Why Shouldn’t This Night Be Different From All Other Nights?

Posted on by Rabbi Barbara Symons

I learned that the four questions are optional.  They were meant to be an if-all-else-fails to get the children’s attention, then break glass (so to speak) and use this emergency device.  Yet not one of us could imagine a Seder without the four questions.

Therefore, we must see them as a beginning not an end.  The four questions are meant to answer the simple child just as other questions are meant to respond to the other children.  Of course, no child–or adult–is “simple” (or any of the other labels) but rather at that moment that person is trying to get involved, trying to begin at step 1, trying to get engaged and has the wherewithal to bring to his/her lips “Why on this night are we only eating matzah…eating bitter herbs…dipping our foods twice…leaning?” Think of the courage it takes to ask the entry question, especially if you think everyone else knows the answer.  And we all know, that is never the case.  Never are you the only one that doesn’t know the answer!

The questions are a doorway, a way into the story, into the experience.  That is always the way with questions that are asked with respectful inquiry.  The key is how we answer.

I like this interpretation from www.myjewishlearning.com:

Perhaps the Haggadah deliberately provides caricatures of four types of children to teach us something about the care we must take when we answer questions. Each person at our Seder is coming from a different place. This one is older and more experienced. That one has never been to Seder before. That other one was sick and did not expect to make it to Seder, but is there. That one never learned to read Hebrew, and that one knows French.

By telling us the story of the four children, each with a distinct question and each with a distinct answer, the Haggadah is telling us to accept each person where they are and to begin from there. The questions that are asked must be addressed, and the questions that are not asked must be addressed.

After we open the door for Elijah and if he has not yet come, the Seder will end.  Then there will be dishes and matzah crumbs everywhere, filled Tupperware and sleepy children and still there must be lingering questions.  The rabbis taught that when Elijah comes, his job is not only to announce the Messiah but to answer unanswerable questions.  So let’s continue asking questions and seeking answers not just about the Seder but about, well, everything until he joins us at the table, sits back with his personalized cup of wine and joins in the conversation.

Happy Passover!

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