The Four Sons

  • Harav Yaakov Medan

 

Are there really four sons?

 

            One of the most familiar sections of the Pesach Haggada is the account of the four sons:

 

Blessed is the Omnipresent One, blessed is He! Blessed is He who gave the Torah to His people Israel, blessed is He! The Torah speaks of four sons: One is wise, one is wicked, one is simple, and one does not know how to ask.

The wise one, what does he say? "What are the testimonies, and the statutes, and the judgments which the Lord our God has commanded you?" You, in turn, shall instruct him in the laws of Pesach [up to]: One is not to eat any dessert after the Paschal lamb.

The wicked one, what does he say? "What is this service to you?!" He says "to you," but not to him! By thus excluding himself from the community, he has denied that which is fundamental [the existence of God]. You, therefore, blunt his teeth and say to him: "This is done because of that which the Lord did to me when I came out of Egypt." "To me" – but not to him! If he had been there, he would not have been redeemed!

The simple son, what does he say? "What is this?" Thus you shall say to him: "With a strong hand the Lord took us out of Egypt, from the house of slaves."

As for the one who does not know how to ask, you must initiate him, as it is said: "And you shall relate to your son on that day, saying, ‘This is done because of that which the Lord did to me when I came out of Egypt.’"

 

            When we examine the Torah passages containing the questions raised by the sons, we do not find four different sons. Rather, we encounter four situations and four different mitzvot in connection with which the story of the exodus from Egypt must be told. It is very possible that they are all the same son! Moreover, the Tanna does not assign to each question the answer that is given to it in the Torah.

 

            Let us examine the answers that the Torah gives to the sons' questions.

 

The wise son (Devarim 6:20-25):

 

When your son asks you in time to come, saying, “What are the testimonies, and the statutes, and the judgments which the Lord our God has commanded you?” Then you shall say to your son, “We were the bondmen of Pharaoh in Egypt; and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and the Lord showed signs and wonders, great and sore, upon Egypt, upon Pharaoh, and upon all his household, before our eyes. And He brought us out from there, that He might bring us in, to give us the land which He swore to our fathers. And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, the He might preserve us alive as it is at this day. And it shall be accounted virtue in us if we take care to do all these commandments before the Lord our God, as He has commanded us.”

 

The wicked son (Shemot 12:21-27):

 

Then Moshe called for all the elders of Israel, and said to them, “Draw out and take you lambs according to your families, and kill the pesach… And it shall come to pass, when you shall come to the land which the Lord will give you, according as He has promised, that you shall keep this service. And it shall come to pass, when your children shall say to you, ‘What is this service to you?’ that you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord's pesach, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He smote Egypt and delivered our houses…”

 

The simple son (Shemot 13:11-15):

 

And it shall be when the Lord shall bring you into the land of the Canaani, as He swore to you and to your fathers, and shall give it to you, that you shall set apart to the Lord all that open the womb… And every firstling of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb… And all the firstborn of man among your children shall you redeem. And it shall be when your son asks you in time to come, saying, “What is this?” that you shall say to him, “By strength of hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of bondage. And it came to pass, when Pharaoh would hardly let us go, that the Lord slew all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of beast. Therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all that open the womb being males; but all the firstborn of my children I redeem.”

 

The son who does not know how to ask (Shemot 13:5-8):

 

And it shall be when the Lord shall bring you into the land of the Canaani… that you shall keep this service in this month. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the Lord… And you shall relate to your son on that day, saying, “This is done because of that which the Lord did to me when I came out of Egypt.”

 

            The Torah records four different mitzvot of relating the story of the exodus from Egypt. The first is connected to instilling the Torah as a whole in one's child ("What are the testimonies, and the statutes, and the judgments"). The second is part of the mitzva of the Paschal lamb ("What is this service to you"). The third is connected to the mitzva regarding the firstborns of man and beast ("Therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all that open the womb being males, but all the firstborn of my children I redeem"). Finally, the fourth involves relating the story of the exodus from Egypt together with eating matza and eliminating chametz ("And you shall relate to your son on that day, saying").

