Ma Nishtana – the Four Questions

In this resource, we will learn about the Four Questions section of the Haggadah. We will become familiar with the examples that appear in the text and explore the significance of asking questions on Seder night.

Resource Ages: 6-8, 9-11

Source

How is this night different from all other nights?

מַה נִּשְׁתַּנָּה הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה מִכָּל הַלֵּילוֹת

On all other nights, we eat chametz and matzah. But, tonight, only matzah.

שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת אָנוּ אוֹכְלִין חָמֵץ וּמַצָּה, הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה כֻּלּוֹ מַצָּה

On all other nights, we eat all sorts of vegetables. But, tonight, (only) bitter herbs.

שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת אָנוּ אוֹכְלִין שְׁאָר יְרָקוֹת, הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה (כֻּלּוֹ) מָרוֹר

On all other nights, we don’t even dip our food once. But, tonight, we dip twice.

שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת אֵין אָנוּ מַטְבִּילִין אֲפִילוּ פַּעַם אֶחָת, הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה שְׁתֵּי פְּעָמִים

On all other nights, we eat while sitting or reclining. But, tonight, we all recline.

From the Passover Haggadah

שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת אָנוּ אוֹכְלִין בֵּין יוֹשְׁבִין וּבֵין מְסֻבִּין, הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה כֻּלָּנוּ מְסֻבִּין

Foundations for Planning

Essential Questions

  •  How are symbols used in celebrations and holidays?
  • Why are holidays, rituals, customs, important to me, my family, and my community?

Content Questions Related to the Essential Questions

  • How do the symbolic meanings of the customs and foods of the Seder help us to think about the meaning of the holiday?
  • What role do questions play in education?

Background for Teacher

The Four Questions section of the Haggadah mentions foods and customs that are unique to the Seder and uses them to highlight the essential question of the evening: How is this night different from all other nights? The differences are meant to inspire curiosity...

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The Four Questions section of the Haggadah mentions foods and customs that are unique to the Seder and uses them to highlight the essential question of the evening: How is this night different from all other nights? The differences are meant to inspire curiosity and to spur participants to ask questions about the meaning of these changes. After the Four Questions are asked, the Seder participants begin to tell the story of the exodus from Egypt.

The Four Questions address four central differences that we see at the Seder: the eating of matzah, the eating of bitter herbs, the dipping of foods and reclining. In many families, young children sing the Four Questions.

Optional Hooks
In-Depth Discussion
Suggested Activities
Further Study
  • Make a change in the classroom routine: Change the way that students sit in the classroom, bring in flowers or start the lesson in an unexpected way. For example, you could sing to the students instead of speaking to them or ask them to jump up and down. Discuss their reactions to the change.
  • Asking questions: Place an object on a table. Divide the students into groups and ask them to come up with questions that could help them to learn about the object. Ask them to come up with as many questions as they can. You can help them by giving them question words: what, how, where, which, etc. Then, have each group read out their questions in turn, without repeating any of the questions that have already been asked.
  • After either of these activities, discuss: How can questions help us to understand things and to learn?
  • Listen to the Four Questions sung to a traditional melody.

Click here to view our consolidated list of suggested interactive pedagogies for classroom discussion.

  1. The goal of the Haggadah is to tell the story of the exodus from Egypt. Why do you think that the Sages who composed the Haggadah chose not to start with the story of the exodus from Egypt? Why did they prefer to start off with the asking of questions?
  2. At the Seder, we are encouraged to ask questions. In your opinion, how can asking questions help us? Think about the questions we ask others and the questions we ask ourselves.
  3. Why do you think we ask questions about those four particular things?
  4. What other things would you ask about at the Seder? What other questions do you have about Passover?
  • Changes on Seder night: There are other things that we do differently on Seder night, as compared to all other nights. Make up additional questions to add to the traditional Four Questions, using the same format (“On all other nights … But, tonight …”). Suggest to the students that they sing these extra questions at their family Seders.
  • Think about other things that could be done differently on Seder night, in order to tell the story of the exodus from Egypt in a different and creative way.
  • Giving meaning to the words: Together with the students, think about ways to present the Four Questions at the Seder. For example, you could act out each action described in the Four Questions or point to relevant objects (matzah, salt water, cushion, etc.) as you sing about them.
  • “The shy person doesn’t learn” (Ethics of the Fathers 2, 5 ). On Seder night, we learn by admitting what we don’t understand. Why did the Sages say that someone who is shy would have trouble learning? Do you agree with this statement? Why might someone feel shy or embarrassed about asking questions? Think about ways to cope with that feeling.
  • You can find different ideas about asking questions at the Seder at the Levana website (in Hebrew) 
  • Hebrew study: You can learn about different Hebrew question words.
  • The Four Children section of the Haggadah is also based on questions. In that section, a unique answer is given to each child in accordance with their perspective, abilities and characteristics.
  • How is this night different? Isolation, together! This video, produced by World Bnei Akiva, shows youth-group members and leaders from around the world singing the Four Questions during the coronavirus pandemic.