Questions & Answers Out of the Stuff of Real Life
Rabbi David Gelfand
In these tense and challenging times, the world is in turmoil, violence, hunger, and wars abound. The hint of spring’s rebirth after a bitter cold and snowy winter seems like a small consolation. That’s why I so look forward to Passover. It’s our season of redemption and rebirth, a reaffirmation that every person can make a difference for the better on our life’s journeys and a sign of salvation for us and for all humanity. And oh do we need it in 2023/5783!
As a youngster, I was always fascinated by “The Four Questions.” As an adult, at each stage of my life, I worry whether I am asking the right questions and finding the right answers. I remember as a child wondering not only why there were four, but also whether they were the right questions. Maybe there were better questions. It took years of maturity to come to the realization that the questions were not as obvious as they seemed to me in my childhood and that, depending on the year and its challenges and blessings, they might evoke very different answers than they had previously.
As a precocious child, I thought that the questions asked by the Four Sons, later Four Children, were obvious and simple. As a child, I already knew that among my friends and acquaintances, there were some who were wise or foolish or simple and even a few who I thought were wicked. It took a lot of maturity to also realize that the questions of these four children might be answered so very differently at any given time because of life’s circumstances, blessings and challenges. Our answers to these Passover queries, like all of life’s questions, existential and seemingly trivial, yours and mine, are tempered and shaped by each of our particular realities at any given moment.
Our answers are carved out of the stuff of real life. What I have discovered each year, as I reflect after Seder, is that each of us is sometimes wise, sometimes simple, sometimes wicked, and sometimes we just don’t know how to ask. Sometimes our health becomes our own personal Egypt, and we need to struggle for a new path as we wonder if there is any sense to suffering or fear. Sometimes we feel that we’d be better off left standing on the shores of the sea, buffeted by the random tides, fearful of the unknown, isolated or alone. Sometimes the passage of time while awaiting treatment, comfort or cure seems interminable and ever so distant. And sometimes, we are flustered and overwhelmed, like the child who knows not how to ask, and can neither find the way out from our own narrow places nor find the words to call out to others, to give voice to the words that will help give direction to the unknown path.
Personal answers and redemption come in many different forms. The Talmud wisely instructs us how to begin. Rabbi Hiyya ben Abba fell ill. When Rabbi Yochanan came to visit him, he said, “Give me your hand.” When Rabbi Yochanan took his hand, Rabbi Hiyya was dramatically cured. Our ancient rabbis believed that the power of healing and of finding profound answers to life’s challenges is present in every human encounter. Martin Buber taught similarly in “I and Thou” that all real living is in meeting the other. So, this Passover especially, literally and figuratively, no matter how off balance we may feel, let us hold hands, yad b’yad.
Most of all, the Passover season reminds us each year that we have the power to ask questions and to seek answers, to continue life’s journey even in the travails of the unknown wilderness, especially as we reach out to hold hands and comfort hearts, to help and to heal, to ask and to listen. In all this, there is the knowledge that richness is in the power to bring light into dark places, to soothe the burden of another’s soul and to shape our own destiny.
This Passover, I pray that wherever and however you are, you will ask good questions, and that for you and your loved ones, for Israel and for our people, that redemption will feel and be just a little closer. God bless you as we look in the mirror with honesty, as well as look all around, and hold hands with one another from our own vantage points, holding fast to dreams and holding fiercely to one another with understanding and passion. Happy Passover!