The response given to the son “who does not know how to ask” is perhaps the most fascinating line in the whole Passover Haggada: “You open [it] for him.” The Sages command us “to open” the story for him, to tell him a bit, to provoke his curiosity so that he will ask about the nature of the holiday and then to break it down further for him. Even though this son has not asked anything, we are still commanded to describe to him the events of the Exodus from Egypt.
Why? Why force upon him information he never sought in the first place?
Is this commandment applicable to other realms of our lives as well? Is a parent obligated to teach his children about the process of pasteurizing milk, for instance? And to focus on our religious world – is it obligatory for us to teach our children that Judaism is far more diverse than we educate them formally? Is it incumbent upon us to tell about various Hasidic traditions, liturgical customs, distinct denominations or that in some synagogues, women take an active role in their Judaism, leading prayer and reading from the Torah
and wrapped in colorful tallitot?
On the one hand, such a child might evolve into the “simple” one, who asks innocently about the new information to which he has been introduced. Yet a real fear is that he will transform to the “rebellious” son, the one who brazenly challenges his parents’ ways, asking himself “is this really right for me?”
Still, the terrifying moment for which no parent is prepared is that her child will turn into the “wise son” – one who indeed knows how to ask, to search, to explore and to pursue what is best for him, even if it differs from the practices of his parents’ home.
The Exodus from Egypt is not only a physical departure from the sovereignty of Pharaoh’s oppressive rule; rather, Egypt (mitzrayim) can be understood as “the narrow place” (meitzarim), one that blocks possibilities to serve God authentically. The exit from such a place opens before each of us a wide array of opportunities, answers to questions we had not even known to ask until that moment.
Exposure to new options, to a diversity of opinions, does not necessarily mean we will change our worldview; but a person who chooses her path informed and intentionally is ultimately stronger and richer in her faith.
I grew up in a classic religious-Zionist environment, where we were encouraged to ask questions – but only ones that aligned with the ways of thinking promoted by the religious girls’ school I attended.
From the age of fifteen, I began to understand two things: that religion and faith in God are important to me, and, on the other hand, that something in my religious experience felt lacking. But I could not pinpoint the source of this lack exactly.
The word “feminism” – and certainly “religious feminism” – were foreign to me.
Some years later, I enlisted in the IDF, where I made friends with religious feminists who taught me the language and its lovely tune: how it is in fact permissible for women to read from the Torah and lead prayers, how “equality” is not a dirty word and how our goals are important – but no less so than how we arrive there.
During the same period, I was also exposed to Women of the Wall, a group of Jewish women who pray at the Western Wall each month, aspiring to liberate it anew so that every woman can pray there freely according to her custom.
Women of the Wall satisfied my appetite for a vibrant, energizing “flavor” to my Judaism, my Torah. All my life it had been determined that I had no status of relevance to the tzibbur (community) and suddenly, not only was I counted in a minyan of women, but I now was being offered the chance to receive an aliyah to the Torah, and even to lead the prayer service.
Today, I take a leading part in most of our prayer services at the Western Wall, an empowering feeling each time. From this place, I feel equipped to come to my children in the future and suggest to them to think closely about their Jewish lives, and to ask as many questions as they can about the wide world I hope to open before them – questions that will strengthen their paths and their faith over time, however they end up connecting to Torah.
From the child in the Haggada who does not know to ask, to the young woman searching for the right ingredient to enhance her religious life, I transformed to the wise one, to the one who does not stop asking, searching, discovering, and growing.
Women of the Wall showed me the way home, to my own Judaism.