There is a mitzva to tell the story of the Exodus by way of question and answer, as it is stated: “When in the future your child asks you…say to your child, ‘We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt…’” (Devarim 6:20-22). It is likewise stated: “When your children ask you, ‘What is this service to you?’ say, ‘It is a Paschal sacrifice to God’” (Shemot 12:26-27). And: “When in the future your child asks: ‘What is this?’ Say to him, ‘With a mighty hand God took us out of Egypt’” (ibid. 13:14).
Questions open the heart and mind to accept answers. The message we need to convey on the Seder night is so important and fundamental that we are commanded transmit it in the most effective way – by way of question and answer.
This is the main reason for the unique mitzvot of the Seder night: eating matza, the Paschal sacrifice, and maror. They cause the children to ask “Ma nishtana?” “Why is this night different?” and helps them understand that this is a special night whose essence must be understood. As a result, the Sages instituted several unusual practices in order to inspire children to wonder and enquire further. We begin by giving the children nuts and roasted grain, through which they realize that this is a special, festive night. The Sages instituted washing hands and eating karpas dipped in a liquid after kiddush, something we never do throughout the year. Furthermore, instead of starting the meal at this point, we pour the second cup of wine and remove the Seder plate and the matzot from the table, all to cause the children to realize that this is a very special night. They will thus truly be interested in its meaning, and they will sincerely ask: “Why is this night different?”
Perhaps it can be said that this question, “Ma nishtana?” embodies a bigger and deeper question about the Jewish people: Why are we different from all other nations – in our faith, in our mitzvot, in our suffering, in our spiritual achievements, in our exile, and in our redemption? There is no complete answer to this question. Only by contemplating the Exodus from Egypt and the election of Israel can we understand that this is a divine matter; we are capable of understanding part of it, but we will never understand it all. This same question spurs us on, toward infinitely deeper and more sublime understanding. Perhaps this is why the Torah instructs us to tell the story of the Exodus and of Israel’s singularity using questions and answers: the ideological basis of Jewish peoplehood lies in a question that opens us to an endless profusion of ideas. If we do not impart the Torah and the story of the Exodus to the children, no new questions would be asked and we would be unable to continue rising higher.