In the Little Shtetl of Vaysechvoos: The Four Extra Questions
Pesach was approaching and no one in Vaysechvoos was as excited as the Rabinovitch girls. Perhaps it was the multi-colored blanket of flowers that delighted them so. Maybe it was the promise of new clothing and shoes for each of the daughters of Avram and Malkah Rabinovitch. But most likely it was because Pesach made the girls feel like grownup ladies.
Whereas the other girls of Vaysechvoos merely pretended to keep house like wives and mothers do, Ruchel, Miryam, Pesha and Hani, who ranged in age from fourteen to seven years old, actually did the chores better than most of the women who coveted the unofficial title of Baleboosteh.” There was no house more thoroughly cleaned in all of Vaysechvoos. The Rabinovitch house was absolutely, positively cleansed of chometz. Their cupboards were emptied of all leavened items and the dishes and silverware, pots and pans–even the drinking glasses and tea cups–were locked away and replaced with Pesadich dishes and utensils.
Ah, the young ladies were so detailed in their cleaning there was not even so small a crumb as to be a nosh for an ant. Once Malkah and her four little housekeepers whizzed through their modest house all the offensive matter was removed from every corner and nook. They were all ready for Papa to do the ceremonies from the Haggadah they had come to love.
Yes, the Rabinovitch children enjoyed those preparations for Pesach. Even more, they liked to sit at the seder table and hear the story of how the Israelites were freed from Egyptian slavery by the mighty hand of God Almighty. They loved the way their father “acted out” the drama with his deep and resonant voice recounting the cries of the people for a deliverer, the pouring out of the plagues, the parting of the Red Sea and the victory over Pharaoh. Since Papa had no sons, the girls especially looked forward to asking the Four Questions. Each daughter was allowed to ask one question. The first question was assigned dark-eyed Ruchel with the long brown tresses, the fourteen year-old chief of the others. The second question was for twelve-year-old Miryam, whose slender form and delicate features contrasted with her wide grin and outgoing manner. Nine-year-old Pesha was given the third question to ask. She was shyest of the four daughters and, though she found it difficult to look straight at her papa, she recited her question flawlessly. And the fourth question was for the youngest, and some said the smartest of the Rabinovitch girls, Hani.
The day before the holiday was to begin, the four daughters were playing in the field near their house. “Perhaps we should show Papa how grown up we really are and do something special this Pesach,” mused Ruchel.
“What kind of special thing, Ruchel?” asked Hard, who looked to her oldest sister for inspiration in most things.
“Yes, please tell us what you have on your mind!” Miryam and Pesha chimed in.
Ruchel opened her dark eyes wide and stretched out her arms in dismay. “I truly don’t have a plan. I thought we could find a plan. Just because I’m the oldest, doesn’t mean that I have to do all the thinking.”
Miryam nodded and then offered her suggestion, “Why don’t we make up a new song and sing it after the traditional Pesach songs?”
Pesha frowned, “But you know that Papa is tone deaf. He wouldn’t even know it was a new song. Besides, we don’t know how to make up a song. Why don’t we ask Mama to let us do all the cooking for the seder meal?”
“The only problem, my sister,” responded Ruchel, “is that we can’t make as good a meal as Mama makes. I’m afraid our matzo balls will be as light and fluffy as the rocks in the creek. And besides, Mama enjoys making the meal for the seder. We’d make her feel useless and Papa would not like that at all.”
The daughters were ready to end their discussion, when little Hani spoke up. Though her young voice squeaked, it was filled with brightness and confidence: “I have an idea. Do you want to hear it?”
The three older sisters smiled and nodded. After all, Hani, still showing her baby fat, was one of those irresistibly innocent little children to whom no one could say “no.”
“Well, here’s my idea. You know that Papa likes how well we say the Four Questions. I think he likes it so much because when we finish he gets to answer our questions and show how wise a papa he is. So, here’s my idea. Why don’t we learn more questions to recite for him. If four questions are good, aren’t five better, or six or even a zillion?”
Ruchel, Miryam and Pesha looked at one another and then at Hani. All four faces beamed. Little Hani had come up with that something special!
And so it was, on the first night of Pesach in the Rabinovitch home, that Reb Avram was asked questions galore.
“Papa, why is this night different from all other nights?” all four asked.
“Papa, why do we eat only unleavened bread?” asked Ruchel.
“Papa, why do we eat bitter herbs?” came from Miryam.
“Papa, why do we dip these herbs twice?” queried Pesha.
“Papa, why do we recline at the seder table?” uttered little Hani.
As Papa was about to answer in the traditional way, Ruchel stood again, tossed her hair back, and spoke, “Papa, I have another question for you. How does God make miracles like the burning bush that was not consumed?” “And Papa,” piped up Miryam, before Avram had an opportunity to respond to Ruchel, “…if God was strong enough to part the Red Sea, can he stop the pogroms?”
Pesha added her question, but not with her head bowed in the usual way. “Papa, will Elijah the Prophet come to our house this year? And if not, when will he come?” she inquired with her shoulders back and her eyes fixed directly on her papa.
Hani, the youngest, had worked very hard on her extra question. After all, she reasoned to herself, my papa is the wisest man in all of Vaysechvoos and I must ask a question that is good enough for him to take the time to answer. The little girl cleared her throat, and furrowed her brow to show the seriousness of what she was about to say. She leaned forward on the table and said, “Er, Papa, I have another question, too! After you answer the others, would you tell me how long God’s arm was when he stretched it out to save our people?”
Papa smiled. “My daughters, you please me greatly. It is not that I have answers to all your questions, but you have given me a gift this Pesach like no other father has known. You have shown me you have hearts that are as cleansed of leaven as is this house. For it is a pure heart that wants to know more about the God of Pesach.”
Director of Communications, Missionary
Susan Perlman is one of the co-founders of Jews for Jesus. Susan is the associate executive director of Jews for Jesus and also director of communications for the organization. She also serves as the editor in chief of ISSUES, their evangelistic publication for Jewish seekers. She left a career track in New York City to help launch Jews for Jesus in San Francisco in the early 1970s. See more here.