"We are closer to G-d when we are asking the questions, than when we think we have the answers" Heschel

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

So that the children will ask

FNQ – Pesach Special

The seder is an educational masterpiece. Throughout the year there is a commandment to teach our children Torah and guide them in the ways of our ancient traditions; but on the seder night there is a unique obligation to tell our children about the Exodus from Egypt. The key to a good story is breathing life into past events. If you simply retell facts and dry information you can be sure that the listener will find a more interesting way to keep themselves occupied. To ensure that the Exodus would be brought to life the Rabbis came up with a perfect balance of experiential and intellectual stimulation. The experiential aspects of eating maror and matzah to taste the burn of slavery and glory of redemption are well documented. In this post I would like to focus on what I believe is the most basic and essential of the intellectual tools used to spur the interest of our children in the seder experience. Namely, questions.

I have written many times about the importance of questioning in education. Here are links to some of my previous posts on the subject of questioning. (When a question isnt a question, Questioning, a dialectic tension There are no bad questions)

Built-in to the seder experience are an array of strange customs whose sole purpose is to cause the children to ask. We dip unusual foods into other unusual foods, we pick up the matzah, put down the maztah and every family has their own unique customs to pique the interest of the children. What is odd is that when the goal is accomplished and the child asks 'why are we doing this?' there isn't really an answer. What is the point of getting the child to ask when there is essentially no answer for their question?

Questions are the pinnacle of intellectual excitement and curiosity. They express more than mere informational inquiries they reveal a connection and a desire for knowledge. We want our children to ask at the seder not only to teach them the laws and customs of Judaism but also in order that they begin an intellectual journey of wonder and curiosity which is so essential to being free.

Slavery comes in many forms. In Egypt we experienced all of them. We were slaves in both body and mind. To express our physical freedom we lean and eat our meal in the manner of kings. To express our freedom of the thinking we ask questions and emancipate our minds from the bonds of intellectual complacency. We encourage our children to ask and show them that as Jews in the pursuit of Torah wisdom we fear no question. We give candies not for good answers but for good questions to make clear that true freedom is achieved when our minds are empowered to question and challenge. Perhaps this Pesach we will succeed in experience a feeling of freedom so powerful that we are compelled to ask what makes this night different from all other nights.

What do you think?

Binyamin – always looking for a good question.

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