Hello dear readers,
I am paging through the pesach hagaddah right now and looking at one of the central parts of the text, which is the mah nishtanah. One of the central missions of the seder is to engage the children, and ourselves, with the story of the exodus from Egypt. The hagaddah uses a question-and-answer format to initiate that storytelling. Anyway, when looking at this section, I was struck with four questions of my own about the Four Questions, which I will try to answer here:
- Why is it called the Four Questions?
I have always thought this was technically incorrect, since there is only one question: Why is this night different from all other nights? The other statements are all supporting examples of the original question: why do we eat matza, why do we eat bitter herbs, why do we dip twice, and why do we lean. Yes, these are all important and interesting, but they’re not really separate questions, are they? If anything, it feels like some of the homework questions my kids brought home, with Question 1 which has subsections 1-4 and each of which has subsubsections I-VIII.
- What are the answers to the Four Questions (or the One Question)?
It’s weird that the first or primary answer to the Four Questions is the story of the exodus, Avadim Hayinu or We Were Slaves, but doesn’t answer the issues of dipping or leaning or bitter herbs. Part of it I think is just to encourage kids to stay engaged, to listen to the whole story (until the meal) and search for meaning throughout the story of the exodus.
- Is the order of the Four Questions fixed?
Apparently not! At a kosher Passover vacation a few years ago, I saw a Mizrachi family that asked the Four Questions in a completely different order: Why do we dip, why do we eat matza, why do we eat bitter herbs, and why do we recline. I always thought the question about double-dipping was the weirdest one, so it’s an interesting choice to open with that one. Otherwise, the order of the other three is the same.
- Why are there no questions about other holidays?
That in itself is an interesting question! Why, for example, do we not have our children ask us why we have to live in a sukkah for a week? I think the answer has to do with freedom, in that asking questions is part of the mental side of freedom, a freedom to think and ask and decide.