This week, in Parshat Bo, we are reminded about our role as parents in responding to our children’s Jewish questions. In this parshah, the plagues on Mitzrayim (ancient Egypt) become increasingly more severe, culminating in the truly horrific makkot habekhorot – slaying of the first born. The parshah raises many difficult questions concerning Pharaoh’s free will, the extent of the suffering, and the cost of freedom and more. What has always fascinated me about this parshah is that it anticipates the difficult questions it raises. It also anticipates that children of future generations will ask these questions.
Chapter 12 of Parshat Bo, in the Book of Exodus, describes the rituals of Pesach that are to be done to remember the final departure from Mitzrayim. Immediately following the description of the rituals, the Torah states that, in the future , “Your children will ask you, ‘What is this ritual to you?'” At the very moment the Torah describes the rituals of Pesach — the first and most formative collective Jewish ritual – the Torah also reminds us that in the future, children will ask about the meaning and purpose of this ritual.
The notion that children will ask questions about Pesach is mentioned four times in the ensuing chapters of Exodus – paralleling the four questions of the children of the Seder. Nothing could be more Jewish than raising questions concerning the meaning and purpose of what we, as Jewish people, do. In each generation, parents are challenged to explain to their children “what this ritual is to you.” Davka, to you! The Torah and the Haggadah gives us some guidance on how to answer our children’s questions. But ultimately, each of us needs to be able to answer it for our own children. What applies to Pesach, the formative Jewish ritual, applies to Judaism as a whole.
This Shabbat, may we each find the wisdom and words to answer for our children what living a Jewish life means to us.