One week from tonight, we will sit at the Seder table and celebrate once again the Exodus from Egypt. We will consider the ideas of slavery and freedom and study and learn together.
One of the most memorable parts of the Seder is, of course, the asking of the four questions. The asking of questions to begin, in fact to inspire, the telling of the story of the Exodus has its origin in the Mishna. For over 2000 years, Jews have been asking questions to begin the storytelling. The questions have changed over the years reflective of what would appear to a child to be “different on this night” but the questions were always there as the means to begin the evening.
But, the child’s role in the Seder is not limited to the asking of questions. Ideally, the answers to the questions must be directed to the child. The entire Seder was intended to teach the children about the ancient story of slavery and redemption. Of course, there should be time at the Seder for adult discussion but when the children who are present are excluded, either actively or passively, in deference to adult discussions, the Seder has gone in the wrong direction. It is not enough to look at the child who asks the question and knell with satisfaction at his or her performance. It is the ability to look him or her in the eye and tell the story in words he or she will understand that makes this night truly special and one on which we have fulfilled our responsibility.
But, what if the child can not ask the questions? According to the Mishna, if the child did not have the capacity to ask, his father would teach him.
Presumably, this means, he would teach him to ask.
One of the greatest gifts we can give to our children is the ability and the freedom to ask questions. When a child asks, as long as the question is sincere, as long as it reflects a desire to better understand something that puzzles or disturbs him/her, it is a marvelous moment. No question is “tref” if it asked sincerely and one of the greatest hopes we should have as parents or as teachers (we are all teachers of course) is that our children continue to ask.
May our Seders inspire not only a night of questions but a lifetime of asking and seeking.