My daughter is learning the Four Questions in pre-K in preparation for Passover. She is very excited about the upcoming holiday, eagerly singing songs like "Where is Baby Moses?" and "Frogs on Pharaoh's Head." Yet, there are clearly more than four question floating around for her. When she learned about a few of the plagues, she asked why the plagues happened to everyone when Pharaoh was the one who made bad choices. The next morning the question was how God didn't burn when God was in the burning bush. Then why Moses was in the river Nile.
To try to concretize some of the story, I showed her the movie "The Prince of Egypt." This film is beautifully done and helped facilitate some conversation around parts of the Passover and Exodus story. What the movie also did, though, is show the pain of the plagues as they were inflicted on the Egyptians. By the time the Israelites emerge on the other side of the Sea of Reeds watching Pharaoh's army drowning in the sea, one is left with a bittersweet feeling.
While I understand that we want to be age-appropriate with our children and help them to see the fun and joy in the festival of Passover, I would also encourage us to remember that we have a responsibility to be honest about the power and questions the story raises. Amidst plague masks and toys is a dark story of an entire nation being punished by Pharaoh's hardened heart, which is in part hardened to ensure the Israelites are clearly delivered by God, reminding us that freedom can come at a price. Amidst the songs and the foods is a deep question of what it means to be free in our time, not just in that Exodus story. I would offer that most children can find some degree of that understanding, and we as adults should push ourselves to reflect on the deep meanings and questions of this festival.
As we approach our family's seder, we are certainly focusing on the joys--the food, the family, the singing, and especially my daughter's "Four Questions" debut. And, we will encourage her to offer her many other questions along the way, because each of us at every age is supposed to find meaning in the seder, the story, and feel it applies to them.
As you approach your seder, may it be one of many questions, because that is how we learn, that is how we grow, and that is how we will continue to find meaning in this Festival of Passover, the time of our freedom and celebration.