 

Why does the Haggada divide these four mitzvot among four sons? And why did the Tanna veer from the Torah's answers to the questions posed by the wise son and the wicked son?

 

Two Sets of Sons

 

            In many of the illustrations found in traditional Haggadot, the four sons are divided into two groups: the wise son vs. the wicked son and the simple son vs. the son who does not know how to ask.

 

The wise son and the wicked son are perceived as opposites because we identify the wise son with a righteous one, the true opposite of the wicked son. The simple son is portrayed as stupid, and the son who does not know how to ask is depicted as even stupider than the simple son. But what is the meaning of this division?

 

In the Talmud Yerushalmi (Pesachim 10:4), the third son is not referred to as "the simple one" (tam), but rather "the stupid one" (tipesh):

 

R. Chiyya taught: The Torah speaks of four sons: A wise son, a wicked son, a stupid son, and a son who does not know how to ask.

 

The Yerushalmi implies in much clearer fashion than the wording of our Haggadot that the wise son's opposite mate is not the wicked son, but rather the stupid son. But if the wise son stands in contrast to the stupid son, it follows that the wicked son stands in contrast to the son who does not know how to ask. What is common ground between them?

 

            First of all, the wicked son and the son who does not know how to ask are connected to the mitzvot relating to Pesach. The wicked son asks about the Paschal lamb, and the son who does not know how to ask is told about the mitzva of eating matza and eliminating chametz. As was noted above, the questions raised by the other two sons are not connected to Pesach, but rather to the mitzva of instilling the Torah in one's children and the mitzva regarding firstborns. This is one connection between the wicked son and the son who does not know how to ask.

 

In addition, both in the passage containing the wicked son's question and in the passage concerning the son who does not know how to ask, the word "service" is mentioned: "What is this service to you" and "that you shall keep this service in this month."

 

            Finally, the author of the Haggada gives the same answer to both of these sons (Shemot 13:8):

 

And you shall relate to your son on that day, saying, “This is done because of that which the Lord did to me when I came out of Egypt.”

 

This verse is the answer that the Torah gives to the son who does not know how to ask, and the author of the Haggada gives the same answer to the wicked son. Without a doubt, the answer is given in a different tone, for the author of the Haggada adds an instruction to the father of the wicked son that he should "blunt his teeth," but the answer itself is identical.

 

            Indeed, the author of the Haggada is right – for both of these sons do not know how to ask. The question, "What is this service to you," does not end with a question mark, but rather with an exclamation point. The Torah does not say: "And it shall come to pass, when your children shall ask you," but rather: "And it shall come to pass, when your children shall say to you."

 

            Furthermore, as the Vilna Gaon persuasively argues, the answer given by the Torah is not addressed to the wicked son. In contrast to the other sons, about which it is stated: "Then you shall say to your son" or "That you shall say to him," regarding the wicked son, it says: "That you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord's pesach." The wicked son himself waits for the answer given to the son who does not know how to ask.

 

***

 

            On the other hand, there is much in common between the verses dealing with the wise son and those dealing with the simple son (or the stupid son, as formulated by the Yerushalmi). Neither of them asks about the mitzvot of Pesach; the wise son asks about studying the Torah and the mitzvot, and the simple son asks about the mitzva governing firstborns. The wording of the verses recording their questions is also identical: "When your son asks you in time to come, saying, What…" The basis of the answers given in the Torah to their questions is also the same – the story of the exodus from Egypt:

 

Then you shall say to your son, “We were the bondmen of Pharaoh in Egypt; and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.”

 

By strength of hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of bondage.

