The Wise Son and the Wicked Son: Exploring the Values of Community and Individual
1 א

Underline the places in this text that emphasize the individual and circle the parts of the text that emphasize the community.

2 ב

בְּכָל־דּוֹר וָדוֹר חַיָּב אָדָם לִרְאוֹת אֶת־עַצְמוֹ כְּאִלּוּ הוּא יָצָא מִמִּצְרַיִם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וְהִגַּדְתָּ לְבִנְךָ בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא לֵאמֹר, בַּעֲבוּר זֶה עָשָׂה ה' לִי בְּצֵאתִי מִמִּצְרַיִם. לֹא אֶת־אֲבוֹתֵינוּ בִּלְבָד גָּאַל הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא, אֶלָּא אַף אוֹתָנוּ גָּאַל עִמָּהֶם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וְאוֹתָנוּ הוֹצִיא מִשָּׁם, לְמַעַן הָבִיא אוֹתָנוּ, לָתֶת לָנוּ אֶת־הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר נִשָׁבַּע לַאֲבֹתֵינוּ.

In each and every generation, a person is obligated to see himself as if he left Egypt, as it is stated (Exodus 13:8); "For the sake of this, did the Lord do [this] for me in my going out of Egypt." Not only our ancestors did the Holy One, blessed be He, redeem, but rather also us [together] with them did he redeem, as it is stated (Deuteronomy 6:23); "And He took us out from there, in order to bring us in, to give us the land which He swore unto our fathers."

3 ג

To see himself (atzmo) as if he went forth from Egypt: The statement here could have been, "To imagine that he went forth from Egypt;" the word atzmo was unnecessary. Why was it necessary to say, "himself?" We learn in the Talmud that if one's father experienced a miracle, his children and offspring must continue to give thanks. The redemption from Egypt goes much farther than that. We are grateful not just because of our ancestors but because we ourselves benefited from God's redemption. We are the direct recipients of God's goodness in the Exodus (otherwise we might still be slaves). We are commanded to give thanks not because it affected our forefathers but because we directly benefit from God's redemption.

(Marbeh Lisaper)

4 ד

According to the above commentary on the Haggadah, what is the purpose of personally and individually seeing ourselves as having left Egypt?

Do you agree? Disagree?


מכילתא דרבי ישמעאל י״ג:י״ד:א׳

(יד) ...ארבעה בנים הם, אחד חכם ואחד רשע ואחד תם ואחד שאינו יודע לשאול. חכם מה הוא אומר, מה העדות והחקים והמשפטים אשר צוה ה' אלהינו אותנו, אף אתה פתח לו בהלכות הפסח אין מפטירין אחר הפסח אפיקומן. רשע מה הוא אומר, מה העבודה הזאת לכם, לכם ולא לו. ולפי שהוציא את עצמו מן הכלל כפר בעיקר, אף אתה הקהה את שניו ואמור לו- בעבור זה עשה ה' לי בצאתי ממצרים (שמות יב). לי ולא לך אילו היית שם, לא היית נגאל....

Mekhilta d'Rabbi Yishmael 13:14:1

(14) ...There are four sons: a wise son, a wicked son, a simple son, and one who does not know how to ask. What does the wise son say?

"What are the testimonies and the statutes and the judgments that the Lord our God commanded us?" — you, likewise, "open" to him in the laws of Pesach — "there is nothing additional to eat after the afikoman."

What does the wicked son say?

(Exodus 12:26) "What is this (Pesach) service to you?" "to you" and not to him.

Because he disassociated himself from the congregation and denied the foundation (of the faith), you, likewise, blunt his teeth and tell him (Ibid. 13;8) "Because of this (the mitzvot) the Lord wrought for me when I went out of Egypt." For me and not for you. Had you been there, you would not have been redeemed...

6 ו

According to the Mekhilta (Text #3), what is the big different between the questions of the Wise Son and the Wicked Son?

7 ז

We can now understand the meaning of the verse: "It shall come to pass, in the future, when your child asks, 'what is this service to you?'" [This is what the Wicked Son asks at the seder.] The child asks, "I understand why you must eat matzah and maror since they are symbols of subjugation and redemption. God performed this for our ancestors so that we would not be enslaved. But the Pesach offering was merely a local miracle for our ancestors. Why must we recall this miracle? To this we answer: "And our houses He saved." God not only saved our ancestors but He saved us - therefore for this we give thanks.

