Rabbi Label Lam
What is the Question?
Why is this night different from all other nights? (Haggadah of Pesach)
The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own
reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when contemplating the
mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It
is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every
day. Never lose a holy curiosity. (Albert Einstein)
The Haggadah of Pesach is one of the greatest and most successful lesson
plans of all time. It's a good thing that we have such an exceptional
educational tool available. How else could we be confident in fulfilling
our sacred obligation of relaying to next generation the experience of the
exodus from Egypt?
We might be left fumbling for words and facts and even worse the children
would be forced to endure that most terrible of all fates- a
lecture. Children and adults detest lectures. I know! I I'm a "Lecturer".
Every kid at some time heard the old, "when we were kids..." lecture. The
harshness of the living conditions "back then" are always made to sound
more severe year after year as time passes. "When we were young we had to
walk to school up hill both ways, 15 miles in the snow. Do you think we
each had our own coat?" Somebody once asked, "What will the next
generation tell their kids? When we were young we had to get up and change
the channel!" They will get that same blank stare of disbelief. The
lecture is an oft abused didactic discipline.
The Pesach Seder is organized to avoid this pitfall. It violates its very
name-"seder" which means order. It goes out of sequence by design only to
accomplish one task initially and that is, to prompt a question. As one
great philosopher once said, "There is nothing more irrelevant than the
answer to a question that was never asked!" Without a question the most
fascinating subject is reduced to a meaningless lecture. Life is the
answer to what question? Once a question is asked, however, the search
engine is ignited everything becomes relevant and all things potentially
become our teacher.
Try any one of these on for size. What is the meaning of life? Why did
Hashem choose us? Why and how have we survived? Is our history
unique? Are there discernable patterns in our history? What is the message
to us? Why are we gathering as a people again on this night? Who could
have orchestrated these events? How will this drama end? Will all the
suffering of exile be justifiably compensated in the end? Are we in exile
now? What am I living for? What am I willing to die for? Do I appreciate
what I have? Do I know what I have? To Whom is gratitude owed? How should
I express gratitude? What does it mean to be free? Am I truly free? Etc.
Not just the success of the Pesach Seder but the whole of existence hinges
on a question. To the extent that a question is asked the world becomes
lit up with significance. To the degree there is no question in the mind
all the facts and information adds up to not more than an accumulation of
"sound and fury signifying nothing". Perhaps that's why on Pesach night we
are highlighting the importance of the question.
Jewish parents are often more impressed with a good question than a good
grade. One of my principles told me, "The question is more important than
the answer! Get them to feel the question!" We are less interested in
teaching them "what" to think as we are in teaching them "how" to think.
A wealthy man was looking for a match for his beautiful daughter. He went
to the Yeshiva and presented a difficult question in the Talmud. He offered
his daughter's hand in marriage to the one who could solve the deep riddle.
Not one student was able to present the correct answer so the wealthy man
got into his carriage and swiftly rode to edge of town.
When he reached the city limits he heard the cries of young man who had
apparently been chasing him for some time. Sweaty and covered with dust,
exhausted and out of breath the student asked, "Nu?! So what's the answer
to the question?" The wealthy man replied, "You're the one I want for my
One question amongst many remains: "What is the question?"
Text Copyright © 2003 Rabbi Label Lam and
Project Genesis, Inc.