 

            Another connection between the wise son and the simple son arises from the Talmud Yerushalmi, which reverses the answers given to them in the traditional Haggadot:

 

The wise one, what does he say? "What are the testimonies, and the statutes, and the judgments which the Lord our God has commanded you?" Thus you shall say to him: "With a strong hand the Lord took us out of Egypt, from the house of slaves."

The stupid son, what does he say? "What is this?" Thus you shall instruct him in the laws of Pesach [up to]: One is not to eat any dessert after the Paschal lamb, that one should not rise from one group and enter a different group.

 

            It is possible that the similarity between the sons in each set comes to sharpen the differences between them, as we shall see below.

 

The Wise Son

 

            As stated above, the answer that the verses give to the wise son and to the simple son seems to be identical, and the different answers given to them by the author of the Haggada are reversed in the Talmud Yerushalmi. What, then, is the difference between these two sons, apart from the substance of their questions?

 

            Truth be told, only the first part of the answer given to the two sons is the same. The continuation of the answer given to them is entirely different. In order to understand this, let us consider once again the Torah's answer to the wise son (Devarim 6:20-25):

 

When your son asks you in time to come, saying, “What are the testimonies, and the statutes, and the judgments which the Lord our God has commanded you?” Then you shall say to your son, “We were the bondmen of Pharaoh in Egypt; and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and the Lord showed signs and wonders, great and sore, upon Egypt, upon Pharaoh, and upon all his household, before our eyes. And He brought us out from there, that He might bring us in, to give us the land which He swore to our fathers. And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, the He might preserve us alive as it is at this day. And it shall be accounted virtue in us, if we take care to do all these commandments before the Lord our God, as He has commanded us.”

 

            What is evident here is the genuine desire of the son to study the Torah and the mitzvot. But the father is commanded not to open with a count of the mitzvot and to explain them all to his son, but rather to teach his son the entire Torah "on one foot," similar to what Hillel was asked to teach the gentile who came before him to be converted to Judaism (Shabbat 31a). Hillel taught the gentile a principle of his own formulation – "That which is hateful to you, do not do to another person" – and included in it, in his opinion, the entire Torah. The wise son sets his father in a similar situation, and the Torah commands that the son be taught a different principle: "We were the bondmen of Pharaoh in Egypt; and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand." This principle is similar to the foundational mitzva: "I am the Lord your God who has brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage" – the first of the Ten Commandments, which includes (according to R. Saadya Gaon, and it seems to me, even according to the simple meaning of Scripture) the entire Torah. The first commandment is the most important one; it includes all of the rest. The mitzva of "I am the Lord your God" is therefore the foundation for the entire Torah (see also Kuzari I:11).

 

This might also explain the Torah passage dealing with tzitzit, for the mitzva of tzitzit is supposed to bring one to remember all of the mitzvot. How does it do this? It is stated there as follows (Bamidbar 15:40-41):

 

That you may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy to your God. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the Lord your God.

 

The implication here is that the mitzva that tzitzit brings to mind is the mitzva to believe that "I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out of the land of Egypt," and in that way it brings to mind all of the other mitzvot, which depend upon it.

 

            As stated, this is the answer given to the wise son. If we examine the entire passage, we find that the answer to the wise son comes in the wake of the Shema passage (Devarim 6:4-9), the essence of which is the unity of God, and in which it is stated: "And these words, which I command you this day, shall be in your heart: and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them."

 

            In the continuation of the answer to the wise son, we are told not only the reason for the mitzvot – accepting the kingdom of God who brought us out from the bondage of Egypt – but also their objective:

 

And He brought us out from there, that He might bring us in, to give us the land which He swore to our fathers. And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, the He might preserve us alive as it is at this day. And it shall be accounted virtue in us, if we take care to do all these commandments before the Lord our God, as He has commanded us.

 

            The objective of the mitzvot is inheriting the land of Israel, which is for our good. In response to the wise son's question, his father teaches him the fundamentals of belief, the Torah's mitzvot, their goal and objective.

