One of the most important rituals to be followed at Seder is those of four questions that are to be answered by the youngest child at the table. The concept originated to make the children feel involved in the Passover celebration and arouse curiosity in them. The ceremony is based mainly on the commandment in the Bible that reads - "And thou shalt tell thy son". The Haggadah, the Book of Exodus also stresses the importance of the Seder to excite the interest of the children. At the Seder, the Haggadah is read and stories narrating the history of the Hebrew slaves of Egypt are told who walked away to freedom and established their own kingdom as Israelites under the guidance of God and Prophet Moses are told. Songs and sung and prayers are told to thank the Lord for the liberation from slavery. The four questions that are asked are given here along with their answers.
The Four Important Questions
1. Why do we eat only Matzoh on Pesach and not all kinds of breads and crackers like other nights?
"She-be-chol ha-lelot anu ochlin chametz u-matza, ha-laila ha-zeh kulo matza?"
When Pharaoh finally ordered Jews to get out of Egypt after the tenth plague, they were in such a hurry to get away from slavery that they hadn't time to let their dough rise and bake their bread. Thus, they took the raw dough with them on their journey and baked it into hard crackers in the hot desert called Matzoh. Thus, we eat only Matzoh on this day to remind us of their struggles.
2. Why do we eat bitter herbs or Maror at our Seder?
"She-be-chol ha-lelot anu ochlin she-ar yetajit, ha-laila ha-zeh moror?"
Maror or the bitter herbs are eaten to remind us of the bitterness of slavery and harsh and cruel ways in which Jewish people were treated as slaves under the Pharaoh in Egypt.
3. At our Seder, why do we dip the parsley in salt water and the bitter herbs in Charoset?
"She-be-chol ha-lelot en anu matbilin afilu pa'am echat, ha-laila ha-zeh shetay fe'amim?"
Parsley represents new life and spring while salt water represents tears of Hebrew slaves and how hard the Jewish slaves worked in Egypt. Parsley dipped in salt water thus represents new life that emerged from the tears and hardship of the Jewish slaves. Bitter herbs dipped into Charoset represent the bitter days of slavery. Charoset the mixture of chopped apples and nuts has a coarse texture like clay used to make bricks for the Pharaoh's buildings.
4. Why do we lean on a pillow while eating tonight and do not sit straight like other nights?
"She-be-chol ha-lelot anu ochlin bayn yoshvin u-vayn mseubin, ha-laila ha-zeh kelanu mesubin?"
Leaning on a pillow signifies the comforts of freedom. As slaves, our ancestors had little comforts. Thus, we lean on a pillow to assert that we are free now we can sit straight or lean on a pillow as much as we like. And because of the efforts and hardships endured by the ancestors, we now enjoy the comforts and leisure's of a relaxed life.
These four questions form the central theme of all Seder meals during Passover Holidays. These qusetions together are called "Mah Nishtana" (Mah Nishtanah, Ma Nishtanah, or Ma Nishtana). It is loosely translated in English as "Why Is It Different", "What Is Different" or "How Is It Different and are referred to how and why the Passover evenings or days are different from all other evenings or days of the year. These questions are traditionally given to the youngest child in the family at the Seder table to be read aloud. The traditional structure of the story is that there is one question with four clauses. The four clauses or answers explain how Passover festival is unique compared to other times of the year. The main question or the introductory question thus is "Ma nishtana ha-laila ha-zeh mi-kol ha-lelot?" Or "why is this night different from all other nights?" This was illustrated by Mishna of the Talmud (Pesachim 10:4) where a child asks the questions to the father. This story is then continued with the story about The Four Sons. This is an effort by early Jewish communities to encourage the future generation children and youth to be aware of their traditions and history.
The Seder rituals are meant to excite the curiosity of children and make them ask why things happen so at Passover. The ritual of four questions at the Seder table is an important one.