We hope that these questions will stimulate a meaningful discussion at your Seder.
Q1: What are you a slave to today? Why?
Passover is the story of the Jews escaping from slavery to freedom, wandering in the Wilderness, and reaching freedom in the Promised Land.
We are all slaves to something today. Not physical slaves but slaves in our own mind.
Kids: What do you think about the most? You may be a slave to electronics, video games, or your favorite television show.
Adults: Are we slaves to our past? Or maybe slaves to worry, work, financial pressure, or scheduling?
Q2: What represents your Promised Land? What is freedom to you?
Kids: You may feel really free during summer vacation, summer camp, sleepovers, walking your dog, or attending a sporting event.
Adults: What does freedom look like to you? When are you truly free? On vacation? Engaging in a special family activity? Cooking dinner with friends? Going for a long hike? Is freedom just having unscheduled time? Do you have a favorite activity when you feel most free in your mind and spirit?
Q3: What are your basics in your life? What are your extras?
Matzo is a very simple food. The word in Hebrew means to drain out. Food at its most basic. Only flour and water, oil and salt. Matzo kept the Israelites alive while they were fleeing slavery. Eating matzo makes us think about the basics in life. What do you really need to live your life?
Kids & Adults: What do you really need in your life? What do you really need to live your life?
Kids & Adults: What are the basics in your life? What are your extras?
Q4: If you had to leave home in the middle of the night, what would you bring with you?
When the Israelites fled Egypt, they had to leave in the middle of the night and without much time to prepare. And they couldn’t take many possessions with them on their journey. There were difficult choices about what to bring with them from their homes.
If you had to escape in the middle of the night, what would you bring? (These can be physical or emotional keepsakes).
Kids & Adults: What would you take from your house in the middle of the night if you had to leave?
Q5: Who should fill Elijah’s Chair at your Seder?
Elijah is the prophet who never died. He is viewed as eternally returning to help the poor and assist those in need. When we believe in Elijah, and invite him to join us at the table, we receive a special gift or blessing because we can imagine him and his good deeds.
The special cup for Elijah, and in some families a chair for Elijah, is a reminder to invite spirit of generosity and goodness to join us at the Seder.
In some families, the children go to the door and open it for Elijah so that Elijah, or another good soul, can enter. (See footnotes below for Torah references)
Kids: Who is missing from our table this evening? Who do we need to invite in?
Kids & Adults: What special person would you most like to share tonight’s festival meal? This person can be alive today, or not. It might be a friend, relative, or someone that you would like to meet. Please share who this person is and why you would like to share tonight’s Seder with them.
Adults: Whom do we need to help us complete our journey from “slavery” to “freedom”? Who helps each of us become complete? Who or what do we need to lead us on our journey to freedom?
Q6: Can you think of something Ordinary that has become Extraordinary for you?
We think a lot about transformation from the ordinary to the extraordinary during our Seder.
A good example is the Afikoman. We ate matzo at the start of our journey out of slavery, but during the Passover Seder, we transform this simple humble food. We take one ordinary piece of matzo and by breaking it in half, it becomes an extraordinary piece of matzo: the Afikoman.
One example of something ordinary to extraordinary in my life is my family’s antique brass hand washer. I received it as a gift from my grandmother, Helen Fish Goldfarb. Her father, my grandfather Max Fish received it from his father (my children’s great great great grandfather Moshe Fish). It is from the late 1800’s in Dynow Poland and has been in my family for over 100 years. Perhaps your family has an artifact or heirloom that has been handed down over the generations, layered with the history of your family, and so has become “extraordinary.”
What is something ordinary in your life that you have transformed into something extraordinary?
Kids: Is there something special you have transformed in your life because you love it so much? Maybe a special blanket or doll? Or something you received from a special relative, or is it something you made? Something you have transformed by how much you love it and need it?
Adults: How do you know that it has become extraordinary? Do others or just yourself know this transformation? Do you have a “public” Afikoman and a “private” Afikoman?
Q7: When was a time in your life that you truly experienced Dayenu? When you knew that you had “enough”?