 

The Simple Son

 

            Let us go back to the Torah's answer to the simple son (Shemot 13:11-15):

 

And it shall be when the Lord shall bring you into the land of the Canaani, as He swore to you, and to your fathers, and shall give it to you, that you shall set apart to the Lord all that open the womb… And every firstling of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb… And all the firstborn of man among your children shall you redeem. And it shall be when your son asks you in time to come, saying, “What is this?” that you shall say to him, “By strength of hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of bondage. And it came to pass, when Pharaoh would hardly let us go, that the Lord slew all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man, and the firstborn of beast. Therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all that open the womb being males; but all the firstborn of my children I redeem.

 

            What is special about this mitzva that its performance brings a son to ask his father about its meaning? The answer suggests that the son's question relates primarily to the breaking of the firstborn donkey's neck. This is, indeed, an exceptional and shocking mitzva, and it is likely that even a child who does not show particular interest in the mitzvot performed by his father will ask him for an explanation.

 

Let us activate our imagination. The simple son is not necessarily devoid of insight. He might be young; it is possible that as a young boy, he was happy when the donkey was born. In a young boy's typical manner, he certainly stroked the young animal and fed it with his own hands, and the donkey even became attached to him. Suddenly, the son sees his father take the innocent donkey and break its neck. This action seems to be void of reason and lacking all compassion. The son cries out to his father: "What is this?" At this point the father sets the frightened child on his knees and tells him the story of the exodus from Egypt. This is the first mitzva relating to belief; it begins like the story told to the wise son, but then it takes a turn. The father focuses not on the mitzvot that God commanded us to perform, but on the one commandment that He gave Pharaoh. The father tells his son that Pharaoh and his nation refused to obey God's order, and their fate was similar to the fate of the donkey whose neck was just broken, or to the fate of the young donkey's father, whose firstborn offspring lies dead before him. The shocked boy internalizes in a difficult – but necessary – way the fate of one who refuses to fulfill God's commandments. He plans at this stage to observe the mitzvot, if only out of fear.

 

Is this a fitting way to persuade people to observe the mitzvot? It seems that it is, for this was the way that the people of Israel encountered the mitzvot for the first time. We read before the full revelation at Mount Sinai (Shemot 15:25-26):

 

There He made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there He tested them, and He said, “If you will diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord your God, and will do that which is right in His sight, and will give ear to His commandments, and keep all the statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon you, which I have brought upon Egypt: for I am the Lord that heals you.”

 

            In this passage, the reward for keeping the mitzvot is not inheritance of the land, and not even virtue in the eyes of God. The reward is shielding those who observe the mitzvot from the diseases of Egypt. From here you may learn that one who does not observe the mitzvot will be afflicted as the Egyptians who did not listen to God were afflicted.

 

            This idea is expanded upon in the chapter of rebuke in the book of Devarim (28):

 

But it shall come to pass, if you will not hearken to the voice of the Lord your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes which I command you this day, that all these curses shall come upon you, and overtake you… The Lord shall make the pestilence cleave to you… The Lord shall make the rain of your land powder and dust; from heaven shall it come down upon you, until you are destroyed… The Lord will smite you with the pox of Egypt… And you shall grope at noonday, as the blind man gropes in darkness… You shall carry much grain out into the field, and shall gather but little in; for the locust shall consume it… And they shall be upon you for a sign and for a wonder, and upon your seed for ever… Moreover, He will bring upon your all he diseases of Egypt, which you were afraid of; and they shall cleave to you… And the Lord shall bring you back into Egypt with ships, by that road of which I spoke to you, You shall see it no more again; and there you shall be sold to your enemies for bondmen and bondwomen, and no man shall buy you.

 

            The punishment for failing to listen to God is brought in a style similar to that which was stated in Mara: the plagues of Egypt, signs and wonders, exile and bondage in Egypt.

