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Four Questions or Four Statements?

Four Questions or Four Statements?

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Question:

My favorite part of the Seder is when the kids chant the famous Four Questions, the Mah Nishtanah. But I’ve always wondered why we call this section of the Haggadah the “Four Questions.” If you look at the text, they are actually four statements:

Why is this night different from all other nights?:

  1. On all other nights we eat chametz (leaven) or matzah. On this night we eat only matzah.
  2. On all other nights we eat all types of vegetables. On this night, we eat maror (bitter herbs).
  3. On all other nights we are not required to dip even once. On this night we dip twice.
  4. On all other nights we eat either sitting or reclining. On this night, we all recline.

So are they questions or answers?

Answer:

Sometimes the question is the answer.

The Mah Nishtanah is asking: Why is tonight different from all other nights? What unique power does the night of Pesach hold that it can inspire even the most distant soul and touch even the most stubborn skeptic? What will happen tonight that will change our perspective, open our spiritual eyes and ignite our souls?

The answer: There are four ingredients to this night that make it different and give it the power to inspire. On this night we eat matzah and bitter herbs, we dip and we lean. When we know what these activities represent, we have the answer to why this night is so different.

On this night we eat only matzah. Matzah represents humility. It is flat and tasteless, unlike bread, which is puffed-up and full of itself. Humility is the prerequisite to growth and learning. Someone who is full of themselves cannot change. Only if we are open and humble can we truly develop as people. So while on other nights our egos may get in the way of our spiritual development, tonight it won't, because tonight we eat only matzah, the bread of humility.

On this night, we eat maror. Many people are closed to spirituality, not because of arrogance, but because of indifference. Sometimes we simply don't care. In these times, we cannot be inspired because we lack feeling, and are numb and insensitive to spiritual matters. Sometimes we need a jolt, something to shatter our complacency and make us feel again. The maror accomplishes this. There's nothing like a mouthful of horseradish to get your heart pounding. So we eat the maror to remember the bitterness of slavery that our forebears experienced, and by extension to recall our own inner bitterness, our slavery to bad habits, and to the darker side to our personality. All other nights we may remain apathetic and avoid feeling the pain, but tonight we take the bitter pill—we eat the maror.

On this night we dip twice. Some of us go through life without ever being present. We may be sitting in one place, but our minds are elsewhere. We are constantly focusing on what needs to happen next, or where we would rather be, and we are never experiencing the moment for what it is. Such a life is no life. We miss out on the magic of the everyday, simply because we are not looking. So tonight will be different. Tonight we will immerse ourselves in the moment, in the Seder and its message. We will dip ourselves entirely in the words of the Haggadah. Not once, but twice: in body and in mind we will be present at the Seder.

On this night we all recline. A major impediment to growth is the feeling that we are stuck as we are, that we cannot change. If only we realized what powers lay within our souls, we would know that there is so much more we could be achieving. With all our failings and all our weaknesses, we have a soul that is pure royalty—a Divine spark that towers over and above all the challenges that life brings. And so while on all other nights we may not be aware of it, tonight we recline like the kings and queens we truly are. We act like royalty because we are royalty, the sons and daughters of G‑d.

And so, the Four Questions are really four answers. Why is tonight different? Why will our souls be set free tonight? Because we will have the humility of the matzah, we will break through our indifference and sensitize ourselves with the maror, we will immerse our minds and bodies in the experience of the Seder, and we will acknowledge the true nobility and royalty of our infinitely powerful souls.

And it's the kids who teach us how to do all this. Look at children. They are truly free because they have the humility to learn, the openness of heart to feel, the trust to be immersed in the moment, and the confidence to believe that they can do anything. So let's listen to the kid's questions. In them we can find some answers.

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
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