If he has a son, the son asks.
In contrast to Hanukah and Purim where we are commanded to “publicize the miracle” (and include everyone), on Pesach, the publicizing of the miracle starts first of all with the children. And this is for the reason we mentioned (in the introduction) – that here the goal of the publicizing of the miracle is that the father, at the first available moment, will pass down the principles of faith in the G-d of Israel and the exodus of Egypt to the small son, so as to continue the unbreakable chain. And how tremendous is the fact that the Emunah of Yisrael, despite it’s depth, is simple enough in its basis, that it can be conveyed from father to small boy, by means of a simple story appropriate for a child. This is the significance of the questions which appear here. And it is incumbent upon us to arouse each child, according to his ability, to ask more and more questions. Because the idea is better internalized if he asks and gets an answer, than if he just gets the answer (without asking). And from here one can learn that even if there are no children, the adult should provoke questions for himself and others, in order to sharpen the understanding.
On this night we add another link to the chain of our tradition, conveying the concrete basis of the faith through all the generations, because in such a way can the new generation ITSELF see things properly, despite the fact that “officially”, thousands of years have passed since the event took place. And, behold, he did not see it with his own eyes. But the passing down of the message from generation to generation in such a concrete and precise fashion makes it EXACTLY AS IF HE SAW IT. Just as no one doubts historical events which took place two hundred years ago, since everything is known and passed onward by humanity, so, too can the events of over 3,000 years not be doubted, because the people passed it down in the same way, each one to his children. And this is the difference between Hanukah, Purim, and Passover.
For only on Passover was each one commanded to see himself as if he left Egypt, since this fact is the basis of our faith, and without it, our faith would not have survived in such a precise manner after so many thousands of years, hundreds of generations, and countless tragedies and exiles. In such a way, the child is not only connected to his father, but also to the father of his fathers who lived hundreds of years ago and thousands of years ago, each one being a special pipeline for this message which is intended PERSONALLY FOR HIM! On this night, the Jewish child will also receive upon himself his responsibility for the next generations, to continue the chain and the pipeline, and he will understand that if he does not connect himself to the Jewish People, there is no reason for his existence.
The Four Questions:
The Torah speaks to the Jew in the language and style he understands and can relate to. It even adjusts itself to different types of people. As the midrash in Yilkot Shimoni says, (Dvraim, 776 ): “That you should go with the strict types according to their understanding, and with the moderate types according to their understanding.”
But there are two limitations:
- You cannot change the Torah around as you see fit to do so. Adjustments for different people and different situations are already found in the “halacha”, and if it is not in the “halacha”, no man has the authority to change and adjust matters, even if he feels that he is “saving” the Torah.
- Even if it is possible conveying the message in different ways to different people, if in the end it doesn’t work and that particular Jew still doesn’t want to listen, he is not dismissed from the Torah, and we are not dismissed from telling him words of Torah. The famous saying, “In the same way that it is a mitzvah to say something that will be listened to, it is a mitzvah not to say something that will not be listened to”, has nothing to do with the essence of the message, and one cannot dismiss someone from mitzvot from the Torah for such a reason. On the contrary, “And whether they listen or refuse to – let them know that a prophet was amongst them”. (Ezekhiel, 3) You just tell them Torah, even if there is a need to “blunt his teeth”, as the Hagadah eventually tells us we should do to the evil son. And even if he blunts OUR TEETH, we will not shut up, as G-d told Yishiyahu, “my children are rebellious. If you accept it upon yourself to be humiliated and beaten by my children, then you may go as my messenger; and if not – you will not go as my messenger…” (Shmot Raba, 7:3)
… and in answering the wise son, we tell him all the halachot, (for this too he requested to know) right up until the last one, which is the Afikoman. And there is a stress here that it doesn’t suffice explaining to him the general idea of Judaism, but rather the halacha, up to the last detail is also needed. This is to teach all those who stress “nationalism” and other aspects of the Jewish idea, but abandon the fulfillment of the halacha and all it’s details. Here we tell the wise son that as much as he gains wisdom in understanding the essence of Judaism, remember that all this is worth nothing if he forsakes the fulfillment of the practical mitzvot and it’s details. In any case, without a doubt the basis of the answer is the story of the exodus from Egypt (“We were slaves..”) which is the base of our faith, and if we believe in this, then we will come to understand that the Torah is truth and it is an obligation to fulfill it, because slaves we were to Pharo in Egypt, and now we are slaves to G-d…
The evil son – “What does this service mean to you?”
The Tanchuma (Shmot 5) says that the evil son says, “Let us be as Egyptians”. And this is the key to understanding this son. He wants to dismiss himself from the yoke of belonging to Am Yisrael and all this “service”. Thus we can understand why he says “to you”. After all, at first glance there should be no connection between throwing away service to G-d (mitzvot), and alienation from the Jewish People which is expressed by his saying, “to you”. But the author of the Hagadah sees the essential connection. Only for a very short time can there be a reality where one can feel a connection to his people without a connection to Torah and mitzvot. And so we see in these times how those who raised the banner of fighting against religion, lost their connection to Zionism, where as those who remained truly faithful to nationalism were those who strengthened their connection to religion.
“Had he been there, he would not have been redeemed”: Why? Because he would have died during the plague of darkness in which all the “Jewish criminals” died. Who “merited” such a nickname? Those WHO DID NOT WANT TO LEAVE EGYPT. And this fortifies what we said earlier: The connection between the evil son who throws away the service to G-d and his alienation from Am Yisrael. And what could symbolize the alienation from Am Yisrael more than his lack of willingness to make Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael, which is the base of the nation; the place which unites the nation and gives life to it and it’s Torah.
“..consequently you must blunt his teeth and reply to him..”