 

            The people of Israel in Mara are like a young and innocent child. They are persuaded in a manner similar to the training of a newly enlisted soldier – through an intensification of their fear of punishment. The people of Israel at Mount Sinai are like a mature and wise son. The mitzva of belief in God who brought them out of Egypt and the mitzvot which came in the wake of the Exodus are given the lofty meaning of "You shall be My own treasure from among all peoples" (Shemot 19:5), "a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation," similar to what is told to the wise son.

 

The two sons – the wise one and the simple one – are similar in style regarding the question and the answer, but they are opposites with respect to what stirred them to ask their questions and regarding the purpose of keeping the mitzvot that is explained to them. The wise son is stirred to ask in the wake of Shema and the values expressed in that passage. The purpose he is given is inheritance of the land, and the “good” and the “virtue” associated with it. The simple son is stirred to ask in the wake of a difficult and shocking event – the breaking of a young donkey's neck. The purpose of the mitzvot alluded to him is rescue from the punishment of the plagues of Egypt, which is the lot of those who rebel against the word of God.

 

The Wicked Son

 

            As was stated earlier, the wicked son is the mate of the son who does not know how to ask, both of them being connected to the festival of Pesach. The wicked son asks in his own way specifically about the Paschal lamb (Shemot 12:26-27):

 

And it shall come to pass, when your children shall say to you, “What is this service to you?” that you shall say, “It is the sacrifice of the Lord's pesach, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when He smote Egypt, and delivered our houses…

 

Why does the wicked son ask specifically about the Paschal lamb?

           

            It would seem that the objective of the Paschal lamb is not only to remember the exodus from Egypt, and that the connection between the Paschal lamb and the 15th of Nisan is more distant than the connection between the mitzvot of matza and maror and that day. Support for this may be brought from the possibility raised in the Mekhilta (although immediately rejected) that a gentile who comes to convert to Judaism must offer a Paschal lamb when he becomes obligated in the mitzvot (Mekhilta De-Rabbi Yishmael, massekhta de-Pesach, 15):

 

"And when a stranger shall sojourn with you, and will keep the Pesach to the Lord" (Shemot 12:28) – Do I infer from this that as soon as he converts, he should immediately bring a Paschal lamb? Therefore, the verse states: "And he shall be as one who is born in the land." Just as one who is born in the land [brings his Paschal lamb] on the fourteenth, so too a convert [brings his Paschal lamb] on the fourteenth.

 

The mitzva of Pesach Sheni also detaches the Paschal lamb from the time of the exodus from Egypt, for it is offered on the fourteenth of Iyar.

 

            The passages which mention the Paschal lamb indicate that "in every generation a person must see himself as if he went out from Egypt," without any clear and unequivocal connection to the first exodus. Throughout Scripture, the Paschal lamb is accompanied by the making of a new covenant with God to be His nation, just as what happened during the original exodus from Egypt. Since a convert also enters into a covenant with God when he converts, there might have been room to think that he is obligated to bring a Paschal lamb.

 

            Let us clarify. The bringing of a paschal lamb in the wilderness is described in the book of Bamidbar (9:1-5), in the second year after Israel was brought out of Egypt, on the eve of their expected entry into Eretz Yisrael (before the decree was issued that they would remain in the wilderness for forty years). Since they did not enter then into the land, the people of Israel brought another Paschal lamb when they entered the land in the days of Yehoshua (Yehoshua 5:10), after they were circumcised. This was a new covenant that the people entered into with God when they entered into the land.

 

            A paschal lamb was brought by the people who returned to Zion from the exile in Babylonia (Ezra 6:19), and there too a new covenant was made with God. I Divrei Ha-Yamim (2:29-31) describes the Paschal offering brought by King Chizkiyahu after he removed the idols and all the private altars built by his father, Achaz, in the Ben Hinnom valley, and after he purified the Temple from all of his father's abominations. Similarly, Yoshiyahu brought a Paschal offering (II Divrei Ha-Yamim 35) after he made a new covenant between the people and God and removed the abominations of Menashe and Amon from Jerusalem and the Temple.

