Passover offers us the chance to learn in multiple ways and to think about some of the most important Jewish values. The ideas of moving from slavery to freedom, of welcoming the stranger because we were once strangers ourselves, and of thinking about how to pass on the story of our past to new generations – all are inherent in the celebration of the festival.
But how to pass on these ideas is almost as important as the messages themselves. Fortunately, our Talmudic rabbis gave us a roadmap for how to best do that.
One of the most important elements these rabbis included in the Passover seder is the asking of the Four Questions. The questions themselves are important, but we are also instructed specifically as to who should do the asking. The youngest person takes on the responsibility, not only to learn a sweet tune but also to remind our seder guests what freedom is all about. By encouraging our children to ask questions, we teach them – and ourselves at the same time – that the difference between being a slave and being free is rooted in the ability to ask “why.”
This is the message that should permeate our seders: connecting, conversing, and asking all kinds of questions. Here are a few ways to try this out at your own seder:
- Set up an hourglass timer at one end of your seder table. Don't let more than five minutes pass without someone asking a question.
- Have each person sign their Hagaddah. Each year, you can look back and see who has joined you in the past, offering an opportunity to recall funny stories and memories of past guests who can no longer be at your table. (If you’re not comfortable writing during the seder, ask people to sign them before the holiday festivities begin.)
- Make a Haggadah with your family. Assign everyone a page or section before the seder; adults and teenagers can be responsible for the text and children for the drawings. Then, collect and collate each section and make enough copies for all your participants.
- Bring in props. Buy them online or at your local Judaica store, or make your own with your family before the seder. Be creative, and remember: Props don't necessarily have to just be the plagues. Turn your whole house into a Jewish/Egyptian home!
- Personalize your seder experience. Assign everyone a section of the Haggadah to study before they arrive, and ask participants to bring readings or questions to the group – either factual or spiritual in nature – depending on which section of the Haggadah they were assigned.
- Think about incorporating new traditions. Plenty of new seder ideas have cropped up over the last few years, like these modern additions to the seder plate. Regardless of whether or not you decide to incorporate them, learning about them can open the door for questions and conversation.
- Enliven your seder experience with musical instruments. Encourage people to bring rhythm instruments such as tambourines or egg shakers. Communicate in ways other than through speech!
- Have more than one version of the Haggadah at your seder. While most Haggadot have the same essential elements, they may phrase sections differently, have specific themes, or include additional discussion questions. Looking at the differences can help bring out more questions. As the seder leader, encourage people to explain what strikes them about the differences.
- Make Passover “question cookies” for dessert. Create them by tying together two pieces of chocolate-covered matzah with a colorful ribbon. In between the matzah, include a note – a silly joke, a Jewish fact, or a wish for the coming year. Pass them out to your participants, and don't forget to have everyone read theirs aloud!
The Four Questions are a lesson for our families and children that questioning and connecting are at the heart of freedom. How will you incorporate them into your Passover observance?