It’s weird from the word “go,” and it leads me to ask many questions.
“Why is our table set differently than on every other Shabbat?
Why do we sing the Table of Contents of the book at our places?
Now we’re making kiddush–ok, now I feel a bit better, but you tell me to recline while drinking the wine. What’s that all about?
Then we go wash our hands–what do you mean, “don’t say a blessing?”
I’m hungry, and all you’re giving me is a little piece of vegetable and some salt water to dip it in?
Oh, good, finally you’re taking the hallah cover off–wait, my hallah lost a lot of weight and got very stale. I see one, two, why is there a third one of those flat things?
Still, I’m hungry, so let’s eat it…you broke it! What are you doing with that piece of broken cardboard? And you’re headed for the door to do what? To invite random strangers to join us?
I just had a cup of wine; why are you pouring me another? Don’t you know it will go right to my head on an empty stomach?
Hold on a minute, I have to ask…”
No doubt the events above look familiar, and by and large we just do them without expressing our bewilderment. But we do ask questions at this juncture, four of them to be precise. Chapter 10 of the section of the Mishnah called Pesahim is an early Rabbinic instruction, and it tells us that the script calls here for a child to exclaim “Mah Nishtanah–how different is this night from all other nights!” And then come the questions (note the Mishnah’s version):
“For while on all nights, we eat both hametz and matzah; tonight we eat matzah exclusively!
For while on all nights we eat a variety of vegetables, tonight we eat bitter herbs.
For while on all other nights we eat roasted, boiled, or cooked meat, tonight we eat exclusively roasted [meat].
For while on all other nights we dip once, tonight we dip twice.”
Not only are the Mishnah’s questions somewhat different than ours, they’re also entirely different than the ones I asked in my monologue above. In what way are these sets of questions so different, and why do you think this is the case?
Rabbi David Wise