The Questions of Passover: It’s not about finding your answers. It’s about finding yourself!
While there are many important aspects to the Pesach Seder, one could argue that the most important part of the night is the effort we expend asking questions. We script four questions, we do strange things to evoke questions, we even define the four children of the Seder by the types of questions they ask (or whether they are able to ask a questions at all). Obviously, we know that answers are also part of the equation…but it almost seems like the answers are less of a focal point, compared to the actual act of asking.
Why might this be? Because real learning and exploration begins with questions.
“What is this all about?”, “Why is it relevant?”, “Isn’t that a strange thing to do?”, “How is it that we continue doing this custom which is thousands of years old?”
In reality, we should be questioning everything because that is the only way to get to the deeper meaning behind what we are doing, and quench the thirst for understanding “why” we are doing it! Simon Sinek in his book “Start with Why” explains how people don’t only purchase products because of “what” the item does; astute consumers also want to understand their motivation of “why” they should purchase, or “why” the company should provide this product in the first place. Maybe that is why we have all heard the phrase, “I don’t buy it,” which alludes to rationale that one considers insufficient, or simply just not compelling enough.
Judaism is confident in its product and its values – so much so that it encourages the inquiring mind to ask any, and as many questions as one can think of!
We joke that, in Judaism, we answer a question with another question. The joke’s irony lies not in our intention to deflect a question, but in our appreciation for meaningful answers, by helping one dig and get to the heart of the matter!
And so, if Pesach is THE holiday to celebrate the dawn of the Jewish people exiting Egypt and entering the world stage as agents of positive change, then we should encourage a deep understanding of this mission and our means to accomplish it. This is achieved ̶ as has been done for thousands of years ̶ by asking not simply what we must do, but why we must do it.
“Why does Judaism encourage us to make a difference in the world?”, “Why do these traditions help us achieve something special and lasting?”, “Why have people sacrificed so much, through the most trying of circumstances, for the sake of being Jewish?”
Judaism is confident in its product and its value – so much so that it encourages the inquiring mind to ask any, and as many questions as one can think of!
So this Pesach, start thinking about questions – about Pesach, the Seder, or anything Jewish at all – that you have always aspired to know (“Chacham”), make you worry about sounding unintelligent (“Rasha”), or are the simple things that would benefit you (“Tam”), and ask! Even if you can’t think of a good question at this time, be open to listening to what others have to say and eavesdrop on their questions (“Sha’ayno Yodeaya Lishal”).
As Doctor Seuss so beautifully expressed: “Adults are just obsolete children.”
When discussing the “’Mah Nishtana,” or the Four Questions, Rabbi Nathan Lopez Cardozo suggests that perhaps we shouldn’t care too much about those four specific questions… after all, we all know them off by heart from last year. Perhaps, the emphasis is less about those four questions, and more about teaching people around the Seder table to adopt the habit of always asking questions.
Judaism thrives on curiosity. Ironically, kids innately have such a curiosity planted in them; our job is not to shut their curiosity down, but to fuel the flame. In many ways, the goal of Pesach is for all of us to reignite that curiosity which once existed within us. As Doctor Seuss so beautifully expressed: “Adults are just obsolete children.”
This is what The House is all about: realizing that people have questions about how and why Judaism is relevant in our modern day world. As opposed to discouraging questions and setting a lower standard, we believe that the real joy and commitment to being Jewish comes when our understanding of Judaism is challenged, which forces us to discover its depth, wisdom, and relevance to our everyday lives.