Pesach 5778

The Four Children[1]

1) והיה כי-תבואו אל-הארץ וגו’ ושמרתם את העבודה-הזאת, והיה כי-יאמרו אליכם בניכם מה העבודה הזאת לכם 2) והגדת לבנך ביום ההוא לאמר בעבור זה עשה יקוק לי בצאתי ממצרים 3) והיה כי-ישאלך בנך מחר לאמר מה-זאת וגו’ 4) כי ישאלך בנך וגו’ מה העדות והחוקים וגו’‏
1) When you will come to the land…you shall observe this [Passover] service, and your sons will say to you: “What is this service to you?” 2) You shall tell your son on that day saying: “Hashem acted for me when I left Egypt because of this” 3) It shall be when your son will ask you tomorrow saying: “What’s this?” … 4) When your son will ask you… “What are the testimonies and statutes” …[2]

כנגד ארבעה בנים דברה תורה: אחד חכם, ואחד רשע, ואחד תם, ואחד שאינו יודע לשאול…רשע מה הוא אומר? מה העבודה הזאת לכם. לכם ולא לו. ולפי שהוציא את עצמו מן הכלל כפר בעיקר, ואף אתה הקהה את שניו ואמור לו, בעבור זה עשה יקוק לי בצאתי ממצרים. לי ולא לו. אלו היה שם לא היה נגאל

The Torah spoke regarding four sons: a righteous son, a wicked son, a simple[3] son, and one who doesn’t even know how to ask.…The wicked son, what does he say? “What is this service to you?” “You”, [implying] not himself. Since he excluded himself from the community, he denied a fundamental principle. You should even[4] blunt[5] his teeth and say to him: “Hashem acted for me when I left Egypt because of this”. For me, [implying] not for him. [This means] if he was there he wouldn’t have been redeemed[6]

Why is the Exodus of Egypt so unique? The Torah describes it in great detail, and recalls it many times. The Torah predicts that our children will ask us about the Exodus of Egypt, and describes the many kinds of questions they will ask. Why is this true only with the Exodus? As well, the Torah’s descriptions of their four questions are not presented the same way. Three of the four times, the Torah introduces it with the child asking the parent. One stands alone, with the Torah presenting just a command to answer the child. This is the child who doesn’t know how to ask. However, the three questions aren’t introduced in the same way. Two of them explicitly say that the child will ask, and are written in the singular. However, one of them doesn’t say that they will ask; it just states what they will say. As well, they are referred to in the plural. Why the inconsistency?

The composer of the Haggadah wants to teach us that the entire Torah is dependent on the Exodus. The sole purpose of the Exodus from Egypt was so we would accept the Torah. As well, the Exodus was the means through which we became indebted to our Creator. Therefore, due to its importance, it is incumbent upon every individual Jew to view themselves as if they had been redeemed from Egypt[7]. That is how each individual becomes obligated in the Torah. Consequently, a father must inform his child, that they should know that they too left Egypt. This makes them also obligated to follow the Torah. Whenever the Torah says that “I took you out of Egypt”, it is referring to each generation. This is the main obligation on Seder night: to see oneself as if they had been redeemed.

Since this is the fundamental principle of the Torah, it heeded us many times that a father must inform this to his son. The point of their questions is that through them, the father can tell if the son accepts the answer, or not. The question itself shows what’s in his heart. If he asks the question, it is a sign that he will accept the answer. This is because when a person asks a question, they seek an answer. However, when the son doesn’t ask anything at all, and simply tells you his opinion, that’s a sign that he isn’t interested in an answer.

There’s a verse which says: “The memory of a righteous person is for a blessing, [whereas] the names of the wicked will rot”[8]. Why is the righteous referred to in the singular, whereas the wicked are referred to in the plural? Chazal explain[9] that the verse is true even for one righteous person, while the names of many wicked will rot. However, there is a deeper explanation behind this. Truth, is so strong on its own, that it doesn’t need external support. However, falsehood, needs others to uphold it[10]. This is why truth, symbolized by the righteous, is singular in the verse. Unlike falsehood, represented by the wicked in the verse, needs to be in the plural. We see with our own eyes that wicked people need to make others wicked like themselves. This is the way of falsehood.

When Hashem commanded[11] Moshe to tell the people regarding the Pesach offering, Moshe immediately followed this command by telling them: “When you come to the land…observe this service”[12]. Why was this necessary to stress? It was to preempt any incorrect conclusions. Since the reason for the Pesach offering is that Hashem skipped (pasach) the houses of the Jews during the final plague[13], perhaps only that generation was commanded to bring it. In fact, that entire generation died in the wilderness, and never got to see the land of Israel. For sure it shouldn’t apply to those that entered the land. Therefore, Moshe specifically told them that they should still bring the Pesach offering. The reason is as stated above, each person is supposed to view themselves as if they had left Egypt.

After Moshe stresses this to the people, the Torah presents the question of the wicked son. The question is: “What is this service to you?”[14] Meaning, they will ask those who came to the land of Israel why they are bothering to bring the Pesach offering. They weren’t saved from Egypt; they didn’t experience any miracles. The question of the wicked son is written in the plural, because wicked people gather together for support. As well, it doesn’t say that they will ask, it simply states what they say. This is because their mind is already made up; they aren’t really looking for an answer[15].

