Lessons from Passover: the importance of continuing to ask questions

BY MIRIAM LEVY '17

“And why do we call it matzah? Well, it looks like matzah, and it smells like matzah, and it
has those funny little round holes like matzah,” my aunt Joan reads from our Passover Haggadah as my dad giggles from the head of the table, as proud of his silly matzah joke as ever.
His joke reminds me that just because there may be no clear answer doesn’t mean a question should ever go unasked. Passover is a time for asking questions. Some, like, “why do we dip our herbs in saltwater on this night?” have straightforward answers, but many, like, “when will we be free?” do not. We ask the same questions year after year at our Passover Seders because it is not always the answers that matter. It is the radical act of questioning the world around us in order to understand why things are the way that they are and how they came to be that is important.

My Jewish community has taught and reinforced this lesson for my entire life. When I was 12, I had my first meeting with my rabbi before my Bat Mitzvah, and he asked me to arm wrestle with him. I tentatively stuck out my skinny little arm, placed my elbow on the table, and prepared myself for what was sure to be an embarrassingly quick defeat. He reached across to grasp my hand, but instead of forcing it down to the table, he shook it. “I’m not going to make you arm wrestle with me, but I am going to make you wrestle with the Torah,” he told me. I have never forgotten that interaction, or what I learned from it. In my first experience using the sacred text of my religion to learn, I was told to question it. Not to take it literally or to use it as a bunch of guidelines, but to question it.

I wake up today with too many questions to count. It’s 2017 and there still isn’t equalpay for equal
work, women’s rights to bodily autonomy are still being questioned and people don’t believe climate change is real. In the present day people are still being persecuted based on their skin color or religion and there’s fake news all over the internet and there’s a man I believe to be completely unfit to be our President running the country and it makes me want to shout, “Why?” into the void and maybe give up after that. So many of my questions seem too big and too broad and overall unanswerable and I find myself faltering, not knowing what or who to ask.

But as Passover approaches, I am reminded of the importance of continuing to ask questions. People have not always had the freedom to ask questions, and the story of Passover reminds me of this. Being able to question the status quo is a privilege afforded to me because of all of the people who were brave enough to ask questions before me. So, this Passover, as I read through the scripted questions and answers in the Haggadah, I will refrain from stopping at simply, “why?” and I will challenge my friends, my colleagues and myself to continue to look at the world around me critically and pursue the radical act of asking questions.

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