By Dean Steven Huberman and Professor Elhanan Marvit
A customer found a Haggadah in the “sale bin.” When the customer inquired as to why the Haggadah was on sale, the clerk informed the customer that it was ‘last year’s edition.’ For us, there is no “last year’s edition” of the Haggadah; its message is transmitted from generation to generation. Its Jewish values continue to be valid yesterday and tomorrow.
The essence of the Haggadah and the seder is the intergenerational communication of the story of our exodus to our children. One’s obligation of intergenerational transmission is lifelong. It is a commitment that one will never outgrow. The Haggadah and the seder rituals are all geared toward arousing a child’s curiosity and subsequent questioning. As we lead the seder, we feel as if we are sitting in the ultimate, well -appointed classroom, awaiting our students’ questions and feedback.
As we communicate the story inter-generationally to the younger members of our family, we must do the difficult work of listening to their ideas, truly hearing the essence of their questions and helping them to think through their values and ethics. Once we have begun to internalize these communication skills of listening, hearing and caring, we can carry over these relationship skills after the holidays.
Why are questions so important? Questions respectfully asked and respectfully responded to are the essence of effective communication. We probe the other person’s innermost fears, dreams, hopes, and aspirations. Well formulated questions should be clear, situational, and non-aggressive. A good question might be,” Why do we as Jews mourn the destruction of our enemies who maltreated us so horrifically in the Haggadah story? Is it not natural to dislike your enemies?” Good replies are succinct, caring, and empathetic: “We as Jews regard all humanity as children of God. We cry when any life is taken, even the life of our mortal enemy.”
A Jewish Nobel Prize winner was once asked: What was the key to his success? He replied that his mother never asked him when he was growing up what he learned at school today. She asked, “What were the good questions you asked at school today?” The Nobel Prize winner understood that by asking good questions, you get to know your family members, or patients, or clients, or students so much better. In fact, psychological research now demonstrates that by asking people questions, you increase the probability they will actually act on their plans and intentions.
May your Passover seder be interrupted by good questions.