While the most popular question around the Seder table this coming weekend may be, “When do we eat?,” there is much more delight among grandparents and parents when they hear the youngest ones at the table sing, “The Four Questions.” Upon close examination “Mah Nishtana?” or “Why is this night different from all other nights?” may be only one question with four subsections about food and our enjoyment of the meal. Or, if each of the four secondary questions are a question on their own, then there would actually be FIVE questions! We can set aside the mathematical complexity of retelling our history, and instead think about the questions we should be asking around the table this year.
I believe that having the courage to ask the right question is the fine distinction between the archetypal wise and clever children in the “Four Children” section of the Haggadah. They both essentially ask the same question, with one crucial distinction. One wants to be a part of the story, and the other one is skeptical. Both are at the table and are welcome to ask their questions. The real goal of the Passover Seder is to reaffirm or rediscover our place among one of the most significant histories of humanity.
Part of the difficulty is recognizing that the tradition of retelling may not be compelling enough for today’s inquisitive and discerning participant. A little scratch beneath the surface reveals that what we consider to be tradition, or reading the Haggadah from beginning to end, was never the intent of the Seder in the first place. Maybe it is just like the Talmud envisioned where we simply need to ask one good question to inspire deeper conversation. (Read the Talmud 116a here) A sincerely asked question commands a sincere response.
Getting folks to sit down and have a serious conversation about any serious topic, especially one like freedom, isn’t as easy as it should be. We sometimes foreclose the potential for real conversations evoked by questions in exchange for the sweetness of a youthful song.
I do not offer a panacea for the real challenges that may prevent families from gathering to share the beauty and richness of Jewish heritage. But, asking sincere questions are a great start. In that spirit here are some questions to consider asking around your Seder table this year hoping the responses inspire and delight all the participants.
Some Serious Ones:
Why is this night different?
What story(ies) would you like your children or grandchildren to tell about you?
What does freedom mean to you today? Or, how would you describe your freedom?
If you could liberate a group of oppressed people today, who would they be and why?
And Some Fun Ones:
What is your favorite movie about freedom and why?
If you could make your ideal Passover Seder, what would it look like and why?
What other foods have symbolic meaning for you?