In the modern hagaddah, the famous story of the four sons records the wicked son and the wise son asking very similar questions. This has led to countless hours of arguing at sedarim around the world and an endless number of creative solutions to the problem.
However, the original authors of the baraita had something else in mind. The original baraita, as shown on both the Yerushalmi and the Mekhilta had the wise son using the first person plural, while the wicked son was using the second person. An examination of the sources shows the intent of the original authors, as well as the reasons for the change over time.
The first source for the original baraita of the four sons is the Mechilta - a collection of midrashim on the book of Shemot. The story is very similar to the modern version preserved in the haggadah, but it has some key differences. Pay special attention to the words of the wise son - he uses the first person plural ("us" and "our") when talking. The wicked son does not.
The second source for this Baraita is the Talmud Yerushalmi. Again, pay attention to the words used by the wise son. He uses inclusive words ("we" and "us") while the wicked son uses exclusive ones ("you"). The wicked son also has an extra line not present in the Mechilta or the haggadah.
Finally there is the version of the story which is most familiar to modern readers - the version found in the haggadah. This version has the wise son using similar language to the wicked son ("you"), which is what causes so much confusion at so many sedarim.
The obvious question becomes why was the language of the wise son modified. To answer that we need to go back to the pesukim in the Torah from which the words of the four sons were drawn.
In the text of the Torah, the pasuk in Devarim from which the wise son's question is drawn uses the word "you". As the haggadah was compiled, the baraita of the four sons was changed to match the text of the Torah, which created the confusion we have today.
There is a final mystery to be solved though - why did the original baraita not preserve the phrasing of the Torah? The presence of two sources, one Talmudic and one midrashic, that preserve the wise son asking his question in the plural seems to suggest that there was at least a tradition that the pasuk in Devarim 6:20 could or should be interpreted that way. A non-rabbinic source also stregnthens this argument. The Septaugint, a 2-3rd century Greek translation of the Tanach translates Devarim 6:20 with the word "us" instead of "you".
καὶ ἔσται ὅταν ἐρωτήσῃ σε ὁ υἱός σου αὔριον λέγων τί ἐστιν τὰ μαρτύρια καὶ τὰ δικαιώματα καὶ τὰ κρίματα ὅσα ἐνετείλατο κύριος ὁ θεὸςἡμῶν ἡμῖν
And it shall come to pass when thy son shall ask thee at a future time, saying, What are the testimonies, and the ordinances, and the judgments, which the Lord our God has commanded us?
This sheet analyzes just the difference in wording between the wise and wicked sons. There is much more to discover though! You can click on any of the sources cited here to read them in their entirety. There are a number of differences between the original versions of the baraita found in the Mechilta and the Yerushalmi and the version in the haggadah, many of which will surely spark lively Pesach night conversation. Some differences include the answers given to the wise and simple son, and the name of the simple son himself.
חג כשר ושמח