The Questioning Defense
By Rabbi Yehudah Prero
In Sefer Yechezkel (46:9), we find the following instructions on how the
nation of Israel was to approach the Bais HaMikdosh, the Holy Temple: “But
when the people of the land shall come before Hashem on the holidays, he
who enters in by the way of the north gate to bow down shall go out by the
way of the south gate; and he who enters by the way of the south gate
shall go out by the way of the north gate; he shall not return by the way
of the gate by which he came in, but shall go out straight ahead.”
Rav Yaakov Emden explains why these instructions were needed. Hashem did
not want the people to see any given gate twice on a visit to the Bais
HaMikdosh. If a person would enter and exit from the same place, that
person might become too familiar with his surroundings. He might start
acting in the Bais HaMikdosh like he does in his own home. Clearly, the
Bais HaMikdosh, as the holiest location known to us on earth, deserves a
level of reverence and respect far above and beyond that displayed when
one is in his own home. Yet, if the person became too accustomed to the
Bais HaMikdosh, too comfortable in those environs, he may come to
disrespect the Holy Temple. To ensure that this would not happen, Hashem
desired that people exit and enter the Bais Hamikdosh from different
places, so that the people would be constantly reminded of where they
were, and act accordingly.
Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz writes that greatest enemy to feelings of holiness
is familiarity. The dangers of familiarity manifest themselves in
different ways. On one hand, at a time when a person strives to accomplish
more, when a person is close to reaching new heights, familiarity comes
along and extinguishes that burning fire. A person becomes accustomed to a
certain situation, to a certain status. He is comfortable with that
status. He feels good in that position. Change is perceived as something
that can cause discomfort, and discomfort is to be avoided. One the other
hand, people may recognize the inherent holiness of a certain situation.
They may recognize the value of acting in a certain way. However, because
they spend so much time in that situation, or they act that way with great
frequency, the uniqueness fades and the entire value diminishes, leading
to a backsliding in spiritual stature. Familiarity causes people to not
only be complacent, but to regress as well.
On Pesach, we have a mitzvah to tell over the chain of events culminating
with our exodus from Mitzrayim. We tell over this story using questions
and answers, to the degree that even if a person has no children who can
ask questions, that individual should do both the asking and the answering
himself. Why is there such a stress on using this method? Rav Shmuelevitz
writes that the commandment to tell the story is to tell the story as if
it was the first time we were telling it. We should be relating all the
events as if the one listening had never head the story before. Obviously,
this is extremely difficult - We are all familiar with the storyline,
the listeners usually are as well, and this is especially true if the same
person is doing all the talking!
The reason why we do not merely tell over the story, but we do so using
questions and answers, is to make the story a little different each time.
Yes, we all know the story. We are familiar with it. It may not appear to
be so special to us any more. That dangerous state of familiarity has
crept in and made what could be a tremendously uplifting experience into
just another lengthy holiday meal. In order to counteract that
familiarity, we ask questions and provide answers. We provoke conversation
and thought. We stimulate our audience and ourselves by engaging in a
string of questions that should inspire us to delve deeply into this story
that we all know so well. By inviting this spirit of freshness and
originality into the narrative of the Seder evening, we eliminate the
dangers posed by familiarity and we enable ourselves to properly fulfill
our obligation to tell over the story of our departure from Egypt.
The holiday of Pesach is indeed special. The Seder is akin to a birthday
party of sorts, when we celebrate the birth of our nation, the nation of
Israel. We have the ability to infuse this party with a degree of
holiness. However, this holiness can only be achived if we apprecaite what
the party is all about. Our Sages gave us a mechanism to enable us to
reach this degree of appreciation. It's called a question. And its up to
us to provide the answers.
Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Yehudah Prero and Torah.org.
The author has Rabbinic ordination from Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem, NY.