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  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash

A Thousand Questions

Today was the Siyum for Masechet P'sachim as part of the Daf Yomi cycle. The cycle began last January and so far we have learned Masechet Brachot, Masechet Shabbat, Masechet Eruvin and now Masechet P'sachim. Tomorrow we will begin a new Masechet, Masechet Shekalim.

Over the past year I have reviewed things I have learned with you, but in the interest of time I won't share this today, but will leave it for another post. In the meantime, I wrote this poem to share with the other learners regarding questioning at the Seder.

It pertains to Pesachim 116 a

GEMARA: The Sages taught: If his son is wise and knows how to inquire, his son asks him. And if he is not wise, his wife asks him. And if even his wife is not capable of asking or if he has no wife, he asks himself. And even if two Torah scholars who know the halakhot of Passover are sitting together and there is no one else present to pose the questions, they ask each other.

מָה נִשְׁתַּנָּה הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה מִכׇּל הַלֵּילוֹת, שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת אָנוּ מַטְבִּילִין פַּעַם אֶחָת, הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה — שְׁתֵּי פְעָמִים. מַתְקֵיף לַהּ רָבָא: אַטּוּ כׇּל יוֹמָא לָא סַגִּיא דְּלָא מְטַבְּלָא חֲדָא זִימְנָא? אֶלָּא אָמַר רָבָא, הָכִי קָתָנֵי: שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת אֵין אָנוּ חַיָּיבִין לְטַבֵּל אֲפִילּוּ פַּעַם אֶחָת, הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה — שְׁתֵּי פְעָמִים. The mishna states that one of the questions is: Why is this night different from all other nights? As on all other nights we dip once; however, on this night we dip twice. Rava strongly objects to this statement of the mishna: Is that to say that on every other day there is no alternative but to dip once? Is there an obligation to dip at all on other days, as indicated by the wording of the mishna? Rather, Rava said that this is what the mishna is teaching: As on all other nights we are not obligated to dip even once; however, on this night we are obligated to dip twice.

This is my opportunity to add to my teacher's thoughts about asking questions at the seders.

A Night of a Thousand Questions

Mah nishtana

A question

Upon this question we build

a bridge between generations

a tower built of ideas

a path to understanding our history

a map leading to hope

all with the sweet taste of freedom in our mouths

You are young

You are old

and every age in between

You know much

or you know little

But you are not weary

Your senses are sharp

You are not a slave

You are not beaten down

You sit, you recline at this table of freedom

It is your right,

so ask!

You have a voice!

You have the freedom to question

You have the right to wonder

To contemplate, to ponder

To opine, to exchange ideas

You sit at a table in the presence of giants

Your questions enter you into the discussion

that has lasted thousands of years

This is a table of four cups

a hundred plus generations

and a thousand questions

Your questions

answered and unanswered

You are each of the four children

You are the rabbis seated in B'nei Barak

In your soul you were freed from Egypt

It is still your debate

It is still your story

It is still your voice swimming in a sea of voices

Ask and ask again

Through questions we define ourselves

Questions open the gates of wisdom

So, argue, exchange ideas

Your eyes are wide open

Questions burn like Maror on your tongue

Questions that glow as burning coals

Open your mind

You are not passive

You are not shy

You do not ask others to think for you

You have the freedom to think

It is a gift

So you ask

So you delve

You inquire

You challenge

Knowledge flows

Knowledge grows

Nothing remains static

Through questions the story becomes your own

For two nights a year you are royalty

you revel not in a story of riches

but of miracles, of freedom

of the hopeless given hope

A seder plate graces the table

Symbols surround you

It is your questions that bind the symbols

that brings the past to the here and now.

You are the story and the story is you

So ask and ask again.

Mah Nishtana Halayla Hazeh?

It is a Night of a Thousand Questions.

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