The Mishnah (Pesachim 10:4) says that, after the first cup of wine is drunk for Kiddush, a second cup is poured and the son asks the father the Four Questions. The Gemara (Pesachim 116a) states that if the son cannot ask the questions or is absent then the wife asks the questions, if this is also not a possibility then the person asks themselves the questions.
This strange suggestion may become the sad reality for many people alone for the first time in their lives on Seder night. Instead of being surrounded by family and friends they will be on their own and “ask themselves” the Four Questions. Our hearts go out to them and we pray that this situation should change for the better very soon.
Why does the Gemara suggest that a person asks themselves? Surely the idea of asking questions is to get an answer, and what is the reason for the same person to ask and to supply the answer?
While questions are often asked in order to gain information the Talmud suggests that there is another reason to ask questions in general, and these questions in particular.
It has been said that we remember questions that we ask; many years after a class students may not recall the details of the lesson but they will remember their own questions. We ask what we are interested in and so when we are permitted and encouraged to ask we are more likely to remember.
But this cannot be the only reason that the Gemara wants us to ask, since the question is a somewhat artificial one and the answer is supplied by the Hagaddah. So why is it so important that we ask?
We recently started reading the Book of Vayikra, the first word is written with a small Alef, what is left is Vayikar, and it just happened. When the Alef is added it becomes a calling, a cry from God to Moshe and to all of humanity.
The same word appears at the end of the Book of Vayikra; we are warned that in the future we may leave God and go with him “keri” (see Vayikra 26:21). Rashi explains that we will claim that all is by chance, instead of seeing God in the equation. The Rambam (Laws of Fasting 1:3) says that when bad things happen in the world we are to fast and turn to God. If, instead, we chalk it up to a natural occurrence and do not seek out God this is cruel and prevents the people from repenting.
The question is a declaration of belief; we do not view the world as a chain of freak events, rather we ask why did this happen. Or, even more powerful and pertinent, what can we learn from this and how can we make things better?
The questions affirm that, while we cannot always fathom the Divine mind, we do believe that this is not outside of His jurisdiction. This is not happenstance and we are commanded to learn something from it. Do not just let it pass over you; continue to believe in asking questions and seeking out the rhyme and the reason.
Our prayer is that we continue to ask questions and that, when He sees fit, God will give us an answer.
May we all have a special and uplifting Pesach, wherever we are, whatever our circumstances and whoever is asking and answering.