Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Rav Moshe Weinberger's Drasha from Second Day of Pesach 5778 - Cherished Questions

Below, please find this adaptation of Rav Weinberger's drasha from the second day of Pesach 5778.  Enjoy!

See here for past shiurim at YUTorah.org's website by Rav Weinberger both as Mashpia at YU and from the past 20+ years. You can also click on one of the following links to subscribe to the shiurim: emailrss feedpodcast, or iTunes. Please note that these drashos will only be available online for one month. If you notice any mistakes, please let me know so I can correct it. If you are interested in a particular drasha that is no longer online, you can email me (right sidebar) and I'll send it to you IY"H, BL"N.

Rav Moshe Weinberger
Second Day of Pesach 5778
Cherished Questions

Recently, I read the following message written by the mother of a thirteen-year-old girl who was killed by terrorists in Eretz Yisroel in 2016. I believe her message should be read by every Jew:

Very soon we will all sit at the Seder table. We will open the Haggada. We will read about the four sons.
We will seek out the wise son. We will beckon to the simple son. We will be challenged by the wicked son, and by the one who does not know how to ask.
There are some families who have another son.
The fifth son.
The son who cannot be at the table.
He was killed…he was murdered…
In so many families, there is no son.
There is no daughter…
To sit and to feel like free people. To feel the redemption and the liberation.
But there is no son or daughter…
Just a memory… How many more bereaved parents are there this year, and how many children have gone…
We would have been happy to have struggled with a simple son or one who does not know how to ask, or even with a wicked son.
If only he would have been here. If only he would have lived.
But we do not have a son or daughter.
So when everyone sits down on Pesach, beautiful and festive, stop for a moment and try to remember and to mention the names.
Not four sons. Not four hundred sons.
More than four thousand sons who are no longer.
Try to remember. To hug.
And then return to your children, who may not all be wise. There are also those who are simple and those who are wicked. Just hug them. Love.
Be proud of them.
They are here.

Chag Sameach,
Rena Ariel
In memory of my beloved daughter Hallel Yaffa Ariel Hy”d

After the four questions, but before we read about the four sons in the Hagada, there is an interesting introduction. The Hagada says, “Blessed is the Omnipresent, blessed is He…” What is the purpose of this introduction? How does it fit into the flow or prepare us to read about the four sons?

The Seder is full of questions. The Shelah HaKadosh zt’l, even points out that the Aramaic translation of the word egg, ביצה, one of the items on the Seder plate, is בעיא, which also means “question” or “inquiry.” In fact, the story of our redemption is driven by questions: “Why is the bush not burning?” (Shmos 3:3); “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?” (ibid 3:11); “And they will say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?” (ibid. 3:13); and “Why have You done evil to this nation? Why have you sent me?” (ibid. 5:22).

Why are questions such an important part of our redemption and the Seder itself? Because the ability to ask questions is the ultimate sign of freedom. One who is enslaved to another or under his thumb is afraid to ask any questions. One who feels healthy and free has no qualms investigating the reasons for things and asking, “Why?” That is the essence of being truly human. In fact, the numerical value of the word for a human being, אדם, is 45, the same as the word “What?” A healthy, engaged, free person can ask questions.

This is why the beis medrash is filled with questions. The greatest student is the one who can ask the most challenging question. As the Mishnah in Avos (6:2) says, “The only truly free person is one who is engaged in the study of Torah.” A free man asks questions and challenges what he does not understand to understand better. Only a slave is silent.

Unfortunately, there are some rebbeim and teachers who try to silence students’ questions, to make them feel like their questions are a sign of deficient intelligence, or, even worse, that their questions are a sign of a lack of faith in Hashem or in the Torah. We received a call once from the administration of the seminary one of my daughters was attending. She is intelligent and asks a lot of questions.

They were concerned because she was asking too many questions and wanted to let us know that this could negatively affect her ability to get a good shidduch because it could indicate that she has problems with emunah. While she got married to a wonderful young man and has lovely children, it is quite possible that my daughter’s teachers lacked clarity in their own emunah, which made them uncomfortable when they were not able to answer her respectfully-asked questions. Teachers or parents who intimidate their children not to ask questions are unintentionally attempting to make Jewish children less human and less free.

Rav Shimon Schwalb zt’l, addresses our earlier question regarding why the four sons are preceded by “Blessed is the Omnipresent, blessed is He…” He points out that usually, the name “Omnipresent” connotes a sad or mournful context. We use this name when we comfort mourners, “May the Omnipresent comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.” When we pray for people who have been taken captive, we say “May the Omnipresent have mercy on them…” We also use this name when praying for people who are sick. Why is this?

Rav Schwalb explains that when someone is suffering, he feels abandoned and alone. He feels that “Hashem may exist in many places, but He is not here with me.” By using the name “Omnipresent,” Chazal are teaching us that Hashem is saying to a person suffering through his most difficult times, “I am everywhere, including right here with you. Do not give up hope. Hashem is in every place, no matter how dark it is. Everything is part of His providence.

When we approach the reading in the Hagada about the four sons, this brings up a great deal of pain for so many people. Some have waited for a long time to get married and therefore have no children. Others have gotten married but have been unable to have children yet. Still others have children who, because of a disengagement from or antipathy toward Yiddishkeit, or because of a fight with parents, are not even at the Seder. I spend weeks before Pesach working with families to encourage reconciliation – to encourage parents with children who are not following in their path to invite their children to the Seder, to show them that no matter what, they are still part of the family. And there are those like Rina Ariel, whose sons or daughters will never make it to the Seder because they have been taken from the world, whether by demons wearing keffiyehs, or by demons within that no one else can see.

For many of us, when we read about the four sons, it brings up painful memories. That is why it is preceded by “Blessed is the Omnipresent…” We are reminded that Hashem is with us and has a plan for us no matter how it seems. We may have four questions, four thousand questions, or six million questions. We simply cannot know the answer to many of these questions in this world. That is why we open the door for Eliyahu HaNavi. Sometimes, when there is an unanswered question or unresolved dilemma in the Gemara, it says “Teikuתיקו,” which stands for “Tishbi [Eliyahu] will answer difficulties and questions.” One day we will understand how the Omnipresent was there during all the problems and suffering, but these things cannot be fully understood in this world. For now, it is important to speak, to ask, and to wait faithfully through the years of Teiku.

We must value and appreciate our children, even the “wicked” ones. Their questions mean that they are free, that they are healthy human beings, that they are still present and engaged.

Rav Elyah Lopian zt’l, was once in Dvinsk and wanted to meet one of the greatest sages of the time living in that city, the Ohr Someach, Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk zt’l. When he went to the Ohr Someach’s home, before he had entered the house, he heard Rav Meir Simcha explaining Gemara, Rashi, and Tosafos to someone whom he assumed was a child. Rav Elyah was mesmerized by the simplicity and clarity with which the Ohr Someach explained every single idea. Finally, when it was time to enter the house for his appointment, the Ohr Someach noticed Rav Elyah looking around the house. When asked what he was searching for, Rav Elyah said he was looking for the child to whom the Ohr Someach had been explaining the Gemara. The Ohr Someach then said, “I am that child.”

May we merit to value our own and our children’s questions. May we always encourage them and be infinitely grateful for their presence, no matter what kind of son or daughter they are. May we feel the company of the Omnipresent no matter what losses and difficulties we have suffered. And may we merit to continue hoping in the answers which Eliyahu HaNavi will provide one day, may he come to herald the coming of Moshiach soon in our days!

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