The ‘why’ of Passover

Dear Families,

Passover and the Seder have so many different traditions from family to family and over generations and cultures. However, in the words of Simon Sinek, the “why” of Passover is more important that the “how” and the “what.” (If you don’t know Sinek, get the book “Start with Why” — it will change how you look at life!) So, starting with “why” is perfect for Passover because the heart of the holiday is knowing the story and knowing why it is still relevant today. The Seder is designed to make us ask questions: Why the four cups of wine, why the charoses, why the plagues, why those rabbis in Bnei Brak? The questions go on and on. Each year I challenge others to find new and different Haggadot. Each one gives a new twist on an ancient story and helps us understand yesterday as well as today and tomorrow.

The challenge is now to ask more questions at the Seder and no answer is wrong. We learn that from the Talmudic sages who kept all the answers to Torah questions even when one was considered the answer to follow. We can now look back to any tractate of Talmud and see the discussions going on. That’s what questioning is all about.

This brings me to something that happened in my Torah class with our pre-K. One little boy said that he had a book that said the fourth plague was a swarm of insects when I told them it was wild beasts. “Hmm…,” I responded. “Let me check.” I went to four different translations and commentaries and found some with insects and some with wild beasts. So I tried Google and found on the section called “Ask a Rabbi.” So I asked the rabbi and in 24 hours got this answer: “The Hebrew word for that plague is ‘arov,’ which means ‘a mixture.’ The more common interpretation is that it was a mixture of wild beasts, while less commonly some say that it was a swarm of insects.” And then he gave me a link for an article on the topic showing me that I wasn’t the only one asking this question. How exciting to get a response! Did the answer work for me? For my four-year-old student? I think he was happy with it but for me, it led to more questions.

What was the most important lesson? Don’t ever stop asking questions and explore different answers — the answer may help you today and tomorrow you will wonder again. The best part of being Jewish is that we can keep asking and questioning! Remember this Passover (and that means throughout the holiday) to add questions to every meal you have with family and friends. We learn by questioning and nothing is better than a questioning mind!

Laura Seymour is Jewish experiential learning director and camp director emeritus at the Aaron Family JCC.

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