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Reprinted with permission from the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem
Modern Jewish educators frequently use drama as an educational tool in order to bring a biblical or talmudic story to life, or to get a child more actively involved in the subject under discussion.
Much of the Pesach seder is also geared toward children, in order to fulfill the mitzvah of “v’higadita l’vinkha“–“and you shall tell your children” (Exodus 13:8). That is why the Talmud instructs us to distribute parched grain and nuts to children at the seder, so that they should ask questions and not fall asleep (Pesahim 109a). Therefore, it should come as no surprise that three sets of Pesach customs use drama in order to arouse the interest of children and bring the Exodus to life.
“The Wandering Jew”
There is a widespread custom among Sephardic and Oriental Jews, according to which various members of the family at various points in the seder dress up as if they had just left Egypt. Other family members ask formal questions and “the wandering Jew” explains that he has left Egypt and is on his way to Jerusalem. These ceremonies differ in various details; what follows is a representative selection:
1) Benjamin II (Yisrael ben Yosef Benjamin) described such a ceremony “in Asia” ca. 1853. They dress up a young man in “kley golah” (Ezekiel 12:3: “gear for exile”) and before the recitation of the Haggadah, he appears before the participants with his staff in hand and his satchel on his shoulder. The father asks him:
“From where do you come, O pilgrim?”
“From the land of Egypt,” says the lad.
“Did you go out to freedom from the bondage of Egypt?”
“Yes indeed,” replies the lad, “and now I am a free man.”
“Where are you going?”
“I am going to Jerusalem,” he replies.
With great joy the participants begin to tell the story of the Exodus.
2) R. Ya’akov Sapir described the custom in San’a, Yemen in 1858:
The seder is observed as is the custom among all Jews. One of the members of the family takes a matzah and ties it in a scarf on his shoulder and walks around the house. The others ask him: “Why are you doing this?” And he replies: “So did our ancestors when they left Egypt in haste.”
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