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The Four Sons of the Passover Hagaddah

By Nachum Mohl

By now the four sons that are mentioned in the Haggada have achieved some measure of fame. But the commentators on the Haggada ask a question on the manner in which they are listed:

'The Torah speaks in regard to four sons: A wise son, A wicked son, a simple son and a son who does not know even to ask."

In reality, if we were to analyze this listing we may have several interesting observations. First, if a wicked son is listed, then the counterpart of a wicked son, a righteous son, should also be mentioned. Secondly, as most people have observed, if the wise son was so wise, then why did he have to ask: "what is the meaning of the statutes and laws that G-d has commanded you to do?" If he were a wise son, shouldn't he know them!?

To really understand what is behind this listing of the four sons, we must first explain that the Haggada is based on the fact that the son must see changes at the table from those of every other night, be it week night or holiday night. The reason is that the sages wanted the son to ask a question.

For this reason, we make many changes in our festive meal to arouse a question with in him.

The average child is the one who because of the changes asks basically what is going on! He sees these changes and we respond by satisfying his curiosity explaining to him all of the signs and wonders that G-d did for us. This is the simple son. He would not think to ask a question unless there was something to arouse his curiosity. These changes we have made are for him.

The child that does not respond to stimulation of change; we must open his eyes and point out to him the changes. In this manner he will ask a question. Once he asks a question, we can proceed with the answer, but an answer with out a question does not occupy the importance in the mind of a child. Therefore we must arouse him.

We generally equate wisdom with knowing all of the answers. This may be true because we view the Wise Man in his state after he acquired his wisdom. But what caused him to become a Wise Man? It was his desire to know more than just the most superficial answers. He wanted to learn down to the depth that was possible with his intellect.

Therefore the wise son, who has not yet become the Wise Man, asks: "what is the meaning of the statutes and laws that G-d has commanded you to do?" He wants to know. So he must learn from you. You must supply him with the answers in depth.

The wicked son, on the other hand, says differently. "What is this service to you?" He sees that there is a change in the festive meal. He realizes that it is of some great importance, but he sees that there is much effort to do this. Therefore he asks, "What is this service to you? Do you really think that it is worth the effort? "

He is really looking to find the easy life. He is certainly no less intelligent than the wise son is. But he is seeking to relieve himself of any obligatory service which would take him away from enjoyment and pursuit of worldly pleasures. Therefore it is necessary for us to chastise him and tell him that with his attitude, had he been in Egypt, G-d would not have taken him out of slavery to give him the Torah.

A person who is seeking only the earthly pleasures and comforts is still a slave to his desires. A wicked person deserves to be a slave. Perhaps our chastisement will awaken in his soul or intellect a desire to change.

This is the reason that the Torah enumerates for us the four sons. May it be our fortune that we only have wise children who choose the path of service to G-d and study of the Holy Torah.

~~~~~~~

from the April Passover 2004 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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