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By Rabbi John Moscowitz.

Isn’t it curious that the overarching imperative of Pesach (“vi’hgatatah l’vincha”; You must teach your children how God liberated the Israelites from Egypt) is employed at the Seder alone in regard to the child who does not know how to ask?

With regard to the chacham (the wise), the tam (the simple), and the rasha (the wicked) — no such instruction to the parent. Just the she’aino yode’a lishal. Why?

Might it have to do with the fact human life begins without words? At life’s outset we are not yet equipped to articulate words, much less to ask questions or to think. This is our common condition as life dawns.

How, then, does verbal articulation occur, the capability to think and to question develop? Developing and growing children, humanly hard-wired to think and to speak, inexorably (almost always) make their way toward speech, aided significantly by their parents — they who, through love and attention, literally animate speech and thought.

And, that’s it, really: Nothing makes us more human than the ability to think — and following onward, to communicate that thought. Is it any wonder that freedom and independence, to say nothing of human dignity, begin in independent thought and speech? The Rabbis say the same about Creation itself: “God spoke and the world came into being.”

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So no wonder that the Hagaddah places a child who does not know how ask in the hands of the parents — they who are to prompt the child, literally to open his or her mouth. Which means that this ancient Jewish story of human freedom and dignity par excellence begins in speaking, thinking and questioning — for all types, all including the one not yet so capable.

Once the sheino yode’a lishal does open his or her mouth and poses the first question, the story of human liberation on a small scale unfolds– right there side by side the story of human liberation on the grand scale.


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