The Torah, as explained in the Hagaddah, gives examples of four children. Each asks a question in his own way, and receives an appropriate answer.

However, the Mishnah in Pesachim 116a teaches:

They pour him the second cup, and here the child asks (and if the child doesn't know how, his father teaches him): Why is this night different from all other nights? For on all other nights...

This clearly indicates that the child must ask these questions. This is also brought down in Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 473:7.

Why don't we follow the procedure indicated in the Hagaddah, where a child asks a question he thinks of? Why do we require each child to ask the same four specific questions?

  • "Why don't we follow..." Who says we don't? I don't know how you see the Shulchan Arukh ruling that those 4 must be asked when he explicitly says otherwise so -1 Please clarify which sources say what and on what basis (is it your personal experiences? a certain halacha book or haggada?) you know what the common practice is.
    – Double AA
    Mar 23, 2015 at 0:07
  • The Shulchan Arukh explicitly mentions "Mah Nishtanah". Re "what basis", the Mishnah, Gemarah (the discussion of the exact wording of the dipping question implies that it's required), the Rambam, the Shulchan Aruch, every Hagaddah I've seen and every seder I've been to.
    – Ypnypn
    Mar 23, 2015 at 0:41
  • 1
    I don't think we're reading the same Shulchan Arukh... Did you see what he says about those words or did you just see that he says them? Did you see what he says right after them? Or earlier in the same paragraph?
    – Double AA
    Mar 23, 2015 at 0:43
  • @DoubleAA He says that if a child is present, he should ask about the second cup. If not, his wife asks him, or he asks himself, and even two scholars ask each other "Mah Nishtanah etc." This seems to me to mean that all such cases require Mah Nishtanah. Even if you understand the "second cup question" as meaning that it's a valid replacement, that doesn't address the issue - why is no other question okay?
    – Ypnypn
    Mar 23, 2015 at 0:51
  • You still aren't reading the whole thing. Ok. Whatever.
    – Double AA
    Mar 23, 2015 at 0:55

1 Answer 1


The Talmud you cite states:

אמר ליה רב נחמן לדרו עבדיה: עבדא דמפיק ליה מריה לחירות ויהיב ליה כספא ודהבא, מאי בעי למימר ליה? אמר ליה: בעי לאודויי ולשבוחי. אמר ליה: פטרתן מלומר מה נשתנה. פתח ואמר עבדים היינו.‏
R. Nahman asked his slave Daru: ‘When a master liberates his slave and gives him gold and silver, what should he say to him?’ ‘He should thank and praise him,’ replied he. ‘You have excused us from saying "Why [is this night] different?"’ observed he. [Thereupon] he commenced by reciting, ‘We were slaves.’ (Soncino translation)

And on the previous page it states:

אביי הוה יתיב קמיה דרבה, חזא דקא מדלי תכא מקמיה. אמר להו: עדיין לא קא אכלינן, אתו קא מעקרי תכא מיקמן? אמר ליה רבה: פטרתן מלומר מה נשתנה.‏
Abaye was sitting before Rabbah, [when] he saw the tray taken up from before him. Said he to then: We have not yet eaten, and they have [already] come [and] removed the tray from before us! Said Rabbah to him: You have exempted us from reciting, ‘Why [is this night] different? (Soncino translation)

While Tosfot there (surprisingly) understands the Gemara's story with Abaye to have 'implied' the continuation of the formal text of Mah Nishtana, Rashbam understands the Gemara simply. Indeed Maharil writes about Seder night (Minahgim, Order of the Haggada):

כוס שני מוזגין בבא לומר מה נשתנה. ואמר מהר"י סג"ל כדי שישאלו התינוקות מה מוזגין עוד לשתות כולי האי ולא אוכלין מידי. ואם שואל אין צ"ל מה נשתנה ויתחיל עבדים היינו אם ירצה... אמר מהר"י סג"ל שבנימוקי רבינו שמחה כתב אם יש שם קטן השואל לו ולמה הגבהת הקערה אז אינו אומר כל ההגדה, וראיה בגמ' דאמר התם פטרתנו לומר מה נשתנה... והעיד מהר"י סג"ל על חמיו מהר"ר משה כ"ץ פעם אחת שאלתו בתו אבא למה הגבהת הקערה, והתחיל עבדים היינו ולא אמר מה נשתנה.‏
The second cup is mixed when he comes to say Mah Nishtana. And Maharil said it's to prompt the children to ask "Why are we mixing to drink so much and not eating anything?" And if he asks there is no need to say Mah Nishtana and he can start with "We were slaves..." if he wants.... Maharil said that he found in comments of R Simcha that if the child asks "Why did you pick up the bowl?" then you don't have to say the whole Haggada, as seen from the Gemara [referenced above].... And Maharil testified about his father-in-law R Moshe Katz that one time his daughter asked him "Abba, why did you life up the bowl?" and he started "We were slaves..." and he didn't say Mah Nishtana. (my translation)

The Shulchan Arukh you cite, ruling like Maharil, states:

מוזגין לו מיד כוס שני, כדי שישאלו התינוקות למה שותים כוס שני קודם סעודה. ואם אין חכמה בבן, אביו מלמדו. אם אין לו בן, אשתו שואלתו; ואם לאו, הוא שואל את עצמו. ואפילו תלמידי חכמים שואלים זה לזה: מה נשתנה וכו' (וכשהבן או האשה שואלת, אין צריך לומר: מה נשתנה, אלא מתחיל עבדים)
They prepare for him a second cup so the children will ask "Why are we drinking a second cup before the meal?" And if the son isn't wise [to ask that] the father teaches him [to]. And if he has no son, his wife asks him. And if he has no [wife], he asks himself. Even two scholars [who are alone] must ask each other [questions such as] "Mah Nishtana etc." (And if the son or wife asks, there is no need to say "Mah Nishtana etc.", rather they start with "We were slaves etc.") (my translation)

Any question works. Kids like singing Mah Nishtana because they learn it at school, and I'm not going to make them upset just before story-time by not letting them sing. Plus, for better or for worse, people like regularity and tradition.

  • But according to the Shulchan Arukh, the father must teach him to ask something - which still contradicts the Haggadah. (And the Rama seems to be saying that the father/husband needn't also say Mah Nishtanah, but it still must be said.)
    – Ypnypn
    Mar 23, 2015 at 3:13
  • @Ypnypn That is not what pseudo-Rama seems to be saying. See his source (conveniently quoted and translated in full here) if you don't believe me. || How does it contradict the Haggadah? את פתח לו!
    – Double AA
    Mar 23, 2015 at 3:52
  • Does את פתח לו really mean to teach him to ask? That's not what my Haggadah says.
    – Ypnypn
    Mar 23, 2015 at 13:11
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    Mine says את פתח לו, שנאמר והגדת לבנך ביום ההוא לאמר, בעבור זה עשה ה' לי בצאתי ממצרים. Nothing about telling the child what to ask.
    – Ypnypn
    Mar 23, 2015 at 14:52
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    Yes, but the Hagaddah says that this suffices, whereas the other sources require the child's active participation as well.
    – Ypnypn
    Mar 23, 2015 at 15:05

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