Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Question Authority

I'm cooking dinner for twenty, and cleaning up while I do it, so naturally I've ducked out of the hot kitchen to surf the web. Over at my favorite blog in the world, The Velveteen Rabbi, my pet rabbi is reading a piece of the mishna that is coming up for us soon--the part about the questions we ask at Passover. The rabbi is looking at a centuries old text that is quite different from our modern haggadot. The commentary is quite different, too. Most people know the part of the Passover service where the youngest son asks "why is this night different...?" But we jews never leave well enough alone. The best part of every discussion comes when we start to ask "what if it doesn't work out so well?" So the text she is looking at raises the question--what if there are no sons to ask the questions?

It tells us that if the son has the smarts to ask, he asks. If not, then the wife (of the person leading the seder -- presumed to be male, naturally, given the context of the time) asks. And if not (if there is no son? if there is no wife? if he's alone? if our hypothetical Jew is at a table filled with people who aren't naturally curious?) he asks himself. I love that: that the act of questioning, the act of inhabiting the story in the way that the seder invites us to do, is so important that each of us can do it, in a pinch, for ourselves. It's not the practical Q-and-A that really matters; it's the internal act of questioning.

Got to run, I hear the children crying.