Pesach – The Festival of Questioning

“Our rabbis taught: If his son is intelligent, he asks him (the father) while if the son in not intelligent his wife asks him; but if not (if he has no wife) he asks himself (the questions on Pesach night..) Even two scholars who know the laws of Passover ask one another the questions” (Pesahim 116a)

Seemingly, this Gemara is very confusing. It is clear that one should recite the Haggada, even if he is unfortunate to have the Seder by himself. Yet, why should one ask himself and answer to himself? Isn’t that ridiculous? What is the added value of this “game”? Why do the scholars need to ask each other? Why can’t they just recite the Haggada?

Chalkboard - QuestionsThis Gemara actually emphasizes the most significant element of the Seder, as well as of our freedom – the right to question and the need to question. Regardless of who is listening, one should ask and question (even one’s self). Therefore, in the order of appearance of the four kinds of sons, the רשע (wicked) precedes the תם (simple, naïve) and is well ahead of the שאינו יודע לשאול (the one who does not know how to ask). The most inferior son is the one lacking the ability to question. The רשע isn’t really looking for an answer, but at least he is asking. He is not apathetic, which would be the worst condition to be in.

Furthermore, the night of the Seder is the night of the experience. There are two ways to deliver an educational message – delivering the knowledge and bringing the acknowledgment. Knowledge can be provided by teaching, learning and so on. But that is not enough. Sometimes the knowledge can remain on a very theoretical level and be quite far away from implementation. The best way to get the message across is to develop the acknowledgment, to create a positive spiritual experience, which will provide the “son” with the ability to feel, to sense, this knowledge, rather than just having the information.

Leil Haseder is a night when there is no room for knowledge alone – “So, if we were all wise, all men of knowledge, all advanced in years and all versed in the law, it would yet be our duty to narrate the departure from Egypt” (from the Haggada). On this very night we must לספר (to narrate, to tell the story). We must feel the excitement as if we ourselves were redeemed from Egypt – “In every generation one is bound to regard himself as though, he personally had gone out of Egypt” (Ibid.).

Therefore we must question the text as opposed to just reciting it. We must ask and experience the text of the Haggada. This is the methodical approach of Chazal to education. Leil Haseder is not about “school” (formal education) but rather about “youth movement” (informal and experiential education.) On Leil Haseder the “son” is in the center. If we empower the youth, we encourage them to ask and to question. By the means of this positive spiritual experience we can truly deliver this message in a much better way than a formal lesson can, and thus –
“אפילו כולנו חכמים, כולנו נבונים, כולנו יודעים את התורה – מצוה עלינו לספר ביציאת מצרים”

Rav Ronen Neuwirth #1Rabbi Ronen Neuwirth is the Executive Director of Beit Hillel and the Rav of Congregation Ohel Ari in Ra’anana. He served as Director of the Overseas Department of Tzohar and as the Rabbi of Bnei Akiva of North America. He also served as a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and is a former captain in the Israeli Navy Special Forces.


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