Special Dvar for Pesach (Passover) 5775
As we prepare for Pesach (Passover), the following two perspectives conveyed by Rabbi Avi Weiss might help facilitate the discussion:
Although written as questions, the Ma Nishtana can be viewed as a declarative statement. After all, the first two questions deal with matza and marror (bitter herbs), symbols of servitude, while the next two deal with dipping foods and reclining while eating, symbols of freedom. This teaches us that the message of Egypt is never to despair. After oppression comes redemption, day follows night, light disperses darkness.
Another approach to the Ma Nishtana is the realization that the pathway to learning is to question. It is told that Isidor I. Rabi, a Nobel prize winner in physics, was once asked: “Why did you become a scientist?” He responded, “My mother made me a scientist without ever intending it. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school: ‘Nu? Did you learn anything today?’ But not my mother. She always asked me a different question. ‘Izzy, ‘ she would say, ‘did you ask a good question today?’ That difference–asking good questions–made me become a scientist.” (Donald Sheff, letter to the New York Times, January 19, 1988) Hence, the seder begins with questions. Rabbi Joel Cohen suggests that perhaps not coincidentally, the seder concludes with questions as well: “Who knows One (God)? Who knows two (the tablets)?” Having responded to the children’s questions during the seder, we in turn conclude the evening by asking them-“have you learned the message well?”