Now the Haggadah’s response to his question makes sense. The wicked son said “you”, meaning not him. He excluded himself from the community, who feel that they themselves were redeemed from Egypt. He feels that he has no relation to the Exodus. He therefore denied a fundamental principle in Judaism, one which the entire Torah hinges on. As well, the words “blunt his teeth” are extremely appropriate. The words הקהה את שניו are borrowed[16] from a verse which says: אמר מה לכם אתם מושלים את המשל זה וגו’ אבות יאכלו בוסר ושני בני תקהינה, Say to them: Why are you saying this parable…“the fathers will eat unripened grapes, and the teeth of the children are blunted?!”[17]? The verse refers to the generation who witnessed the destruction of the Temple. They couldn’t believe that the Temple would be destroyed for the sins of their forefathers. We see from this verse that this was a commonly spoken expression by the wicked[18] amongst the Jews. What was their claim?

They only believed in things that were logical. Since logic dictates that each person is on their own, with no connection others, especially to their past, they therefore couldn’t believe that a person could be punished for the sins of the fathers. They were right, but to a point. If a child continues the wickedness of their fathers, if the fathers weren’t punished for whatever reason, the punishment will be given to the children[19]. They therefore were complaining to the prophet who warned them that the Temple would be destroyed. They were saying, that just like if a father ate unripened grapes, the child wouldn’t feel it in their teeth, so too it’s impossible that a child could be punished for the sins of the fathers. However, according to our tradition, it’s the exact opposite. Each Jew has a connection to each other[20], and a connection to the past. Therefore, the verse explicitly says: פוקד עון אבות על בנים, Hashem punishes children due to the sins of the fathers[21], with the accepted explanation that this is when they are acting in the same manner as the fathers19.

This is why the wicked son, consistent with his general attitude, asked: “What is this service to you?” He felt the Jews have no connection to the past, to those who left Egypt, who experienced the miracles of the Exodus. His father therefore needs to blunt his teeth by telling him that in reality the fathers will eat unripened grapes, and the children will feel it in their teeth. Each generation has a connection to the past, and anything that happens to the parents is as if it had happened to the children. We therefore see ourselves as if we had left Egypt. This is why the response in the verse, “Hashem acted for me when I left Egypt because of this”, is in the first person. It’s referring to each generation, saying that I myself left Egypt. You however, the wicked son, don’t understand the verse to be referring to each generation. You believe it’s just referring to that first generation. Therefore, if he had been there, he wouldn’t have been redeemed. Not everyone merited to be saved, only those that wanted to leave[22].

Chag Kasher VeSameach!

[1] Based on the Leil Shimurim commentary on the Passover Haggadah by the Aruch HaShulchan. He explains all four sons, but gives the most detail to the dialogue with the wicked son. Therefore, I chose to focus on that

[2] Exodus 12:25-27, which refers to the wicked son; ibid 13:8, which refers to the son who doesn’t know how to ask; ibid verse 14, refers to the simple son; Deuteronomy 6:20, which refers to the righteous son. A careful examination of the verses compared to the text of the Haggadah shows that the response to the wicked son is put together with the question of the son who doesn’t know how to ask. Rashi to Exodus 13:8 notes this, and Minchas Yehudah ad. loc. (cited in Sifsei Chachamim) explains that the response is appropriate for both of them, see there

[3] The Leil Shiurim stresses that even though the Yerushalmi Pesachim 10:4 calls the תם a טיפש (idiot), he feels our version doesn’t mean stupid. Rather it’s like Yaakov, who is called an איש תם (Genesis 25:27), and like the verse תמים תהיה עם יקוק (Deuteronomy 18:13), which means more like wholehearted or perfect

[4] I’m not sure what the word ואף means here

[5] The exact usage of this word will be explained below

[6] Passover Haggadah

[7] Pesachim 10:5; Mishneh Torah Hilchos Chametz UMatzah 7:6

[8] Proverbs 10:7

[9] Yoma 38b

[10] This is indicated by the letters to the word שקר, which don’t have any legs to stand on (Shabbos 104a)

[11] Exodus 12:21

[12] Ibid verse 25

[13] Ibid verse 27

[14] Ibid verse 26

[15] This is also noted by the Malbim and Ma’aseh Nisim

[16] Haggadah Sheleimah § 123 (note 259) notes the following commentaries which make the same connection: Rashi (Siddur and Meyuchas), Rashbam, Tosafos Rid, Orchos Chaim/Kol Bo, Shibolei HaLeket/Tanya Rabasi in the name of his brother R’ Binyomin, Abudraham, Chukas HaPesach, Eitz Chaim (Maharitz). However, see next note

[17] Ezekiel 18:2. Jeremiah 31:30 uses a similar expression, and I found that the Abarbanel’s Haggadah, Ramban to Genesis 49:10, and Chasam Sofer (Derashos II p. 243d s.v. ואני, p. 255d s.v. אף, the latter of which appears in Toras Moshe I, beginning of parshas Tzav s.v. אף אתה תקהה) connect the response to the wicked son to this verse. In truth, Rashi, Shibolei HaLeket and Abudraham cited in the previous note really quote this verse and not the one from Ezekiel. I couldn’t find the Rashbam and Tosafos Rid to confirm which one they quoted

[18] The Leil Shimurim says this as well in Derashos Kol Ben Levi § 5, found at the end of Aruch HaShulchan Yoreh De’ah. The source seems to be Radak and Malbim ad. loc. See Metzudas Dovid ad. loc.

[19] Sanhedrin 27b; Mechilta and Targum Onkelos to Shemos 20:5. See Malbim loc. cit.

[20] כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה (Shevuos 39a; Toras Kohanim 7:5; Bamidbar Rabbah 10:5)

[21] Exodus 20:5

[22] It’s not clear to me that denying the connection to the past equates the wicked son to those who didn’t want to leave, but this is how the Leil Shimurim ends his commentary