There is no behaving towards him with “Darke Noam”, and we don’t say, “you are our brother”. For the good of the rest of the Jewish People, we must act harshly towards him. He who willfully takes himself out of “Clal Yisrael” and rejects the people and land of Israel must be dealt with harshly. Without a doubt, this harsh treatment will convince others who are borderline (like the son who does not know how to ask) that it is not worthwhile to go in such a way, and thus encourage them to go in the way of the wise son, thereby saving themselves.
The simple son: The Yirushalmi and Rambam call this son, “foolish”. What does the simple son understand? “With a strong hand did Hashem take us out of Egypt”. Anyone is capable of grasping this message of Emunah. True, not everyone can reach high levels of understanding the way of G-d, but anyone can, even the most foolish of people, even he who is totally cut off from anything spiritual, even a gentile – is capable of grasping G-d’s existence through G-d’s strong Hand and Omnipotence. The truth is, that the Torah answers the wise son in the same basic way at the beginning, but with him, the answer is expanded upon greatly with all the details…. (Dvarim 6) The simple son won’t understand this, so we mention to him G-d’s strong Hand, and this is sufficient for leaving an impression upon him that will bring him to real emunah. And an important thing here: The real Emunah, despite it’s awesome scope, does not demand deep wisdom in order for one to accept it (despite the fact that the wisdom certainly deepens the understanding). Any Jew can reach a real and simple level of truth which will obligate him. After all, if this were not so, the Almighty would not be able to expect anything from the foolish!
“For not only one has risen against us to DESTROY US, but in all ages they rise up against us to DESTROY US.”
Here there is a double stress on “to destroy us” – The goal of the goyim is not just to distress us, but rather our very existence is what bothers them. And so it is in this generation, where a piece of territory or another is not what interests them, but rather the annihilation of Am Yisrael, and this illogical hatred of the nations was bred at Mount Sinai.
“But in all ages they rise up against us to destroy us”
What a flat statement to make! And the question may be asked: Was there not a generation where they did not rise up against us to destroy us? But there are different methods to wipe us out. There are those who try to wipe us out physically, like Haman and Hitler; and there are those try to wipe us out physically through trickery, so we that we won’t prevent the attempt to do so. Then there are those who try to destroy us spiritually by assimilation, like Greece. In any case, the rule that Esau hates Yaakov holds in every generation, as we see in this statement.
“And the Holy One, Blessed Is He, rescues us from their hands”.
Many use this verse to support the argument that the Jews do not have to take practical means to save themselves, since in every time of trouble, G-d has promised that he will save us and everything will be O.K. Indeed, it is true that EVENTUALLY, it will be good. But Oy Veh to those who take solace in this! Don’t they understand that the significance of this “solace is that despite the fact that we will never be destroyed, we may suffer pogroms, inquisitions and holocausts? Not just this, but, “And if one tenth remain in it, then that shall be consumed.. (Isaiah, 6:13), and Rashi explains: “Nine parts (out of ten) will perish, and only a tenth will remain, and this too will be consumed” May G-d help us. Is this the scenario we should aspire for? Is it permitted for us to be satisfied and take comfort in this? But rather we must act with self-sacrifice in doing what G-d demands of us so that we may be saved from NEEDLESS tragedy, because it does not have to be!
“… to teach us that our father Yaakov didn’t go to Egypt to SETTLE DOWN PERMANENTLY”
My father and teacher (H”yd) said that when he made Aliyah in 1971 to Israel, he went to Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook who received him very warmly, (and even told his students to take him to the Kotel, where both rabbis were photographed together). He said that he told Rav Kook that he came to Israel to “settle down”, and Rav Kook said that in the land of Israel, one doesn’t settle down, but rather “rises up.”
The Ten Plagues:
Couldn’t G-d have taken us out of Egypt without all this violence? After all, G-d is Omnipotent, and certainly he could have taken us out Egypt with “Darke Noam” or even by way of a “peace process”. After all, it would seem that what is most important is that the Jews got out of Egypt – for what all this cruelty and vengeance?
The answer is that the goal of the exodus of Egypt was not just that the people of Israel go free, but the major goal was that G-d-hating gentiles and desecrators of His Name who “did not know G-d” (as Pharo said upon seeing Moses the first time), — would know G-d. But the gentile does not grasp the existence of G-d, and certainly won’t accept the concept that He chose the Jews as His people, by way of “awe and spiritual elevation” or through pure intellectual understanding. Only by the way of him seeing and feeling Hashem’s Might and Power can the most obtuse of gentiles understand G-d’s existence and choice of Am Yisrael. And when the gentile insists on not believing in Him, and defames and fights against Israel thereby desecrating the Name of G-d, and empties the Name of G-d from the world, so to speak, then G-d unleashes His arsenal against him, so that “he will know that I am G-d”.
“Because he passed over the houses..”
The salvation from the Egyptians started with the “havdala” (the separation) – that is the willingness of the Jewish People to show their differences between them and the gentiles in a practical way. It was exemplified by the placing of the blood from the slaughtered Egyptian deity on their doorposts without fearing the Egyptian reaction. This readiness for havdala displays proof to one’s emunah. And just as in the first redemption, so it is in our days, where the redemption is dependent on Am Yisrael’s willingness to adopt upon themselves concepts connected to “havdala”, through the acceptance of the yoke of Heaven, and without fearing that we will be labeled as “racists”. And it is not for nothing that the internal struggle today between the Jewish People and the Hellenists centers around this concept of “havdala”. Nor is it a coincidence that the entire question of whether to vomit out the Arabs or not, ends up being centered around – not whether it will work, and not even ethics, but rather around “racism”, which at first glance has nothing to with anything. But the truth is that the redemption is dependent upon our separating ourselves from the nations, and most essentially our readiness to adopt for ourselves all the practical halachot which derive from the concept.