Rabbi Yocheved Mintz shared with me a Passover skit that she had written with her son, titled, “May the Fours Be With You.” The title represents the core number of Passover, our Festival of Freedom.
The number four is repeated throughout the Seder – four times! We have four questions (Ma Nishtana), four cups of wine, four children (representing four types of people and how each should be taught the story of our freedom), and God’s four promises, which are the basis for our repetition of the number four (“I will rescue you, I will bring you out, I will redeem you, and I will take you to be My people”).
Just as we ask four questions at our Seder, the Rabbis of the Talmud taught us that God has four questions for us. The Rabbis speculated that when we die and are brought before the Heavenly Court, God will ask us four questions, representing what is most important to the Holy One.
1. Did you conduct your business affairs honestly? This question probably surprises you more than the three that follows. The question tells us right away that life’s priority should be about how we treat others, exemplified by being honest in our dealings. God is less impressed with ritual observance than with behavior!
2. Did you set aside time to study Torah? The prayer for studying Torah thanks God “who gave us the mitzvah (commandment) to engage in words of Torah.” Engaging in Torah means that we not only study but then we apply the lessons we learn there: how to lead an ethical and moral life. By studying Torah we learn how to properly respond to the moral challenges we encounter.
3. Did you devote yourself to family? In our quest to enrich ourselves, even if it is for the benefit and support of our family, we often neglect them. One way we devote ourselves to our family is by transmitting to the next generation (which includes not only our children and grandchildren, but also all children we encounter) the very values we learned because we set aside time to study Torah!
4. Did you have hope in redemption? Redemption is a core Jewish value. It returns us to our exodus from Egyptian slavery, where God fulfilled the promise to redeem us. The response to our own redemption is our obligation to tikkun olam, repairing the world. We are obligated to make this world a better one, and in doing so we bring redemption for ourselves and all humanity.
As we contemplate the Four Questions at our Passover Seder, may we also take to heart God’s Four Questions for us. Let us use our freedom to improve the world through study, the performance of deeds of loving kindness, and our devotion to our intimate family and our communal family as well.
Chag Pesach Sameach – may you have a weeklong joyful Passover celebration!
Rabbi Debbie Israel