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No Questions Asked

I still don’t have a satisfying answer to this question


n a derashah he delivered on Pesach in 1830, the Chasam Sofer quoted the words of Chazal: “One might think he should fulfill the mitzvah of V’higadeta l’vincha from Rosh Chodesh Nissan and on, but the Torah tells us, Bayom hahu, to do so only on that day, the 15th, and furthermore, Ba’avur zeh, only when the matzah and maror are set out before you.” He explained that one should not take the initiative to tell his child about Yetzias Mitzrayim two weeks before Yom Tov nor even on its very eve. Instead, he should wait until the child’s curiosity stirs him to ask, because only then will the answers he receives register in his memory.

This is why the Torah elsewhere speaks of the son asking his father about the mitzvos of Pesach, for that is the ideal. Only at the Pesach Seder itself, when we do so many unusual things that ought to provoke the child’s curiosity, does the Torah command V’higadeta l’vincha — if he still has not inquired, we are to teach him everything he needs to know, even though he hasn’t asked.

I’m unaware to what extent and in what manner children were taught about the Seder in the times of the Chasam Sofer, but the relevance of his word should be apparent to anyone who has ever tried to reconcile the theme running through hilchos Seder Leil Pesach — “so that the children should ask” — with the realities of how our children are taught about Pesach in our schools.

There are actually two distinct issues that parents perennially grapple with on this night of nights: One is that the mitzvah of V’higadeta l’vincha — which bids a father to transmit to his children the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim in all its rich detail and its fundamental lessons in emunah — is inverted into what some wryly refer to as V’higadeta l’avicha. Children come home from yeshivah with a bulging school-made Haggadah, from which the child believes he is to deliver a shiur of his own — and then multiply that, of course, by the number of school-age children at the table.

This issue is one that a father can manage to address, so long as he’s willing to balance assertiveness and patience, adding a bit of creativity, too. He needs to claim his place as head of the family and director of the Seder, while patiently giving each child an opportunity to say some of what he’s learned, saving the rest for another Yom Tov meal or perhaps a one-on-one chavrusa with his father on Yom Tov afternoon.

Years ago, I discovered the sefer Matamei HaShulchan, written by Rabbi Moshe Lewis of Jerusalem, which is a work designed to enable anyone to bring vividly to life the story of the enslavement, the yearlong ordeal of the Makkos, and finally the geulah. The author shares a plethora of details about these events contained in the works of Chazal and proceeds to weave them into dramatic scenarios that anyone can give over or expand upon using his own imagination and storytelling skills. Over the years I’ve recommended the sefer to many people, and I’m happy to see there are now piles of the sefer in seforim stores before Pesach.

This much seems certain: The Pesach Seder is an experience that ought to give any parent a newfound appreciation for the skills rebbeim need in order to do their jobs successfully day in, day out throughout the year. The Seder table in many homes, after all, is a microcosm of a standard classroom, with varying levels of interest, knowledge, sophistication, attention span, and tiredness. Throw in various distractions and a set amount of material to cover within a specified timeframe, and we can sense the versatility, creativity, wisdom, and stamina a rebbi has to summon each day.

But then there’s the issue raised by the words of the Chasam Sofer: Does the creative pre-Seder prep by dedicated rebbeim in the weeks leading up to Pesach foreclose the element of novelty and resultant curious questioning Chazal considered so integral to the fulfillment of sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim on Leil HaSeder? It’s a question I’ve thought about and have heard from others many times before, and surely gedolei Torah and mechanchim have pondered it as well. That’s one question about the Seder night for which I still don’t have a satisfying answer.

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 703. Eytan Kobre may be contacted directly at kobre@mishpacha.com


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