I will present the comments of R’ Yechiel Michel Epstein from his Aruch haShulchan as well his Leil Shimurim commentary on the Haggadah, linking them to the events and themes of his rabbinate. One particular line of his struck me in just the right way.
In discussing the Arba Banim (four children), R’ Epstein remarked upon the fact that not only does the Torah provide us with four instructions to teach our children about the departure from Egypt, but it also records the children’s four questions. He wrote:
וזה שכתבה שההודעה תהיה על ידי שאלת הבן ודאי דאין השאלה מעכבת כמו בשאלות מה נשתנה, ששנינו במשנה דאם אין מי שישאלנו שואל ומשיב לעצמו. אלא דעיקר כוונת התורה בהשאלות הוא דעל ידי השאלות נבין אם הבן מקבל תשובת אביו אם לאו, ועל ידי השאלה נבין מה שבלבו...
The fact that the Torah recorded that our telling would come via the child’s question is certainly not a message that the question is a requirement. This is not like Mah nishtanah, for which we learn in a mishnah that if there is no one to ask the question, one asks and answers himself.
Rather, it is that the essential intent of the Torah with these questions is to teach that via these questions we will understand whether the child will accept his father’s answer or not, and via the question we will understand what is in his heart…
It’s a simple point, but it’s so easy to miss when we are focussed on answering: The questions your child asks tell you what is in your child’s heart.
Children are meant to be seen, and children are also meant to be heard.
When my child doesn’t want to sit still in shul, that’s a question for me to hear and interpret. It’s easy to shush or distract or glare, but then I risk missing the point.
When my child wants to have a snack, that’s a question for me to hear and interpret. It’s so easy to answer Yes or No, but then I risk missing the point.
When my child wants to know if that man is Jewish since he isn’t wearing a yarmulka, that a question for me to hear and interpret. It’s easy to say Yes or No or Ask me later, but then I risk missing the point.
A lesson of the Aruch haShulchan, and the Seder, perhaps obvious to others but not always so obvious to me: Listen well, because the questions themselves matter.
(You can see last year's Shabbat haGadol derashah here.)