In the future, when your child asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?” tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. (Deut. 6: 20-21)
When my sixth grade teacher asked a question, I kept my hand raised silently in the air until she called on me. If I got the answer right, I felt my skin glow gold. I was well-liked and I felt smart. If I got the answer wrong, I usually remained silent for a little while afterward, ashamed. But at least my hand had been valiantly and silently raised. I quietly groaned if someone interrupted the teacher with a silly question instead of offering an answer.
I think a lot about questions around this time of year, with the approach of Passover. Miriam, Yocheved, Shifra, and Pua’, the heroic women of the Exodus story, are not the only reason that Passover can be called a feminist holiday. I would argue that the centrality of questions in this Spring festival are also a integral part of Passover’s feminist undertones — after all, an important part of being a feminist is asking questions and not taking things for granted. My bookshelf is littered with my favorite books on women and power, women negotiating and women sitting at the table: women asking smart questions.
As a dear teacher David Elcott once said, the Passover seder is where we perform our first volitional act as Jews–we ask the four questions. At the seder, we turn everything upside down so that, indeed, there are questions to be asked. Dozens of them. Thinking of this, I intentionally took a bird’s eye view one year and watched my father in his white robe lead our family seder, mumbling in Hebrew as the guests took a simultaneous bite out of a matzo-mortar sandwich, and as my siblings and I looked each other apprehensively to insure that indeed, we were each leaning to the left and not to the right. I thought about how much these seemingly bizarre actions alone could generate the richest lists of questions.