There Are Questions That We Can Already Answer... And It's Time We Start Answering Them
A few weeks ago at BRS West, we hosted a wonderful Shabbos Dinner with a number of families from NCSY / JSU. It was a beautiful evening of learning, growing and connecting. Teens from our community were excited to share their Shabbos experience with teens who don't often have such opportunities. These Shabbos meals are not new to NCSY / JSU. While Aliza and I worked for NCSY, we enjoyed making those connections on a weekly basis.
Unique to this Shabbos, however, was the chance for parents in our shul to sit around a Shabbos table with parents from a vastly different background. It started a little awkward – as expected – but Jews have more in common than what divides us, and soon conversations were flowing.
Before benching and dessert, we opened the floor to our guests for a Q&A; addressing anything on their minds about Torah and Yiddiskheit. It was a robust and honest conversation.
In the course of the following hour, we discussed everything from observance to anti-semitism, the eternity of our people, our mission in history, our relationship with Hashem, and the nature of reward and punishment.
Of course, none of these could be fully covered during a single Friday night schmooze and we all concluded that there needed to be a round two sometime soon.
Just as we were wrapping up, one of the fathers raised his hand “Rabbi, I understand what you're saying about our mission and purpose. But I still cannot accept that God, who you say loves us, and cares about us, could allow centuries of pain, persecution and suffering for His people. Without understanding this, how can I commit to a deeper relationship with Him?”
I took a deep breath. “It's profound question, an old question. One that I cannot answer any better than Moshe Rabbeinu could. There is so much we don't know; that we'll never know.”
He looked vindicated. I continued:
“None of us will never be able to explain Hashem to you, or even ourselves. There are questions that are beyond us. What bothers me more is not the questions that we cannot answer, but the ones that we can, and still don't.”
He was curious. So we each got some chocolate pudding, and sat down to discuss. Pesach was on everyones mind, so that's where we began...
Everyone knows that Pesach is about questions. But if we're honest, most of it is frivolous. We “search” for chametz that we, ourselves, have hidden. Our children arrive at the seder to ask questions that have already prepared for weeks at school. They already know the answers. We tell the same stories and we already know the ending. Ask your children why we eat Karpas, and they'll probably tell you that we do it so that the children will ask. It's very circular.
Not to call anyone out, but there isn't even that much creativity in our afikoman hiding places. We challenge our children to find it, in the same three or four places as every other year.
We end the seder singing “Who knows One?” while we all know One. We know what happens to the goat, and that it costs two zuzim. (Side point: So far the price of a goat is the most stable in all of Jewish history. Kosher Grocery stores: please emulate.) Yet we repeat it line after line, year after year.
Why the show? Why the pretense? Perhaps, in order to understand our questioning, we need to look for someone who has all the answers. And it's a good thing he's at the door; right on time.
A Silent Eliyahu
At the end of the Seder, Eliyahu HaNavi arrives. It's a little bit of the beginnings of Moshiach. We sing לשנה הבאה בירושלים, and we daven that next year we should be free for real.
But it's strange. In the Talmud, whenever questions arise that cannot be answered, the Gemara tells us תיקו – an acronym for תשבי יתרץ קושיות ובעיות – “Eliyahu will answer all of our questions.”
But he comes to the Seder, a night of questions and has no speaking role at all!
Perhaps, you might say, whatever Eliyahu's arrival means at the seder, we still cannot access his wisdom in a tangible way. But this problem is not only a Pesach issue. Throughout Shas, Eliyahu appears to the Tanaim and Amoraim. Moreover, countless sources tell us that he appeared to the Arizal, to the Baal Shem Tov and many other masters of Torah throughout the ages. Why didn't any of them ask him to answer all the questions that we have amassed? Why is he so quiet?
Perhaps, the way that Eliyahu answers is a little different.
The Navi Malachi (3:23) explains what will be at end of time. This is the last Nevua before Hashem goes radio silent on prophecy. He tells us:
הנה אנכי שלח לכם את אלי' הנביא, לפני בוא יום ה' הגדול והנורא. והשיב לב אבות על בנים ולב בנים על אבותם
Behold, I will send you Eliyahu the prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of Hashem, And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, And the heart of the children to their fathers...
Rashi comments: > והשיב לב אבות – להקב”ה, על בנים – על ידי בנים, יאמר לבנים דרך אהבה ורצון לכו דברו אל אבותיכם לאחוז בדרכי המקום > He will say to the children affectionately and appeasingly, “Go and speak to your fathers to adopt the ways of Hashem.”
The Navi is telling us that our children are going to explain to us how to return to Hashem. Children, untainted with cynicism and sarcasm have no issue believing in Hashem. They have no problem imagining a world of Geulah. For our children, no challenge is insurmountable. More than anyone in the world, our children believe in us. They believe that we are capable of anything.
When Eliyahu comes, he doesn't answer questions. He simply says things the way they are, with childlike clarity, and in that moment, the questions are not answered. They disappear.
There is a Revelation at The End of The Seder
The Radbaz famously tells us that Chametz is the Yetzer Hara. It makes sense that we all know where to find it because we hid it there ourselves. When we're not being defensive, we know what we need to fix.
We may not be able to resolve the theological conundrums of Good and Evil, but those are not the questions that keep most of us us up at night. Truthfully, the real issues that bother us, the majority of life's questions, are not in fact, all that hard to answer. It turns out that most of the things we are looking for, we already know where to find.
Let's think for a moment. What solutions are we looking for in life?
Here are four of my questions and their answers.
- How to have a happy marriage and raise healthy children? Be honest, attentive and proactive. Be loving, patient and empathetic. Communicate with clarity, and don't jump to conclusions.
- How to be financially stable? Work hard, be honest. Spend less than we earn, and don't worry about keeping up with the neighbors.
- How to lose weight and be healthier? Eat less, exercise more, get enough sleep and stay hydrated.
- How to achieve anything else in life? Be a mench, daven to Hashem. Accept failure with humility, and don't give up.
These are not my chiddushim. You know it too. We all know it. There's a hundred-thousand self help books remixing these truths. Of course, there are tricks and hacks to learn; they all have usage and value. Of course, none of it is guaranteed. Either way, the truth remains that the major questions in life are answerable in a fraction of a second... but only if we are honest and willing to make a change.
So why are we still asking the question? Because the problems persist; because we wish the answers were easier to put into practice. We're hoping for some other breakthrough, because we haven't followed through on the truths that we know.
When Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach was 8 years old, he was walking home from Shul with his father Rav Leib and Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld met them on the way. It was the first day of Pesach, right after the seder and Rav Sonnenfeld asked little Shlomo Zalman if he had asked the Mah Nishtana.
The little boy said ‘yes.’ Then, the Rav asked if he understood the answer of Avodim Hayinu. Once again, the little boy answered with a vigorous ‘yes.’ Then, the Rav asked Shlomo Zalman if he had asked Mah Nishtana last year. The young Shlomo Zalman assured the Rav that he had.
The Rav persisted, “Did you understand the answer last year?” Shlomo Zalman nodded again that he understood last year as well. Finally, the Rav asked, “If you knew the answer last year, why did you ask again this year?” This time, Shlomo Zalman looked perplexed and began to cry.
We're all crying for the same reason Reb Shlomo Zalman was crying. When Eliyahu comes, we'll stop asking, because we will finally listen to our own answers; the one's we've known all along.
This year, on Seder Night, when Eliyahu arrives, let's greet him with the courage to live up to our truths. Be'ezras Hashem, we should see the world as we know it can be, as we can be, until we greet Eliyahu together.