April 8, 2024
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April 8, 2024
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The Seder: Masterclass in Chinuch

Pesach is rooted in education from its inception, as part of its raison d’etre. A running theme throughout the process of the makkos—as well as Kriyas Yam Suf, is the acquisition of knowledge. The refrain “so you shall know,” appears over and over again in the pesukim regarding sippur yetzias Mitzrayim1, demonstrating a clear educational vision. In fact, the Baal Haggadah incorporated this educational theme of Pesach—not only into the content of the Haggadah—but into the actual process through which we relive yetzias Mitzrayim at the Seder. The Seder—through the masterful craftsmanship of the Baal Haggadah—leans into educational value at every turn; and remarkably, the educational methods incorporated into the Haggadah present a masterclass in modern themes in education.

It is worth highlighting a few of them:

1. Inclusion: While progress has been made since the 1980s in including all types of learners in an educational venue, this concept was already highlighted in the Haggadah as the format for our Seder. The חָכָם, רָשָׁע, תָּם, וְשֶׁאֵינוֹ יוֹדֵעַ לִשְׁאוֹל sit around the same table with equal rights to an educational experience.

2. IEP (Individualized Education Plan): The root of IEPs—the concept of catering education to each child—is illustrated admirably in the Haggadah. The Baal Haggadah illustrates how to חנוך לנער על פי דרכו, offering concrete suggestions regarding the approach for various learners with different abilities, interests or emotional/behavioral challenges.

3. Differentiated Instruction: While the חכם might represent a gifted child who will gain from greater intellectual stimulation, the רשע may present emotional or behavioral challenges. The תם needs a brief, clear summary, and the שאינו יודע לשאול might require a shadow to provide one-on-one support. Furthermore, varied learning styles are catered to at the Seder, as kinesthetic learners benefit from all the dipping and leaning, auditory ones await the familiar tunes and visual learners stare at the matzah and Seder plate.

4. Student-Centered Learning: Modern education has shifted from a “sage on the stage” model to a “guide on the side,” student-centric one. This approach is essential to the Seder, which revolves around questions asked by curious children seeking to learn. In fact, if children are not present, halachically, one’s wife should play the role of the student; and if necessary, one must even act the student role oneself, before providing answers to the central questions. The student role is indispensable because active learners are the crux of the Seder experience.

5. Making Use of Effective Questions: Best practices in education emphasize questioning as a key technique to enhance learning. Not only do questions drive review, summary and analysis, but they help us capture attention, heighten participation and stimulate discussion. At the Seder, sippur yetzias Mitzrayim hinges on its presentation in a question-answer format. As noted, a lone person at a Seder must even pose questions to himself at a Seder. The Seder is, moreover, replete with practices which encourage the children to spontaneously ask questions, such as dipping vegetables and removing the food early.

6. Brain Breaks: The Seder is constructed to weave in activity changes that enhance executive functioning and restore focus. The Seder has learners dipping, leaning, pouring for others and running around searching for the afikomen. Modern research highlights the benefits of such “movement brain breaks,” which are proven to be mentally and physically invigorating. These moments enhance problem-solving, reasoning, memory, learning and attention.

7. Story Acting: Like modern educators, at the Seder, we act the story out in order to concretize it and bring it to life. We lean like royalty, eat maror to re-live bitterness and matzah to re-enact both slavery and redemption. This process of enactment cements abstract concepts in our minds and helps with both understanding and memory. Furthermore, the Seder incorporates props such as matzah, maror, charoset and our finest China. In fact, the entire Seder plate is one big prop, beautifully arranged to bring to life Pesach concepts.

8. Modeling: Strong education hinges upon examples. The Haggadah doesn’t only encourage us to explore the topic of yetzias Mitzrayim; it is teeming with examples of how to delve into the pertinent pesukim (such as Rav Yosi HaGalili, with his subtle analysis and expansion of the makkos). The Baal Haggadah, moreover, brings “case studies” as an educational tool to demonstrate how to apply specific concepts to real life. For instance, after teaching that anyone who tells more of the story is praiseworthy, the Haggadah presents the case of the group of famed Tannaim who participated in a Seder together and spent the entire night discussing yetzias Mitzrayim.

9. Relevance: This buzzword in education gets to the heart of what our students are interested in, and what information they are likely to walk away with. An excellent lesson, therefore, must be as relevant as possible. The Baal Haggadah emphasizes, אילו לא הוציאנו, “If Hashem had not freed us from Mitzrayim, we would still be slaves today!” What could command a student’s attention more than that concern?!

The good news, then, is that we have this sophisticated wisdom at our chametz-free fingertips. The Baal Haggadah created the ultimate chinuch experience in his formation of the Haggadah and the Seder which revolves around it. It falls to us, however, to both continue mining the Seder for more educational tools and to continue pulling on the educational model that he set out for us.

Chag kasher v’sameach.

Esther Shulkes teaches Tanach at RYNJ middle school, and is pursuing her EdD at Azrieli.

1 “Through this, you will know that I am Hashem,” (7:17); “In order that you shall know that I am Hashem in the midst of the land,” (8:18); “In order that you know that there is no one like Me in all the land,” (9:14); “In order that you shall know that Hashem has separated between Mitzrayim and Yisrael,” (11:7); “In order that you should know that the land is Hashem’s” (9:29); In order that you should know that there is none like Hashem, our God,” (8:6); “And you shall know that I am Hashem,” (6:7); “And the Egyptians shall know that I am Hashem,” (14:18).

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