The Fifth Question


Most people are familiar with the four questions of Passover (especially all those youngest siblings out there), but while we Ma Nishtanah the same way every year, the important questions facing Jews are constantly evolving. To keep up with the changing times, for this column we asked: What would be a good Fifth Question to make this year’s Passover different than all others?

“One of my favorite teachings is the first teaching from Chapter 4 of Pirke Avot in which Ben Zoma essentially lays out the perquisites for a “successful” life. Who is wise, strong, rich, honored? His answers turns each question on its head, bringing into instant focus what one values as the purpose of wisdom, strength, wealth and honor. Following Ben Zoma’s example, I would like to ask a question that seems to me especially suited to the purpose of this night: Who is free?”

– Lee Hendler is a nonprofit activist, thinker and author.

“On Passover we ask Four Questions and speak of Four Sons. We have the wise, the wicked, the simple and the one who doesn’t even know how to ask. But there is a 5th son as well. He is the one who isn’t at the Seder table. He is the one who doesn’t even realize it is Passover. So we need to ask ourselves a 5th question this year, and that is, what are we going to do for that 5th son? How can we make sure we don’t lose him forever?”

– Sara Esther Crispe is the editor of and an international speaker.

“As finite human beings we are all enslaved in some way by our necessarily limited world views and beliefs that lead us to narrow places of fear and hate of other people. My fifth question of liberation is: What is the partial truth of a political, religious, or cultural view or opinion with which I most deeply disagree?”

– Irwin Kula is renowned lecturer, respected spiritual iconoclast and author of “Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life”.

“The economic collapse has awakened us to the many ways in which we have allowed ourselves to be enslaved by money: We have defined our own and others’ self-worth according to financial success, and we have trapped ourselves in lifestyles we can no longer afford. Beginning with this Pesach, how can we embrace an approach to money that better reflects our values and priorities?”

– Jill Jacobs is new executive director of Rabbis for Human Rights-North Americ and author of “There Shall be No Needy: Pursuing Social Justice through Jewish Law and Tradition”.

"We delve into the depths of the Seder and its call to feed all who are hungry (Ha’Lahm Anya) and free all who are enslaved (Avadim Ha’inu) and yet in our own State and our own communities around the world there are those who remain hungry and bound. My hope is that we ask ourselves: How do we live the lessons of Passover all the days (and nights) of our lives?”

– Ariel Beery is founder of PresenTense and thoughtful activist.

“Why is it so hard for modern Jews to tolerate, much less accept, and divine authority?

This Passover, let’s open our minds to the idea of ‘service’– not necessarily in terms of worship, but in terms of acting with humility and servitude, of playing by the rules (our mitzvot) and treating others with respect, of acknowledging the limits of our humanity in the face of God’s divinity and divine authority–an authority meant to guide us toward personal and collective redemption.”

– Niles Goldstein is founder of The New Shul in Greenwich Village and the author of nine books, including Gonzo Judaism.