Questioning Strengthens and Improves Our Community

At the Seder, our youngest are initiated to embrace this process of asking questions.

Next week, as we sit down to our family seders (or sedorim), two of the highpoint moments are the recitation of the Four Questions and relating the story of the Four Children. Traditionally chanted by the youngest family member, the Four Questions astutely ask why things are observed differently on Passover than the rest of the year.

Why is this night different from all other nights?

  • On all other nights we eat leavened products and matzah, and on this night only matzah.
  • On all other nights we eat all vegetables, and on this night only bitter herbs.
  • On all other nights, we don’t dip our food even once, and on this night we dip twice.
  • On all other nights we eat sitting or reclining, and on this night we only recline.

The reality is that it is not just at the seder that we Jews find ourselves probing into the details and origins of our circumstances and realities. Judaism is, in fact, rich with questioning. The Talmud contains questions and answers by our sages and provides a framework of investigation into how to live our lives Jewishly that continues not only with the modern Rabbis and scholars of today but also with any who wish to study. (Study itself is one of our most revered activities.) Today, we continue to study those questions and answers; we continue to strive to understand our world in order to make it a better one, recognizing that Judaism values broad questioning and diverse answers. Only through questioning can we continue to evolve and improve.

At the Seder, our youngest are initiated to embrace this process of asking questions. I know it was a proud moment for me when my kids were able to sing the four questions in Hebrew for the first time. It is a rite of passage not unlike the bar/bat mitzvah in that it is a moment in which the family acknowledges that child’s responsibility to participate in communal Jewish life. By asking these questions, the child can aspire to be more like the wise child (of the four children we read about during the Seder) as opposed to being like the most basic of the four children who doesn’t even know how to ask the question.

The seder reinforces the Jewish ideal that questioning strengthens and improves us. And, asking the right question (the wicked child asks the wrong one) is as important as realizing that questions are necessary. I am proud of the questions we here in Pittsburgh have been asking. With the Federation’s strategic plan, we have been questioning and adopting better ways to achieve our vision of a flourishing Jewish community where everyone feels included, supported and inspired.  With that as our “north star”, we are questioning and thinking about new ways to support older adults, new ways to engage our young adults, new ways to bring additional resources to keep our community safe and secure, new ways to inspire more community members to support our breathtaking work locally and globally, new ways to fight the rise in antisemitism, new ways to develop the leadership our Jewish institutions require and deserve, and new ways to have more of our Jewish community organizations work together collaboratively to be more effective. As Passover approaches, I hope we continue to be a community that questions why and how we do things, while remembering and respecting the past.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and a Chag Sameach.

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