Western Wall in the snow 390.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
The Pessah Haggada conveys the secret which helped the Jewish nation survive for
thousands of years: passing on to the next generation the heritage of the past
and the history of how the Jewish nation was created.
inherent in this is that without a past, one cannot build a future, and that if
we do not remember where we came from, we will not know where to go. The Haggada
is composed of several parts. At the beginning, we describe the period of Am
Yisrael’s enslavement in Egypt. Later, we find a description of the ten plagues
with which G-d punished the Egyptian nation for their enslavement of the Jewish
nation. Following this was the redemption and the exodus from Egypt, and at the
end of the Haggada, we express our expectation for a full and speedy redemption
and victory over all our enemies.
Throughout the Seder night, great
emphasis is placed on involving the younger generation. This is expressed in the
tradition of giving children nuts and candies so they will stay awake throughout
the evening (it is also recommended to have younger children nap before the
holiday). It is also expressed by placing the children in the center when they
ask and sing Ma Nishtana – How is this night different from all other nights?
They get encouragement and incentives that provide them with a sense of full
involvement in running the Seder. And thus, a significant portion of the
holiday’s traditions are meant to incite interest and curiosity among the
younger generation sitting around the table.
The Haggada also includes
educational guidelines on how to pass on the Pesach messages to each child
according to his own style. The editors of the Haggadah divided children into
four categories of sons: one who is wise, one wicked, one simple, and one who
does not know how to ask a question.
The wise son is the one who takes an
interest, seeks knowledge and wisdom and wishes to know more and more about the
history of Am Yisrael and its implications for the future of the
The Haggada instructs us to tell this son the story from
beginning to end, without mincing words or saving time.
The wicked son is
the extreme opposite of the wise son. This son is not at all preoccupied with
his glorious past. Jewish history does not speak to him at all, or maybe it even
burdens him. He is not interested in learning any messages or ideas from it in
order to succeed in the future. The Haggada tells us that we must warn this son
and clarify to him that he cannot succeed if he disconnects himself from the
history that shaped our nation and whose influence is strongly felt – even if he
would prefer otherwise – until today.
“Know this,” we tell him. “If you
had been there, during the great moments of the Exodus from Egypt, and had you
spurned those events in the same way, you would not have been privileged to
experience them properly and they really would not have influenced you. But
luckily for you, you were not there, and therefore you are an inseparable part
of the nation, with all that entails. And as such, we will not give up on
“We want to tell you, too, the story of the Exodus from Egypt – the
story of the creation of the Jewish nation.”
The simple son is the one
without enough of a background to be able to delve deeply into messages. He
stares wide-eyed at the unusual traditions of the Seder night and asks us,
“What’s this?” This son provides us with a complicated challenge: to start from
the beginning and tell the story from its inception, including him too in the
evening’s experience of freedom and joy. We have to invest a lot of effort so
that no child remains out of the picture on this night.
The son who does
not know how to ask is young and undeveloped, so much so that he does not even
understand that he should ask “What’s this?” He looks at the Pessah Seder and
does not notice the huge and unusual differences.
guideline that appears in the Haggada on how to behave with this son is
surprising. The Haggada does not instruct us to tell him the story, but to guide
him toward the questions. And only then, when he asks for himself, should we
answer and explain to him the messages of the holiday.
This is because
whoever is not used to asking questions, researching and taking an interest,
will never advance and think deeply about the significance of life. He will also
remain behind, not thinking and not watching. Therefore, when we face the son
who does not ask, we aim to educate him to ask questions, be amazed and curious,
and when he asks – he will get answers.
The Torah speaks about four sons.
May all of the children of Am Yisrael be “wise” and interested in Jewish
heritage and traditions.
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz is rabbi of the Western
Wall and Holy Sites.