Mommy, why are you and Pappy sitting on the floor? Why are you sitting alone and not together? Mommy, why aren’t you eating today? Mommy, where is your smile? Mommy, why are you crying?

The questions roll forth from my little one’s lips. Questions. And I need to supply the answers.

Mommy, why are you and Pappy sitting on the floor?

Mommy, why is this night different from all the other nights? “Mah nishtanah halailah hazeh . . .”

I’m struck by this last question. The question that my children ask me on this night of destruction is the same question that they ask me on the night of redemption.

Why on this night of Tisha B’Av are we sitting alone on the floor? Why on the night of the Passover Seder do we all sit together, reclining like royalty? Tonight we sob; on Passover we sing. Tonight we fast; on Passover we feast.

The Jewish calendar was set in such a way that no matter the year, Tisha B’Av will always fall on the same night of the week as the first night of Passover. Why are these two nights so different and yet so similar? Why does the destruction come about on the same night as the redemption?

Why is this night different from all other nights?

My littlest one, my two-year-old, is adorable and sweet—and rambunctious. I watch him. I listen to him. What is he putting into his mouth? What does he eat? It is dangerous? Is it healthy? I watch him. I listen to him. Now he’s started to babble, and with delight I listen to his first words: “Mommyyyy! Pappyyyy!”

I say a word and he watches my mouth. I say it again and he repeats after me. “Eye, eye, nose, nose, bye, bye . . .” I ask him questions. He gives me answers. What is he saying? What words come out? He looks at me with It is dangerous? Is it healthy?those big eyes, full of curiosity, and asks over and over again, “Waz dis?” (“What’s this?”) Words, questions. What do I want him to hear? What do I want him to repeat? Am I as careful with what comes out of his mouth as I am with what goes in?

Mommy, why is this night different from all the other nights? Why do I hear your cheerful voice sobbing?

Only four months earlier, on the night of our redemption, we engaged our children in conversation. We provoked them to ask questions. The Hebrew word for Passover, Pesach, can be split into two words—pe(h) and sach. “Mouth” and “conversation.” Passover is the night to open our mouths and engage in conversation. What kind of conversation? Conversation of redemption, conversation of thanks and praise. Passover is the night when we recount what happened to our forefathers in Egypt. We describe the slavery that we, the nation of Israel, experienced under the rule of Pharaoh.

Who was Pharaoh, the Egyptian king? Pharaoh, the sages explain, was a small man who measured about a foot and a half tall. This small man had enormous power. His name, Pharaoh, can be divided into two words, pe(h) and rah. “Mouth” and “bad.” From Pharaoh’s very name we learn that belittling words, evil speech and slander have tremendous power. When we diminish ourselves or diminish others, we become enslaved by the negative images or feelings that our words create. This in turn can lead to self-destruction or the destruction of others.

My little one, why is Mommy crying? I am crying because of the disharmony among Israel, because of our belittling words and because of our I am crying because of the disharmony among Israel . . .negative speech. I am crying, my love, because we sit in exile, a divided nation, like a Mommy sitting alone without a Pappy. My precious son, our Temple was destroyed almost two thousand years ago, and the redemption has still not come, but we can help bring it if we are careful with our speech. My dear child, as you learn to speak, let me teach you sweet words of praise, prayer and song. Know that what comes forth from your mouth is just as important as what enters. Know that words are so powerful that they can cure like medicine or destroy like poison. Don’t despair, my child—with our words we can bring the ultimate redemption, and your Mommy will sob no more.

Mah nishtanah halailah hazeh . . .