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Ask, child

“Here the Child Asks”

Asking questions is an integral part of the Seder. It does not suffice to simply tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt; one must tell the story in response to the questions of the children. In fact, there are four questions that are traditionally asked by the children at the  beginning of the Seder.

In many Haggadot (the classical text recited at the Seder) the “Four Questions” are prefaced by the following, instructional phrase:

“Here the child asks…”

At first blush, these words were intended to indicate that this is the appropriate place for the child to ask the questions. However, Chassidic commentators are quick to point out that these introductory words actually convey a poignant message.

We are All G-d’s Children

The word child here is a metaphor for all of us, who are G-d’s little children. At this point, when we are ready to begin the process of retelling the story of the Exodus, each and every one of G-d’s children can ask their Heavenly Father for all of their needs and requests.

One is entitled to ask, why is this particular place singled out for asking G-d for our needs? Isn’t the process of asking G-d for our needs the function of prayer? And don’t we, in fact, pray three times every weekday; asking G-d for our needs? Why do we need to set aside a few moments before the child asks the Four Questions to turn our hearts Heavenward and petition G-d for our needs?

No Difference between Child and Adult

The answer, lies in the unique status of the child that all of us, including the adults, assume on the night of Passover. Despite the fact that we are all G-d’s children, there is a special place in G-d’s “heart” for the innocence and purity of one who is also very literally a child. Even the most hardened of people, seem to melt away when they are in the presence of a child.

This phenomenon, like all phenomena, is a representation of the way G-d relates to us. Because G-d has a special feeling for children, we, who were created in G-d’s “image,” also relate to children in an unusual way.

And while the distinction between adult and child applies throughout the year, it breaks down on Passover eve, particularly at the time that we are required to exhibit the childlike quality of inquisitiveness.

Where is Here?

Let us now return to the introductory remark that precedes the Four Questions:

“Here, the child asks…”

“Here,” refers to the Seder night, when we relive the experience of the Exodus, which marked the birth of the Jewish People and their entry into the stage of infancy.

“Here,” more specifically, refers to the point that is reserved for children. The energy generated by all the little children, poised to express their innocence and inquisitiveness, awakens the child in all of us. And as G-d’s children, we can ask for anything.

“Here,” refers even more specifically to the geographic and spiritual state of exile in which we are situated.

As we just concluded saying:

“This year we are here, next year we will be in the Land of Israel; this year we are slaves, next year we will be free.”

At this point, where we realize the fact that we are still “here,” in exile, this is where the child in us is aroused to ask, G-d why? Why are we still in exile? Why are we not totally free, both physically and spiritually?

When we ask, with the innocence and purity of a child, why—though this night may indeed be very  different—why are we still in exile, G-d listens to our childlike purity of heart and assures us that the “night of exile” is but temporary. Just like He saved us from the Pharaohs in past generations, so too will He redeem us from this present exile so that we can indeed celebrate the Seder—this year—in Jerusalem!

About the Author
Rabbi Heschel Greenberg is one of the world’s preeminent Jewish thinkers, scholars, teachers, inspirations, and inspirers. With a sublime blend of incredible intellectual prowess, vast encyclopedic knowledge, beautifully articulated language, and resounding resonant relatability, Rabbi Greenberg has brought the highest ideas to the broadest audiences. Across half a century, Rabbi Greenberg has elevated the way people live and feel by elevating the way they think. In a world of new media, where digital waves move oceans of information across continents, Rabbi Greenberg stands out as a voice of clarity. In the fathomless sea of information, often overwhelming and confusing, Rabbi Greenberg serves as a calming conveyer of eternal ideas—an expert lighthouse directing the ships of humanity through the possibilities of life by the light of the divine.
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