HomeBlogsOut Of Left Field Martin Boksenbaum: ‘A Re-Imagining of Passover’s Four Questions’

Martin Boksenbaum: ‘A Re-Imagining of Passover’s Four Questions’

I’d written “A Re-Imagining of Passover’s Four Questions” and wanted to post it here, but I decided to check first with some of my Jewish friends about whether they thought it was offensive. It was supposed to be generally thought-provoking, but it might be misconstrued. So I sent the piece out, asking for reactions and also if I should provide links in it to “Passover’s Four Questions” and “Ich vil bei dir fregen di fir kashes.” The responses I got comprise what I think is a very insightful discussion about questions raised in “A Re-Imagining of Passover’s Four Questions,” which MC points out “diverges from the Jewish experience to become the questions we should all be asking.” I got permission from them to print the email thread, identifying them simply by their initials. So here it is. Please add your comments. Thanks.

Martin Boksenbaum wrote to AA, NB, AH, SH, BJ, AR, SR, AS, and EW on Apr 11, 2016 at 1:26pm re: “I need your comments:

I’ve written a piece that I’d like to post as a blog on my “Out Of Left Field” blog on the Alliance website. But I want to check with some of my Jewish friends about whether they think it is offensive. Hence this email. The piece was meant to be generally thought-provoking. Please let me know what you think. And should I provide links in it to “Passover’s Four Questions” and “Ich vil bei dir fregen di fir kashes”? Thanks.

M W Boksenbaum – 3/30/2016

A Re-Imagining of
Passover’s Four Questions

Dear to whom it may concern,
Ich vil bei dir fregen di fir kashes.

The first question is:
Why do we in this country
want to purge it of people
different from us?

Don’t ask stupid questions.
You know the answer to it.
I know the answer to it.
Freg mir nisht questions
you already know the answer to.

The second question is:
Why do we think our country
is the best, the greatest of all?

Because it is. But good, a better
question. And we will continue
to be best because we’re smart,
skillful, virtuous, proud, and humble.

The third question is:
Why do we not cry out against
harm done to others?

Ah, a good question. Because
we only protect our own. Just
be glad it’s not happening to us.
Spit on the evil eye.

The fourth question is:
Why are we beset by
dangerous enemies?

Your best question! Because
we take what is our due and
hold on to it. Others want
what is ours. Give in to them? Never!

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AS wrote to Martin on Apr 11, 2016 at 2:24pm re: “ I need your comments:

Thought provoking? No, because these are the same questions that I and many others have been contemplating for years (silently). Thanks for putting them out there. I, as a Jew or just a normal (so to speak) human being, took no offense.

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EW wrote to Martin on Apr 11, 2016 at 4:10pm re: “ I need your comments:


I don’t like this piece. It’s absolutist and I find it irksome. I wrote my answers assuming you were asking Israelis.


A [to the first question]: Israelis don’t purge but it needs to have a Jewish hegemony or the Jews there will be wiped out. Israel is a multi-cultural tiny country.

A [to the second question]: Israelis don’t think their country is the best of all.

A [to the third question]: Sometimes Israelis do and sometimes they don’t [cry out against harm done to others] because of political considerations relating to its survival.

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AR wrote to Martin on Apr 12, 2016, at 5:22am re: “ I need your comments:

Hi Martin
great questions;
but too far above my pay grade.
Thanks 4 thinking of me as a critic.

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AA wrote to all of the original recipients on Apr 12, 2016 at 6:47am re: “ I need your comments:

Dear Marty,

Coincidentally the Email I received right after yours [was Jonathan Sacks’ opinion piece, “Anti-Zionism Is the New Anti-Semitism, Says Britain’s Ex-Chief Rabbi”, accessible via: http://www.newsweek.com/jonathan-sacks-anti-semitism-anti-zionism-bds-israel-labour-442978 ]


I thought you might find it interesting and possibly disturbing

I have not had the time to study and analyze your poem.  I hope to do so.

However since Jews are a very small minority and most of them do not understand the Jewish language, that had been spoken mostly in Eastern Europe, why do you use it in your poem?  Most people do not understand that the Holiday of Passover represents FREEDOM and JUSTICE. It was not a coincidence that a famous negro spiritual contain the words from the Passover story to “let my people go”.

Unfortunately many good people might interpret what you said as sarcasm.
We are a diverse people, producing among others a Rothschild, a Marx, a Freud and an Einstein.
We are all over the map, hopefully transforming society to be better.
However as reported in the Jonathan Sacks article we still have “tsuris” (trouble).
There is a disease in society that has been prevalent for more than 3,000 years.
I wish you all “Hag Someach”, a HAPPY PASSOVER.

