by Simon Jacobson
What is the healthiest thing you can do for your child to help arm him or her with tools to prevent many of today’s social maladies? As we witness the deep void in children’s lives today, there is a profound lesson that can be gleaned from a 3000 year old tradition.
In homes across the world, young children begin the Passover Seder by asking the Four Questions. Looking beneath the surface of this custom reveals a powerful universal message regarding freedom for both our children and ourselves. It illuminates an internal deeper dimension of the human need to explore and question, which lies at the very heart of freedom.
Throughout history the silencing of the masses has been a powerful tool employed by monarchs and dictators whose tyrannical rule was threatened by individual expression. In contrast, freedom in America today is essentially based on the right to challenge and to question.
Every unhealthy and dysfunctional experience is always shrouded in silence. Not allowing man to ask, to challenge and to probe is perhaps the worst crime of all. It invalidates the individual, demoralizes the psyche and enslaves the free spirit in a superimposed box of distortions.
Religion is perhaps the greatest victim of this malady. Wherever I travel, I meet countless people who have been hurt by “authorities” who have dogmatically imposed religious teachings upon them. Frequently I hear: “I was never allowed to ask questions;” “Do what you’re told or God will get even with you.” The underlying implication is: “Listen, behave, fall in line – conform!”
Asking questions is an essential human quality. Observe an infant beginning to crawl and exploring her little world, or watch a child dismantle his toys. Curiosity is an inherent part of our nature. We naturally dissect our universe; we take things apart; we explore the universe and try to understand what makes it work. The root of all knowledge is the curiosity to know what is beneath, to search for the deeper purpose of existence. Nothing is more freeing than the human need to challenge the status quo and believe that through our exploration things can become better.
Think of the last time you were silenced by a parent, an authority or a spouse. Now think of the last time someone listened to you. Sincerely listened – asking how you are, what are your concerns, what are your questions. Is there a more empowering experience than that simple gesture of allowing you to be you – the freedom to express yourself, to allow your true self to emerge? To be uniquely you.
As a child I remember being called upon to ask the Four Questions that begin the Passover Seder. However, it was only in more recent years when my own children asked me the questions, I realized that not all of them are directly answered. Why encourage children to ask and then not give direct answers?
I have learned that the beauty of the Passover questions is precisely that: Questions. Life’s journey is learning how and what to ask. And after all, the wise question is half the answer. Jewish tradition alters many activities on the Seder night for one reason only: to provoke and motivate children from the youngest age to question, to probe, to ask and ask again. The Four Questions invite children on a journey of inquiry so that from a young age they are imbued with the confidence that asking is not just for adults. From childhood on questions become the cornerstone of the story of Passover, the story of Freedom.
Our education system today can learn a compelling lesson from the Passover questions. We need to encourage children’s natural inquiry so as to cultivate the unique talents in each of our kids rather than boxing them into certain standards. How many casualties result from schools that are generally geared toward the average child, the ones that ”fit in”? What about all those unique individuals that stand out, are different, too advanced, too slow or gifted in different ways? And what does a conformist system do even to the ‘regular’ kid? Is there such a thing as a ‘regular’ kid?
So this Passover demand of your children to ask and challenge. Allow them to express their unique selves. Indeed this also includes the “child within.” As adults we too could use a heavy dose of childhood fascination to explore new horizons, new challenges and greater hopes. This year let us teach ourselves and our children to celebrate the beginning of our glorious human quest to search, to question and to discover our unique place and contribution in this world.