#blogExodus – Asking

#blogExodus prompts

Rabbi Phyllis Sommer’s #blogExodus prompts

Why is this night different from all other nights? The youngest person present at the Seder has been asking that question for millennia.

The rest of the evening is spent answering the question, beginning with the words “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt.” But it is interesting that the answer is not given until the question has been asked. Why do we need to ask each time? Why not just start off with the story? For all other holidays of the “they tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat” variety, we don’t start off with questions. On Purim, the Megillah reading starts off with blessings, but nobody asks why we are reading it.

I believe that the reason for this lies in the following passage from Exodus 13:

יד וְהָיָה כִּי-יִשְׁאָלְךָ בִנְךָ, מָחָר–לֵאמֹר מַה-זֹּאת: וְאָמַרְתָּ אֵלָיו–בְּחֹזֶק יָד הוֹצִיאָנוּ יְהוָה מִמִּצְרַיִם, מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים.
14 And it shall be when thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying: What is this? that thou shalt say unto him: By strength of hand the LORD brought us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage;

This is particularly interesting, at least to me, because it isn’t even part of the Exodus story – it’s part of a discussion of the requirement of tithing the first-born, of man and beast, to the service of the Temple. The reason given for this tithe is that it is in memory of the Plague of the First Born. The Israelite first-born did not die, but they became sanctified to the service of G-d instead. To this day we have a ceremony of redeeming first-born Jewish sons from the Temple service. On the eve of the first Seder, first-borns are required to fast in memory of their redemption from that plague, unless they have the opportunity to participate in a siyyum, or special study session that involves the requirement to eat, and then they are released from that obligation.

So what does this have to do with asking questions at the Seder? I’m so glad you asked! Judaism is not a religion of declamation. We listen to the Torah reading each week, we listen to the Rabbi’s sermon, we listen and listen. But we are always encouraged to ask questions. In fact, the questions are crucial – if nobody asks, we can’t give the answers at the Seder.

What questions will you ask on Monday night?

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