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BJ wrote to Martin on Apr 13, 2016 at 10:53am re: “ I need your comments:

I just read what others have said about your piece. Maybe I do not have the proper context, but I read this as an American, not as an Israeli, and I found it totally inoffensive. However, I am not easily offended. But I find it hard to see how anyone could be offended and if they are, fuhgetaboutit.

I have been thinking of the ideas in this piece for quite a while. As a Vulcan, I think our problem is human inferiority. Humans are not yet developed enough to be menschen.


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AA wrote to all of the original recipients on Apr 13, 2016 at 7:01pm re: “ I need your comments:

Dear Marty,

Previously I gave you some of my comments regarding the overt or implied Jewish content. I do not think you should include Jewish content. It can be explosive, destructive and definitely not enlightening or constructive.

Several years ago I was a Visiting Professor at Rutgers University. The Chairman of the Department asked me to give a lecture that dealt with “ethics”.  The group was quite large and diverse made up of many Cultural groups, mainly from the Middle and Far East.  Their background was not “Western”. I felt that they did not necessarily like or respect each other. A friend who had written a book dealing with “ethics” for Social workers suggested that I break up the students in to groups of approximately 10 people and ask them to discuss and solve an ethical issue. He said from his experience most groups would come to very similar solutions assuming that the individuals and the issues were abstract. He said to not identify that the ethical issue is related to any Cultural, Religious, Political or any other similar group.

The problem, in my opinion, of understanding of what we see, hear, learn and conclude is how our minds work. We see the world as we want it to be not what it is and most of us do not know it. This problem is not related to intelligence or education. It appears that one part of our brain is related to using logic to solve a problem and another to using emotions. This phenomenon was observed almost 200 years ago. It is interesting to note that these separate brain responses have recently been observed and recorded.  This separation appears to be very important because it allows us to make decisions when we do not have sufficient information.

Unfortunately, many of our conclusion may be erroneous, destructive or just silly but we are not aware of this. A part of the problem is associated with our emotional leanings that are “self-defensive”. We are concerned about things that are different or that we do not understand. Our cultures and our environment program us to be biased in a subconscious way. I do not think that we have free will but we think we do.  I recently gave a 20-minute presentation that took me more than 10 hours including reviews by others to prepare.  I knew the material very well but communicating what you think you think is something else.

So what does this have to do with your poem?

The problem is that each reader may have a different understanding of what you communicated to them depending on how the emotional part of their brain functions and what is stored on their “hard drive”.

The Socratic and the “Talmudic” processes may be part of the answer.  The “ethical” discussion groups I discussed above may also be helpful but it is very difficult to remove emotional bias. That is one reason why I like seminars that are led by very good people. The entire group could discuss each line of the poem. Perhaps then we might understand what you meant. However, think about works of art. It is possible that the Artist’s subconscious mind was helping him to create the beauty that we see but we including the artist may see something that is different. Every time we look at something we may see something that is different. Don’t you think that questioning and learning is part of a process and not an end?

Your questions appear to be simple but they are not.


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AH wrote to Martin (cc: MC) on Apr 13, 2016 at 8:25pm re: “ I need your comments:


I think the poem is very good. I don’t think it is offensive, I don’t think you have to explain a poem that you write. I am not sure that you need to provide links to “Passover’s Four Questions” or to “Ich vil bei dir fregen di fir kashes”… maybe the reader has to look that up if the reader doesn’t understand. I didn’t know you knew all that yiddish!

I am sending this along to my friend MC who is a poet and she might be able to give some understanding of what you actually have to explain to a reader.


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AR wrote to AA and Martin on Apr 14, 2016 at 5:06pm re: “ I need your comments:

hi AA,
great piece by Rabbi Sacks,
tells the story very quickly and succinctly.
It is also a topic of major interest in my life’s philosophy.
Although impossible, my goal is to wipe it out in my lifetime.
good luck on that one.

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MC wrote to AH (cc: Martin) on Apr 14, 2016 at 10:05pm re: “ I need your comments:

Hello AH and Martin,

Thanks, AH, for the opportunity to read Martin’s work. Martin, I think the poem is very strong, and the questions, moving. The “Freg mir nicht” Yiddish is nicely placed, and easy to understand. I think that since this is going into your blog, Martin, the links might be okay to do, but not, in my opinion, necessary.

The readership, I gather, may not be familiar with the Four Questions or with Yiddish, but the poem’s power, I think, is in how it diverges from the Jewish experience to become the questions we should all be asking. The wit and sarcasm keep the reader on her toes. The answers are sharp and truthful. And tough. I am not Jewish, but I have been to Seders, and appreciate the tradition of asking the four questions. This use of that form is thought-provoking.

Yours truly,

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