More Than Four Questions
Let me speak and I will feel relieved; I shall open my lips and speak up!
– Job 32:20
I chose to become Jewish.
What I never really counted on, although the truth is that I had always hoped for, was having a child of my own to which I could pass on my beliefs. By the time I was 46, I was pretty much resigned to the idea of not having my own child, and then on Thanksgiving Eve 2009 I learned that I was going to be a father.
I had two names chosen. For a girl, the name would have been Hannah Rivkah. For a boy, there was no doubt that it would be Benjamin. That had been decided many, many years before (1988), so it was only a matter of time before I would hold my child and give her or him the name that I had chosen. And before you think that I am a ToTaL jerk and gave my wife no say in the matter, we did discuss and agree that these names were acceptable. On Thanksgiving Eve.
Ben has been everything I could have imagined, and so much more. I spend so much time worrying about him. I lie awake at night and tell G-d all of my fears for him. Last night – this is true – I sat up with a start when a thought – not a dream, but a mere thought – crossed my mind that Ben might fall into one of those National Forest toilets. You know the ones I mean, the ones that are basically giant outhouses with a toilet seat and an opening so large anybody could fall in? In all of my years of visiting our nations forests, I have never heard of or read about anybody actually falling in one of them. But, a few months ago we went to Lone Pine and on the trip stopped at one of these hellish places. I held Ben’s hand tightly as he used it, and then we backed away slowly as if the toilet were going to reach out and snatch us and drag us into the inescapable pit.
So why did this bother me last night? Because we’re planning a return trip later this summer. Inevitably Ben will need to go and we will find ourselves toe-to-toe with one of these things again.
Tonight though, we sat and watched Fiddler on the Roof while Ben played with his games and toys. I guess I am getting older, but the film speaks much differently to me now than it did when I was younger. There’s a reality to the film that one misses when it is “just” a musical. That reality hit me when the pogrom started and Ben asked me why they (the Russians) were doing that? I really had no answer other than, “They are bad guys, Ben. They are bad people.”
Later, the Jews leave Anatevka. Again, Ben asked me, “Daddy, why do they have to leave?”
Somehow, “The bad guys made them leave,” just didn’t seem to be a sufficient answer. How do you explain pogroms to a four year old?
The more I thought about the story, the more I began to realize that this was really just the beginning of the story. For Eastern European Jews forced out of the Pale in 1905, the trial by fire was just beginning, not ending. Some would go to America, but most would end up in what would become Poland or other Eastern European areas. In just nine short years, the ravages of World War I would consume many, and those who survived, along with their children, would face the Holocaust.
How does one explain to a four year old that you are watching a people being driven to their extinction by misguided and evil ideas?
I recognize that at four, there is no way Ben can understand these things. Ben is more innocent than most kids, so much so that Cami and I were even discussing just yesterday that he doesn’t seem to even notice when other children are picking on him or making fun of him. He just wants to run and laugh and have fun. How wonderful it could be if he could stay that way forever?
But that is not the world we live in, is it?
In a few short weeks, Passover will once again come. It has always been my favorite Jewish holiday, because of its deep meanings and rituals. And one of those elements is the Mah Nishtah, the Four questions. The youngest child present asks four questions, all beginning with, “Why is this night different from all other nights?”
The questions are considered so pertinent to understanding the meaning of Passover, that even a man who (for whatever reasons) takes the Seder alone, must ask himself the four questions. The child who asks them sets the stage for what is most important, in my opinion, about Passover – learning.
There is a place for a discussion of learning techniques and methods, but for thousands of years, Jewish children have learned on the night of differences. And these four questions have always opened the telling of the story.
Technically, Ben is not Jewish. But it would be my desire to see him chose, as I did, to become Jewish when he reaches that appropriate moment in his life. And one of those reasons for me, was so that I would always stand on the side of G-d when faced with evil. I know that may not make sense to you, but it does to me. But in order for Ben to see things as I would wish him to, it has to begin with questions.
The Mah Nishtah may be four specific questions for Passover, but Ben needs to ask so many other questions in his own way, including “Why is there evil in the world?” Unlike Passover, I may not have set piece answers that will guide him in learning and gaining faith, but they are still questions that still must be answered.
And perhaps that is why my path has traveled this way. To face the moment when my own son asks me why there is evil in the world. In that moment, to teach him as we teach on Passover. To teach Benjamin to know G-d and His ways.
Why was this day different than other days? To teach me to be ready to teach Ben.
And to remember to stay away from National Forest toilets…
Posted on March 1, 2015, in Ben, Fatherhood Lessons and tagged Ben, Evil, Fiddler on the Roof, Mah Nishtah, National Forest, National Forest Toilets, Passover. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.