 

            From all these sources, it seems that Pesach is not just a commemorative festival. The Paschal offering gives expression to a new covenant made between God and His people, in place of the covenant that was broken because of sins – by the generation of the wilderness, Achaz, Menashe and Amon, the generation of the destruction, and those exiled to Babylonia. The wicked son's question does not stem from a lack of knowledge about ancient history. His question is a challenge to the current covenant with God in his own generation!

 

            Consider, for example, the Pesach observed by Chizkiyahu. Chizkiyahu, king of Yehuda, rose to the throne shortly before the destruction of the two kingdoms, Yehuda and Israel, for their sins. Achaz, King of Yehuda, and Pekach ben Remalyahu, king of Israel, were more wicked than all of their predecessors, and in the background stands the kingdom of Ashur, the rod of God's anger and the staff of His indignation. Chizkiyahu did everything that he could to stop the collapse at the last minute. He purified Jerusalem and the Temple of idol worship. He restored the observance of many important commandments and entered into a covenant with God by way of the Paschal offering. He also tried to stop the collapse of the kingdom of Shomron, and he called upon the remaining tribes of Israel to join him in the covenant by way of the Paschal offering (II Divrei Ha-Yamim 30:5-10):

 

So they established a decree to make proclamation throughout all Israel, from Be'er-Sheva as far as Dan, that they should come to keep the Pesach to the Lord of Israel at Jerusalem… So the runners went with the letters from the king and his princes throughout all Israel and Yehuda, and according to the commandment of the king, saying, “You children of Israel, turn back to the Lord God of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Israel, and He will turn again to the remnant of you, who have escaped out of the hand of the kings of Ashur. And be not like your fathers and like your brothers, who trespassed against the Lord God of their fathers, who therefore gave them up to desolation, as you see. Now be not stiff-necked, as your fathers were, but yield yourselves to the Lord, and enter into His sanctuary, which He has sanctified forever. And worship the Lord you God, so that the fierceness of His anger may turn away from you. For if you return to the Lord, your brothers and your children shall find compassion before those who led them away captive, so that they shall come back into this land. For the Lord your God is gracious and merciful, and He will not turn away His face from you, if your return to Him.” So the runners passed from city to city through the country of Efrayim and Menashe as far as Zevulun, but they laughed them to scorn, and mocked them.

 

            Chizkiyahu implores the tribes of Israel to enter into a new covenant with God, but in the cities of Efrayim, Menashe, and Zevulun, the people merely mock his agents. In the words of the author of the Haggada, these tribes asked: "What is this service to you?"

 

            The miracles that were performed on behalf of Chizkiyahu against the army of Ashur at the gates of Jerusalem are described in the piyyutim recited at the seder, as they took place on the night of Pesach. But the people of the kingdom of Shomron did not merit to see them. They were exiled several years earlier to Chalach, Chavor, Nahar Gozen, and the cities of Madai. Just as the author of the Haggada says: "If he had been there, he would not have been redeemed." The son discussed in those circumstances is no one but the wicked one.

 

The Son who does not know how to ask

 

            The fourth son, who does not know how to ask, is ordinarily perceived as a child who does not understand, one whom we relate to with forgiveness and compassion. In our consciousness, he is the youngest son, who does not comprehend what is happening around him – like, in our days, an assimilated Jew who has never seen a real Seder.

 

            However, the principle that we put forward regarding pairs of opposites, which sets the son who does not know how to ask against the wicked son, brings us to a reevaluation of the nature of this son. We are all familiar with the story of the Father who wished to give His Torah to His children. He offered His Torah to His first three sons, but they all asked what is written in it and found some issue that does not accord with their character. When He offered His Torah to His fourth son, He asked nothing, and immediately said: "We shall do and we shall obey." This son was the people of Israel at the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.