8 ח

How does the above drash (explanation) ease the approach to the Wicked Son's question? How does it even give him the benefit of the doubt and reinterpret his answer?


הגדה של פסח, מגיד, כנגד ארבעה בנים ב׳-ג׳

חָכָם מָה הוּא אוֹמֵר? מָה הָעֵדוֹת וְהַחֻקִּים וְהַמִּשְׁפָּטִים אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה' אֱלֹהֵינוּ אֶתְכֶם. וְאַף אַתָּה אֱמוֹר לוֹ כְּהִלְכוֹת הַפֶּסַח: אֵין מַפְטִירִין אַחַר הַפֶּסַח אֲפִיקוֹמָן:


Pesach Haggadah, Four Sons

What does the wise [son] say?

"What are these testimonies, statutes, and judgments that the Lord our God commanded you?"

And accordingly, you will say to him, as per the laws of the Pesach sacrifice, "We may not eat an afikoman [a dessert or other foods eaten after the meal] after [we are finished eating] the Pesach sacrifice. (Mishnah Pesachim 10:8)"

10 י

רָשָׁע מָה הוּא אוֹמֵר? מָה הָעֲבוֹדָה הַזּאֹת לָכֶם. לָכֶם – וְלֹא לוֹ. וּלְפִי שֶׁהוֹצִיא אֶת עַצְמוֹ מִן הַכְּלָל כָּפַר בְּעִקָּר. וְאַף אַתָּה הַקְהֵה אֶת שִׁנָּיו וֶאֱמוֹר לוֹ: "בַּעֲבוּר זֶה עָשָׂה ה' לִי בְּצֵאתִי מִמִּצְרָיִם". לִי וְלֹא־לוֹ. אִלּוּ הָיָה שָׁם, לֹא הָיָה נִגְאָל:

What does the evil [son] say? "'What is this worship to you?' (Exodus 12:26)" 'To you' and not 'to him.' And since he excluded himself from the collective, he denied a principle [of the Jewish faith]. And accordingly, you will blunt his teeth and say to him, "'For the sake of this, did the Lord do [this] for me in my going out of Egypt' (Exodus 13:8)." 'For me' and not 'for him.' If he had been there, he would not have been saved.

11 יא

In our Haggadah text above, we see that the questions the Wise Son and Wicked Son ask both say, "You" yet it is the Wicked Son alone who is criticized for excluding himself.

12 יב

The wicked child, what does he say? The wicked child is criticized for excluding himself from the community by saying “What does this service mean to YOU (not to me)?” Yet the wise child seems to do the same thing when he says, “Which the Lord our God commanded YOU.” Why do we criticize the wicked child for using exclusionary language but not the wise child? When the wise child asks, “What is the meaning of these laws…which the Lord commanded you,” he does not exclude himself from the community. Rather, as one who was born in after the events at Sinai, he did not experience the Revelation first hand. God did not directly command him to observe the commandments but he wants to know what God told his elders to do so that he can faithfully observe them. The Wicked child, on the other hand, witnesses the celebration of Passover (“What is this service to you?”) Rather than joining in, he says, “What does this mean to you,” excluding himself from the celebration. The wise child’s question is a response to hearing the commandment and wanting to understand it while the wicked child’s question is a response to witnessing the act and stepping away from participation. (Maase Nissim)


שמות י״ג:

וְהִגַּדְתָּ֣ לְבִנְךָ֔ בַּיּ֥וֹם הַה֖וּא לֵאמֹ֑ר בַּעֲב֣וּר זֶ֗ה עָשָׂ֤ה ה' לִ֔י בְּצֵאתִ֖י מִמִּצְרָֽיִם׃

Exodus 13:8

And you shall explain to your son on that day, ‘It is because of what the LORD did for me when I went free from Egypt.’

14 יד

Discuss: What is the value of seeing yourself individually as part of the Exodus as opposed to seeing yourself as part of a community that left Egypt together?

15 טו

The Ba'al Shem Tov, an eighteenth-century rabbi and founder of the Hasidic movement, famously noted that the Jewish people are like a living Torah scroll, and every individual Jew is a letter within it. If a single letter is damaged or missing or incorrectly drawn, a Torah scroll is considered invalid. So too, in Judaism, each individual is considered a crucial part of the people, without whom the entire religion would suffer.