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What Does the Torah Say About Asking Questions? Rabbi Dr. Paul Shrell-Fox on Parashat Bo

| 25/01/2020

In Parashat Bo the Israelites are commanded to observe the anniversary of the Exodus each year and tell the story of their redemption to their children.

Rabbi Dr. Paul Shrell-Fox, Lecturer in Family and Community Studies at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies,asks a question related to the Passover Haggadah: Why do we ask questions? And how should the questions be answered?

Full transcription below:

Shavua Tov. In the middle of our Parashat this week, Parashat Bo, we have a sentence:

“והגדת לבנך ביום ההוא” We should tell our sons or our children that we celebrate this holiday, this holiday of Pesach because of what God has done for me. When we look at the Haggadah, we see that this pasuk, this verse is used many, many times, specifically in the parable of the four sons or the four children. No matter how you take them, the same answer is given to two of the children. The רשע, the evil son and the  שאינו יודע לשאול  The son that does not know how to ask.

So, I asked for many, many years, why would these two people, why would these two children, whether they’re developmentally different, whether their age is different, whether they have different identifications on any different level. Why would the rasha, the evil son or the evil child, get the same answer as the one that does not know to ask? We don’t blame someone who doesn’t know how to ask questions. Rather, we’ve tried to encourage that person to ask. In fact, the whole Haggadah, the whole Seder, the whole experience is as the Gemara says, שיכירו תינוקות וישאלו. The children should see what’s going on, become curious, pique their curiosity and ask. So why would we give someone who does not know how to ask the question, the same answer as someone who asks the question and essentially according to the Haggadah, takes him or herself out of the whole mix?

I think the answer is actually straight forward once we think about it. The answer is that the rasha takes him or herself out of the Jewish life. But we’ve heard that the Haggadah is there, the whole evening is there in order to ask questions and so that if you start by not asking questions and you remain in that level, and you remain at that position of not asking questions, then you’re going to essentially remove yourself passively if not actively from the whole Jewish enterprise.

Jewish enterprises are based on questions. There are no questions that are bad. All questions are valuable and all questions are legitimate. Sometimes you don’t always like the answer, but if you are complacent and remain in the personality that doesn’t need to ask and doesn’t want to ask and doesn’t know how to ask, then ultimately you may turn into a rasha. So the rabbis were giving the clue that if you don’t know to ask now, that’s fine, but make sure you do know how to ask and make sure that you do become the person who asks even that most ridiculous or most seemingly heretical question.

Shavua Tov.

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