based on a lesson by Dr. Jay Monson, this lesson can be easily adapted for a virtual classroom.
Haggadah Pesach Unit – This unit for middle school students provides background on the haggadah and gives students ownership of the Pesach seder. Written by Laura Notowitz and Alison Hurwitz of the Milken Community Middle School, this lesson can be easily adapted for a virtual classroom.
Pesach Padlet – This interactive, collaborative bulletin board activity for elementary to middle school students allows students to expressively learn about the order of the Pesach seder. Created by The Lookstein Center, this online activity is very adaptable to a virtual classroom.
Haggadah Shel Pesach: The Fifth Son– This lesson plan for high school students focuses on Pesach and Jewish identity. Written by The Lookstein Center.
Parasha Va’era: The Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart – This lesson plan for middle school students has students read and analyze four different interpretations of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. Written by The Lookstein Center.
Ancient Egypt and Modern Germany: An Integrated Unit – This integrated Tanach and history unit for high school students examines Jewish identity, integration, and acculturation in a host society. Written by The Lookstein Center.
Breaking News from the “Egypt Times” – This lesson plan for middle school students includes writing newspaper articles describing key events that took place in the exodus of Egypt, using headlines given. Written by The Lookstein Center, this lesson can be adapted for a virtual classroom.
Pesach Resources, Stories, and Activities – The Pesach resources from the Israel Forever Foundation include crafts, stories, and more.
ARTICLES AND Podcasts
The Educator is the Midwife to the Birth of Questions– This blog post by Lee Buckman for The Lookstein Center’s series, Gen Ed Torah, connects pedagogical approaches to inquisitive learning to the Pesach seder.
Pesah Seder – This article by Zvi Grumet for The Lookstein Center’s journal, Jewish Educational Leadership, analyzes the true goals of the Pesach Seder.
The Prince of Egypt – This article by Yossi Ziffer for The Lookstein Center acts as a study guide for using the Hollywood film in class.
The Educational Pedagogy of the Four Sons – This article by by Russell Jay Hendel for The Lookstein Center addresses the four sons, which implicitly define a two-dimensional learning model in which learners are classified in the dimensions of knowledge [details-simple] and respect [apathy-wickedness].
Pedagogical Techniques from the Seder – This podcast by Mark Smilowitz for The Lookstein Center provides ten pedagogical techniques and approaches used by the Haggadah that we as teachers should be using in our classrooms.
Haggadah in Simple Hebrew – This printable Haggadah from The Lookstein Center-Instituto Bruckner is in simple, easy to read Hebrew.
Hebrew Addition to the Haggadah– This Hebrew resource connects Haggadic language to modern Israel.
Haggadah for Young Children – This free, downloadable Haggadah from PJ Library features colorful images and clear instructions for younger students.
Haggadah Text and Commentaries – A free online version of the traditional Haggadah text can be found on the Sefaria website, along with many commentaries on the text, for free online use or download.
Basic Pesach Haggadah – A basic printable version of the Haggadah text.
The Kveller Haggadah – This free, printable Haggah from Kveller encourages curiousity in children and adults alike.
Haggadah Companion – This printable companion to the traditional Haggadah from Aish UK adds commentary, insight and questions for reflection to enhance the Seder experience.
The Passover Seder: What to Expect – This video by Bimbam gives a general overview of the proceedings and traditions at the Seder.
The Passover Story in Ten Scenes – This informative video by PJ Library explains the story of Pesach to young children.
Shaboom: Passover Special Shaboom – This video for young children shares the themes and traditions of Pesach.
Passover! by Mayim Bialik – This informative video explains the story, customs, and traditions of Pesach for older students or adults.
The Three Lies of the Exodus – This video for middle to high school students from Aleph- Beta explores the true story of the Exodus.
A Lion King Passover – This parody music video from Six13 tells the story of Pesach in a humorous way.
The Four Sons – This video from Bimbam explores the four sons mentioned in the Haggadah as well as some common Passover traditions around the world.
Mimouna – This video clip from the ASF Institute of Jewish Experience highlights this unique cultural tradition.
Ma Nishatana from the Maccabeats- This version of the Ma Nishtana features interactive musical components.
Hebrew Ma Nishtana – This video from Hop! is a great way to teach the Ma Nishtana to young children using Hebrew.
The Four Questions – This video from Bimbam provides easy singalong instructions to help young children learn the Ma Nishtana.
Order of the Seder – This song by Zusha features a traditional tune for the order of the Seder.
Avadim Hayinu – This video features Debbie Friedman’s rendition of “Avadim Hayinu.”
Dayenu – This video from Ary the Lion teaches the “Dayenu” song to young children with a follow-along singalong using transliteration.
The Maccabeats – Dayenu – This version of “Dayenu” pairs the classic tune with multiple musical genres.
Vehi Sheamda – This song by Yonatan Razel is a modern, Israeli version of the classic “Vehi Sheamda.”
Chad Gadya – This singalong video from Bimbam teaches children the words and meaning to the song.
Who Knows One? – This singalong video from Bimbam teaches children how to sing an English version of “Echad Mi Yodea.”
Pesach Medley- This animated video by Micha Gamerman features a medley of many traditional Pesach songs.
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