The child who doesn’t know how to ask

Rabbi Brad Horwitz


Four times the Torah instructs us to tell our children of the Exodus from Egypt. The Torah reads, “And you shall tell your child on that day…” The rabbis inferred from this repetition that there are four different kinds of children — the wise, the wicked, the simple and the one who does not know how to ask. To each we respond in a different manner, according to his question, his situation and his need.  

Of all the four children types, the one who does not know how to ask intrigues me the most. The Haggadah teaches us that for this particular child “You must make an opening for him (at petach lo) As it is written: “You shall tell your child on that day, saying: This is because of what Adonai did for me when I went free from Egypt.” Making an opening for someone is not easy feat. Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg writes (in his book “The Eternal Journey”): “How do you make an opening for someone, a place and welcome around the table? How does one fashion an atmosphere where questions are comfortable and where not to know is acceptable? How does one make a passageway, an opening, in one’s own self and give freedom to one’s spirit?  These challenges begin with the seder but quickly spread out into the whole of our Judaism, and indeed, the rest of our life.”

We live in a world where too many Jews fall into the category of this fourth child — the one who does not even know how to ask. These people are so disaffiliated with Jewish life, religion and culture that they don’t even know what they are missing. Passover reminds us that we continually need to develop outreach efforts and programs for these people in our midst. Our community will be more enriched and strengthened if we place no judgments and accept all- the wise, the wicked, the simple and even the one’s who do not know how to ask. This Pesach let us remember that purpose and stay committed to the continual search of portals and openings to engage individuals in the life of the Jewish community.  

Rabbi Brad Horwitz is director of the Jewish Community Center’s Helene Mirowitz Center of Jewish Community Life.

Beth Shalom Cemetery ad