Rav Hircsh’s Mah Nishtanah Message
Hashem requires us as Jewish parents to always infuse our young children with the Torah and its spirit. We are to bring them to Hashem at a tender age and imbue them with a Jewish soul that will be aflame with Jewish life and be a part of our Jewish destiny. This night – the night on which we celebrate our birthday in history and the commencement of our role as Jews – has been specially designated by Hashem for the dedication of our young children. The survival of our people and the continuation and development of the relationship which began at Yetzias Mitzraim depend on the sanctification of our children. And now when you share the Matzah with them, thereby taking part in the mission of Jewish dedication, let your words flow from your heart. Let your heart sincerely appreciate your noble role as a Jewish parent. We must teach them the lesson of this Matzah, the spirit of this holiday of Pesach and the significance of the great event so that our children will understand the mission of the Jewish people….
V’kan Haben Shoel… and now the son asks…
IF WE WANT TO KNOW what is the difference between man and animal, we would not be so incorrect to say that it is man’s ability to ask. Without doubt, the very first thought that enters a child’s mind when he is exposed to the world that surrounds him is “What is this?” The human spirit seeks to understand what is happening around it. Even before his lips can utter the words his heart is wondering, “What is this?” If we could only read the expression in his eyes we would understand the questions in his mind. The whole nature of a child is to question, and it is precisely for this reason that he is able to learn so many skills in his early years.
So when his mind develops and his lips are capable of verbalizing the curiosity of his soul, and he asks and asks, seemingly without end – answer him! His thirst for knowledge is a sign of a healthy soul. The same way that parents are so careful to feed their child’s hunger every day, they must take the time to quench his thirst for knowledge and feed his soul. Why don’t parents take the time to answer their child’s questioning mind? Why don’t they learn about the experiences that their child will encounter so they can guide him properly?
Don’t think that answering his questions is the responsibility of his teachers when he enters school. Visit any school where a child’s soul develops to maturity. There you will be able to easily distinguish the “fortunate” children who received answers at home to their childish questions, who did not ask the question, “What is this?” in vain. These are the children that have parents – and specifically mothers – who conversed with them when they were young, cultivating their desire to understand and offering proper guidance. These are the fortunate ones! While other women wasted time at theaters and social events, these mothers found satisfaction and contentment in the company of their children and used this precious time to teach and guide the next generation. It is not the school that is responsible for their success when they develop into mature adults of fine character, but their mothers who lovingly provided them this essential early education.
You will also see children whose parents did not have the time, the desire, or sufficient knowledge to spend time with their children. These children also had questions but they stopped asking when they received no answers. They became indifferent to objects and events. Instead, they occupied themselves with other activities, never striving to know and understand. These children will require several years of schooling just to be trained how to ask and learn. Still, they will never be able to regain what they lost due to their parents’ neglect.
So don’t let your child’s questioning disturb you even if it may be incessant, and don’t answer him in anger; answer him honestly. Yes, honestly! Don’t try to avoid his question by confusing him with nonsense or fairy tales. And if he is unable to comprehend the answer, or you don’t know the answer, or if the answer is simply unknown – tell him! Teach his young mind that there are limits to human comprehension. Let him learn that he will not understand – this, too, is a valuable lesson. Just do not nourish his soul with nonsense, and do not allow other people to fill his hunger with nonsense; let your child stay near you. Jewish father and mother, take the time to create a healthy atmosphere for your child’s thirsting soul.