 

            Refraining from asking questions need not be interpreted as stupidity. It can also be understood as innocent belief and readiness to do anything without asking for the reason or the purpose. At times, we recognize that there is no need for a reason; this is what we say every day at the conclusion of the prayers, after describing the composition of the incense in the Temple: "And why do we not mix honey into it? Because the Torah said: 'You may not burn any leaven or any honey as a fire-offering to the Lord.'" There is no need for a reason or an objective; it is enough that the Torah commanded us to conduct ourselves in this manner.

 

The fourth son is a righteous believer. Here lies the great difference between the wicked son and the son who does not know how to ask, even though the answers given to the two of them are similar in wording. It is clear from the words of the wicked son that he is not prepared to observe the mitzva until he is convinced of its importance, and if he is not persuaded, he rejects and mocks it.

 

            The mitzva of "And you shall relate to your son" was said with respect to matza. The son who does not know how to ask, to whom this mitzva relates, receives the matza and eats it. He does not ask why. Perhaps he is influenced by the atmosphere of haste that hovers over the mitzva, haste that radiates urgency and no time for questions. The son saw the speedy baking, he saw his father struggling to eat two olive bulks of matza in the time allotted for the mitzva, and he saw him putting his finger to his mouth while eating the matza alluding to the others that they must not talk until they finish eating the matza. The son also saw his father eat the sandwich of matza and maror, and this he always associated with hurried eating, while traveling or at work. When the Temple stood, together with the matza he ate the hastily roasted meat of the Paschal offering. He may have seen that his father was wearing his travel clothes, his loins girded and his staff in his hand, giving the appearance that he was going out of Egypt this very moment, waiting for the prophet Eliyahu to come and take him on the long and tiresome journey to redemption. The son saw all of this and understood that this is not the time to ask questions. This is the time to act, not to talk!

 

            And here the Torah commands the father to say to his son, despite the haste (Shemot 13:8):

 

This is done because of that which the Lord did to me when I came out of Egypt.

 

To me, and also to you, my son! The haste is not so great that I cannot explain to you its meaning, the meaning of the exodus from Egypt.

 

            In a lighter vein, I wish to note that while I did not find this approach among the commentators to the Haggada, I did find it among the song-writers. Naomi Shemer, who foresaw the liberation of Jerusalem a month before the Six Day War, wrote a light song about the four sons emerging from the Haggada, each one meeting his own destiny and finding a wife appropriate for him. This is the way she (almost) finishes the song:

 

And the one who did not know how to ask

Took the prettiest one of all

Put his hand in hers

And returned with her to the Haggada.

 

In other words, it is precisely the son who does not know how to ask who is the finest and most favored of them all.

 

Our Four Sons

 

            One final remark based on my meager experience as a parent.

 

            The four sons need not necessarily be four different sons. They can all be found in the same son in different situations. A young son who has eaten nothing all afternoon on Erev Pesach is liable to broadcast through his behavior twenty minutes after the Four Questions: "What is this service to you?" In his own way, he will repeatedly tell his mother that he sees no reason to wait until ten o'clock to eat. A son who has not slept on the afternoon of Erev Pesach is liable to turn a short time after the Four Questions into the simple, indifferent, and sleepy son, for whom the story of the exodus from Egypt is not one of his priorities. He is liable to quickly turn into a son who does know how to ask, but not because of simple belief, but because of lethargy. If a son has eaten and slept sufficiently (in keeping with the halakhic limitations of Erev Pesach), there is a good chance that at the seder he will be the wise son, all the way until Chad Gadya.

 

            Moving from the sons to their mother – there is nothing sadder than a woman who labored for weeks before Pesach cleaning the house, who toiled for days before Pesach cooking the holiday meals, and then later collapses from exhaustion in the middle of the seder. A wise person sees ahead, and he must do everything – absolutely everything – to ensure that his family rests on the afternoon of Erev Pesach and that the nicest night of the year should be animated and meaningful.