A lively discussion can add oomph to the seder

The Passover haggadah challenges us not just to remember the pain of slavery and the joy of freedom, but to relive the journey from one state to the other.

In that spirit, here’s an idea for a discussion to help bring the saga of the Exodus to life.

Here’s the set-up: It’s the Israelites’ last night in Egypt, the night of the final plague, the slaying of the Egyptian first- born. When the Egyptians learned about this fearful plague, some Egyptian mothers decided to seek refuge for their firstborn in the houses of Israelites. Imagine the Israelites, sitting safely in their homes, and suddenly there’s a knock at the door and an Egyptian mother is pleading for the life of her firstborn.

Should the Israelites take in the Egyptian firstborn?

This works very well as a simple drama. Ask a few people to play the part of the Egyptian mothers begging to save the lives of their firstborn. Ask others to play the role of Israelites. Since Israelites don’t always agree with one another, some should argue for and others against letting in the Egyptians.

Remind everyone that these are matters of life and death. Arguments based on any historical periods are welcome.

Feel free to allow questions about the mor-ality of the last plague. Also remember that Exodus 12:22 says that the Israelites should not leave their homes until morning. The Bible says nothing about whether or not to let others in or to keep the door closed.

Then ask your group to vote: Are you letting in the Egyptians or not?

Now share the following midrash (Exodus Rabbah 18:2): When the Egyptians heard that God would strike down their firstborn, some were afraid and some were not. Those who were afraid brought their firstborn to an Israelite and said, “Please allow him to pass this night with you.” At midnight, God smote all the firstborn. As for those who took asylum in the houses of the Israelites, God passed between the Israelites and the Egyptians, killing the Egyptians and leaving Israelites alive. Upon waking, the Jews found the Egyptians dead.

The midrash seems to suggest that independent of any divine plan, on Earth we have a responsibility to act in accordance with human moral codes that stress the importance of saving human lives.  Have we stood idly by the blood of our neighbors (Leviticus 19:16)? Have we remembered to “know the heart of the stranger because [we] were strangers in Egypt” (Exodus 23:9)? Have we used our memories of suffering and persecution — in Egypt and elsewhere — to nurture vengeance or to remember our responsibility to create a better world?

David Arnow is the author of “Creating Lively Passover Seders, 2nd Edition: A Sourcebook of Engaging Tales, Texts & Activities” (Jewish Lights Publishing).