Pesach Message - Beth Jacob
Pesach Message From Rabbi Topp
We gather together around the Seder table, sharing memories while reliving the exodus experience. The Seder is a multi-sensory, multi-generational experience that turns into a vibrant beit medrash with Torah learning and engaged dialogue. It is the clever way that our Sages, based on Biblical verses, make sure that on at least one night a year (two in the Diaspora) we learn Torah with our children, family and guests. We are then hopefully inspired to do so more often.
In any beit medrash, a central activity is asking questions and this is certainly the case at the Seder. At the beginning of Maggid, all the children ask the famous four questions of Ma Nishtana. Later on, we have the specific questions of the "arba banim"- the four children. While the Ma Nishtana and the four children appear to be two unrelated parts of the Haggadah, Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter (Sefat Emet, 2nd Gerrer Rebbe, d. 1905) insightfully suggests that each of the four children parallel a question of the Ma Nishtana. The wise child (chacham) asks about the central obligation of the evening, the matzoh. The rebellious child (rasha) asks about the maror because he always notices that which is bitter in the religion. The innocent or simple child (tam) is a visual learner and wonders about the two dippings at the Seder. Finally there is the child (she'eino yodea lishol) who doesn't know enough to even ask about the Seder but rather just notices the people around the table who are reclining.
This teaches us that while all the children ask the questions of the Ma Nishtana, it is the responsibility of the parents to recognize which question is really bothering each particular child. Interestingly, the answer to the Ma Nishtana begins "avadim hayinu l'paroh b'mitzrayim"- we were slaves to Pharoh in Egypt and were redeemed, this being the physical dimension of the redemption. The answer addressed to the four children, however, begins "mitchila ovdei avodah zarah hayu avoteinu"-our ancestors were idolators and now we've been brought close to G-d and His service, this being the spiritual and intellectual dimensions of the experience. When it relates to the physical dimension, all are affected in a similar fashion and therefore all have the same questions. However, in regards to the spiritual and intellectual dimensions, every person, due to his or her unique personality and experiences, comes to the table with a different concern and each needs a different response.
The reason questions are paramount on Pesach is because the capacity to question is the true mark of freedom. Those who are oppressed by others have little room for contemplating the purpose of their existence. Freedom means that you not only have time to think about the meaning of life, but that you're entitled to express your opinion, to pose your challenge. It is a mistake for a parent or teacher to stifle the curiosity of a child. The fact is that Judaism welcomes questions from children and adults (although we look askance at the rasha because he is not asking a question and doesn't want an answer; rather he is making a rude statement). Questions lead to debate. Debate leads to further understanding as is evidenced by every page of the Talmud. A question shows that you're a seeker who cares enough to want to learn more. With its emphasis on questions, Pesach night highlights the importance of always being a seeker of G-d and truth. Indeed, the Gemara Makkot 24a records that the most foundational Jewish principle is that which the prophet Amos (Amos 5:4) quotes G-d as saying to Israel-"dirshuni v'chayu"-"seek Me and you shall live."
May this Pesach be a time when you ask good questions, respond encouragingly to the questions of others and reach a deeper understanding of G-d, Torah, those who you love and ultimately, yourself. Chag kasher v'sameach!