This week’s parshah reminds us that it is the prerogative for children to ask questions, and the obligation of parents and educators to respond to them. In Parshat Bo’ we learn about the final three plagues suffered by Pharoah and ancient Mitzrayim. The plagues become increasingly more severe, culminating in the truly horrific makkot habekhorot – slaying of the first born. The parshah raises many difficult questions concerning Pharoah’s free will, the extent of the suffering, and cost of freedom. What has always fascinated me about this parshah is that it anticipates the difficult questions it raises. Moreover, it anticipates the children of future generations that 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, — it raises the notion that in the future, children will ask about the meaning and purpose of this ritual.
That children will ask questions about Pesach is mentioned four times in the Torah – 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 give 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.