Passover is fast approaching, and I am overwhelmed by how much actual work goes into preparing for this week-long holiday. The days might be long, but the years are short, and time doesn’t stop for my procrastination andI bury my head in denial ruminations. As I bury my head in denial about having to clean out every bookshelf, shake off each book, get to the bottom of the toy bins and turn over our entire kitchen into one that’s kosher for Passover, I must remind myself that dust is not the forbidden chametz (leavened foods). And my children are not the sacrificial lambs to be offered at the altar of over-the-top meticulous holiday observance.

For those unfamiliar with Passover, it is ironically the holiday in which we are commanded to celebrate personal freedom: “In every generation, one must look upon himself as if he personally had gone out of Egypt” (Pesachim 116b). At the same time, we veritably enslave ourselves to a chametz-free home, our newly picky (what do my carb-lovers eat now?!) eaters and cooking for masses of people coming to the seder.

Educators have long known about this paradoxical nature of truths. In her book, Conscious Discipline—Building Resilient Classrooms, Dr. Becky A. Bailey points out several observations:

  • Focusing on the problem prevents finding a solution.
  • The child who creates distance is desperate for connection.
  • Limits or boundaries create personal freedom.
  • Power comes from choice, not force.

What’s most exciting to me is how these empirical conclusions have been evident in Torah, G‑d’s wisdom, all along, including in the multiple themes of Passover.

It is common to recognize how much the Passover seder relates to children, but I would even go as far as to say it also sets an example for progressive education. How so?

The seder with its matzah, four cups of wine and maror (bitter herbs) is the central practice of the holiday, and it is all about the kids. In a good way. We are all somebody’s child. So the seder engages the adult-child too.

It is almost as if the entire setup of the seder is in collaboration with Professor Howard Gardner and his theory of multiple intelligence. While participating in the seder, we go about creating space for each type of learner to be an active participant. There is the sensory feel of the crunchy and bumpy matzah, the kinesthetic activity of pouring wine as each of the 10 plagues are mentioned, and the Haggadah itself is a treasure for the linguist. And the pivotal moment of the whole seder is the re-telling of the exodus story.

So for me, as a mom and educator, Dayenu . . .this is enough.

But there is more.

While there are many modern lessons to be taken from the ancient practices of the seder and the Passover theme of free choice, the one that strikes me deeply is about parenting and educating our children in today’s world.

There are four well-known sons (or daughters) named in the Haggadah: the righteous, the wicked, the simple and the one who doesn’t even know how to ask.

In recent years, we added a fifth: the one who doesn’t even know it isThe pivotal moment of the whole seder is the re-telling of the exodus story Passover, so he doesn’t show up for the seder. (Do you know that Jewish son or daughter? Reach out and invite this person to your holiday celebration!)

While we can tease apart each proverbial child and figure out the root cause of their learned or inherent behaviors, there is an interpretation that says we all represent each of these children.

We show up in our lives personifying a different “son” (or daughter) depending on the situation and on our past experiences (or as Dr. Bailey calls it, our pre-programmed CD-rom). We may know people who always play the part of the wise daughter or the righteous son. Sadly, we also know someone who is consistently the bully-naughty-I-will-rip-my-hair-out-because-of-you wicked one. A good parent or educator knows that even this child is good, deep down.

Most of us are not consistently any one way, but go through phases of being wise, rebellious, simplistic, and sometimes, utterly lost (all on a typical Sunday afternoon while waiting in line at Trader Joe’s).

So what is an adult to do? If I am not in control of myself, how can I expect my children to get it together? We struggle to be outstanding parents while nurturing our children to reach their own highest potential.

Bailey and her method encourages both adults and children to move away from reacting to our fast-paced world in an emotional and impulsive state. Instead, we need to approach the world in a calculated and thoughtful state.

When we function without consciousness, we are knee-jerk and powerless, basically enslaved to the actions of others, “she made me . . . ” “I had to . . . ”

But when we function with consciousness, we are able to pause and formulate an appropriate response using our G‑d-given free choice. This response will typically be based on our values and beliefs. In contrast, when we are disconnected, we are emotional and impulsive without any consideration of consequences.

The holidayWhen we function with consciousness, we are able to forumate an appropriate response of Passover teaches us how to be present for all our children—and even our errant selves—through our own self-work. As the grown-ups, it is our responsibility to help shift feelings of loss of control and helplessness to a sense of competence and willpower. This is how we truly experience the liberty afforded us in this season of freedom, Zman Cherutainu.

This work on ourselves is hard, but that is not to be mistaken for slavery. Through the effort of controlling our emotions, we experience power over our most base self; this is the truest form of personal freedom.

So here goes: I am excited to get my house sparkly clean. I am grateful to be able to cook healthy food for my beloved family and community. I adore celebrating our Jewish holidays with all of the quirky traditions, and I am fortunate to live at a time where my Jewish observance is visible, and I am able to share publicly the Torah’s life lessons.

Happy Pesach!