Imagine for a moment you are sitting down to your seder when your father lifts the table out from under you. “Hey? What did you do that for?” you ask. Immediately, however, instead of becoming angry, your father rejoices. You are told that because you have asked a true, authentic question – however mundane and ordinary it may have been – you have absolved the room from hearing the “Ma Nishtana.”
This somewhat puzzling tale is recorded toward the end of the tractate of Pesachim of the Babylonian Talmud. Why, we wonder, did the sage Abaye’s question to his adopted father Rava cause him to rejoice and absolve the seder from “The Four Questions”?
We take for granted that the simple act of asking a question when one does not understand what is happening is an act of liberation. Most of us, when we see a table being lifted up from under us, choose to endure rather than to challenge. We have become accustomed to being browbeaten with this response: “Because I said so,” or “Because that’s the way it is.” This story reminds us that this is not and has never been the Jewish way.
For some who need a little help getting started, our haggadah presents four questions. Ideally though, it should be the dream of every Jewish parent to raise an inquisitive child who liberates them from the very text of their seder through their own intuition.
As we enter our sedarim this year, I pray that all of our kinder grow up to be the kind, inquisitive, question-askers with a little chutzpah who will absolve us from reciting the “Ma Nishtana.”
Daniel Dorsch is senior rabbi of Congregation Etz Chaim.