Twenty-five years ago, the beginning of a movement was born. The first rally, the first protest that echoed the words of Moses. Thousands upon thousands of people gathered in the streets of America, with bright white signs in big black letters spelling “LET MY PEOPLE GO!” As time went on and the Red Iron Curtain was holding strong, the rally’s and protests were bigger and louder calling for the strangled Jews to be free from the modern day shackles and whips of the Soviet Union. No one understood the magnitude of the fight they were fighting and how it would transform and reawaken a Jewry that was dormant. The shackles of the Soviet Union was the slavery of Egypt that our nation knew once before. These shackles were the enslavement of the mind. The greatest enslavement of the mind is the inability to ask questions. In the FSU, there was no need for questions. As the Jews in that land stopped asking questions, their Jewishness fell apart generation after generation. Although, underground brit milahs and bar mitzvahs occurred, the overwhelming majority did not even know what it was that they were missing. My mother and father always remind me that they did not even know where to get matzah, if that was something that they knew to ask for.
These were chains that a generation of parents carried over by plane, by boat, through stopovers to this country. As they broke off their shackles and began to have hopes and dreams to a shackle-less generation of children who had doors open for them that they themselves had yet to comprehend. The greatest freedom that was given back to their future was the ability to ask.
One of the major parts of the seder is known as “Ma Nistana” the time when men, women, and children are together at the table asking why this night is so seemingly different than all other nights. Why is there matzah, bitter herbs, why is this all here? There is an obligation of every single person to read these questions, even if you are alone and the only person at your seder and there is no one to answer – you are obligated according to Jewish law to ask these questions aloud. The questions being read is the answer of what it means for a Jew to thrive.
We are taught time and time again of the four sons, representing the four types of Jews each one with a different clarity of what it is that they should be asking. The fourth child does not even know what to ask. The child of the Soviet Union was that fourth son. They simply did not even know what to ask. Some sages teach that is the furthest point a Jew can be, unaware of what is even missing. The Lubavicher Rebbe teaches there is a fifth son that was not written into the haggadah, the child of the fourth son, the baal teshuva, the one who returns. Even though those parents had no idea what questions to ask, they had children. Those children began to ask questions that awakened their return to a rich legacy and a relationship with the Infinite.
Six years ago, I began my own questioning. Questions began to form some innocent, some sweet, some tough, and some earth shattering, mind blowing ones. Some of them I am still grappling with today. Some questions even better than the answers themselves. A jews obsession with questions is the DNA that drives them to search deeper and deeper for truth. A Jew can not thrive without asking of questions. As I am surrounded by many different types of Jews with parents that came from the Soviet Union these are all people that all in their own personal and intimate way began to ask questions. Just like me, grappling, thinking, pushing the limits of what they grew up with and what they thought to be true. For many of us, being raised in this country gave us an ability to ask questions that our parents were not aware was a necessity.
The Soviet Union did let my people go. As the Russian Jews of the 20th century embarked on their journey forward through the sea that was on the right and left of them splitting they did not realize they were giving their children the greatest strength of all and that was to ask questions. By asking the questions that are so necessary they push us every single day to go through raging waters and defy gravities, to strive, to grow. This year may we be blessed to continue asking questions. Questions that are hard, that make no sense, that break our thoughts and make us questions all that we are. May the questions we ask bring us closer to ultimate truth, away from our personal chametz to internal peace, and most importantly clarity and closeness to our potential.