In Hebrew, Dayenu means “enough for us”. We both sing it and say it many times during the Seder. Dayenu can be an opportunity to recognize that you put forward your best efforts. Or, that you received a bountiful offering from someone else.
On one level, Dayenu speaks about giving thanks to God for delivering the Israelites into the Promised Land. On another level, it is a message about setting limits on our expectations. Dayenu is about learning to be satisfied and grateful with what we have received.
Kids: Can you think of a time when you received something in your life that you are grateful for?
Adults: Was there a time in your life that you didn’t experience Dayenu, when you didn’t appreciate that you had received “enough,” but should have?
Q8: What does it mean to be someone who leads others in rejoicing? When have you ever danced for pure joy to celebrate? What was the response of the group to your dance?
In Exodus after the Israelites escaped from the Egyptians through the Parted Red Sea and arrived safely on dry ground, Miriam took out her timbrel and led the Israelite women in dance and song to celebrate. This celebration also resulted in the bitter water becoming sweet for the Israelites to drink.
When I was in Israel for my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah at a restaurant on the Lake in Tiberias, there was another family’s Bar Mitzvah celebration, and I impulsively crashed the party and led my family in dancing the Hava Nagilah with the rest of the party. It was so much fun!
Kids: When have you started a really fun celebration dance with your friends? What was the occasion? How did they react?
Adults: When have you really let loose for pure celebratory dance? I always think of the fun of dancing the Hava Nagilah and raising the Chair at weddings and Bar/Bat Mitzvahs.
Q9: What is your personal Red Sea obstacle in your journey from Slavery?
When the Israelites escaped from slavery in Egypt, they faced one final obstacle before reaching freedom. They had to cross the Red Sea. In Exodus 14:15 God tells Moses that the Israelites are to go forward. They are being asked to take the first step. And what is the first step? To walk towards un-parted waters. It is an act of faith that proceeds God’s act of liberation. And so it is with our lives. The first step is ours. Then Moses is instructed to raise his staff and the waters parted, allowing the Israelites to pass from the present-past into the future to truly cross over.
Adults: What has been your final obstacle as you have tried to escape from slavery, or break bad habit, or start a new relationship? How did you overcome the obstacle? Did you ever proceed without knowing the solution in advance?
Kids: Have you ever tried to do something new and had an obstacle? How did you overcome it?
Torah Passage: Exodus 14:12.
“Then the lord said to Moses, “why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. And you lift up your rod and hold out your arm over the sea and split it, so that the Israelites may march into the sea and onto dry ground”
Torah Footnotes for Dinner Table Discussions:
Torah references for Elijah and Elijah’s Cup
You have asked a difficult thing, he said. “If you see me as I am being taken from you, this will be granted to you, if not, it will not.” As they kept on walking and talking a fiery chariot with fiery horses suddenly appeared and separated one from the other, and Elijah went up to Heaven in a Whirlwind. 2 Kings 2:10-11, p. 77 JPS. Note: Elijah went up in a whirlwind” but it doesn’t say that he died.
The Connection to Passover and Parting of the Red Sea: 2 Kings 2:13, p. 77 JPS
(Elisha) picked up Elijah’s mantle, which had dropped from him, and he went back to the Jordan River. “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah? As he too struck the water, it parted to the right and to the left, and Elisha crossed over.”
These are references to Moses striking the rod and parting the Red Sea, and the Israelites Crossing over the Red Sea to escape slavery.
Torah Reference For Miriam’s Dancing Question:
Exodus 15:19-22, p. 146 JPS
For the horses of Pharaoh, with his chariots and horsemen, went into the sea; and the Lord turned back on them the waters of the sea; but the Israelites marched on dry ground in the midst of the sea. Then Miriam, the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all of the women went out after her in dance with timbrels. And Miriam chanted for them “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; Horse and drive he has hurled into the Sea.”
Shortly thereafter, when the Israelites, had only bitter water to drink, the Lord gave the Israelites Sweet and Potable Water.