The Story of the Four Children

The Four Children “on one foot”:

In the Maggid section of the Passover Seder, we read about four children: one wise, one wicked, one simple, and one who does not know how to ask. Sometimes these are referred to as “The Four Sons”, but the Hebrew word banim could mean "sons" or "children" and there is no need to exclude half of the Jewish people.

בָּרוּךְ הַמָּקוֹם, בָּרוּךְ הוּא, בָּרוּךְ שֶׁנָּתַן תּוֹרָה לְעַמּוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵל, בָּרוּךְ הוּא. כְּנֶגֶד אַרְבָּעָה בָנִים דִּבְּרָה תוֹרָה: אֶחָד חָכָם, וְאֶחָד רָשָׁע, וְאֶחָד תָּם, וְאֶחָד שֶׁאֵינוֹ יוֹדֵעַ לִשְׁאוֹל.

Blessed be the Place [of all], Blessed be God; Blessed be the One who Gave the Torah to God’s people Israel, Blessed be God. Corresponding to four children did the Torah speak: one [who is] wise, one [who is] evil, one who is innocent, and one who doesn't know to ask.

Context: This is from the Passover Haggadah, in the Maggid section. It comes after “Ma Nishtana” (which is based on the Mishnah saying that if your child asks why this night is different then you should tell them, and if they don’t know how to ask then you should teach them to say the ‘Ma Nishtana’ - Mishnah Pesachim 10:4), and then after the Haggadah says that it is praiseworthy to talk about the Exodus from Egypt.

It should be noted that Pirkei Avot 3:14 refers to the Jews as “children of ‘the Place’ " (not that it says others aren’t also G-d’s children). The author of the Haggadah may have had that in mind when crafting this section.

Additionally, the Biblical Book of Proverbs says that one should teach a child according to their way (22:6), and this may have been consciously or sub-consciously on the mind of the author of the part of the Haggadah (or its source texts). Similarly, the Mishnah says that according to the abilities of the child do you teach them about the Exodus (Pesachim 10:4).

When the Haggadah says “One” before each of the children, some see this as an allusion to the Shema (Deut. 6:4) and the very end of Aleinu (Zachariah 14:9) where G-d is described as “One” / “Echad”. The idea would be that the spark of G-d is in each of these children.

Because there are 4 times that the Torah says that you should tell your child about Passover, the rabbis assumed that this must be 4 different types of children who were getting 4 different answers. Otherwise, the Torah could have said this once and been done with it.

We know that children are different. If you were to say “There are 4 types of children”, which 4 would you choose?

Context: This is the traditional tune for “Baruch HaMakom”. The tune was composed by Reuven Kenigsberg, for the “Awaken” album of the Neginah Orchestra in 1971. For more information about “Baruch HaMakom”, check out this video from Jewish Music Toronto:

Step 1: The Biblical Source Texts

(כה) וְהָיָ֞ה כִּֽי־תָבֹ֣אוּ אֶל־הָאָ֗רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֨ר יִתֵּ֧ן יְהֹוָ֛ה לָכֶ֖ם כַּאֲשֶׁ֣ר דִּבֵּ֑ר וּשְׁמַרְתֶּ֖ם אֶת־הָעֲבֹדָ֥ה הַזֹּֽאת׃ (כו) וְהָיָ֕ה כִּֽי־יֹאמְר֥וּ אֲלֵיכֶ֖ם בְּנֵיכֶ֑ם מָ֛ה הָעֲבֹדָ֥ה הַזֹּ֖את לָכֶֽם׃ (כז) וַאֲמַרְתֶּ֡ם זֶֽבַח־פֶּ֨סַח ה֜וּא לַֽיהֹוָ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר פָּ֠סַ֠ח עַל־בָּתֵּ֤י בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ בְּמִצְרַ֔יִם בְּנׇגְפּ֥וֹ אֶת־מִצְרַ֖יִם וְאֶת־בָּתֵּ֣ינוּ הִצִּ֑יל וַיִּקֹּ֥ד הָעָ֖ם וַיִּֽשְׁתַּחֲוֽוּ׃

(25) And when you enter the land that יהוה will give you, as promised, you shall observe this rite. (26) And when your children ask you, ‘What do you mean by this rite?’ (27) you shall say, ‘It is the passover sacrifice to יהוה, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt when smiting the Egyptians, but saved our houses.’ Those assembled then bowed low in homage.

Context: This is from the Biblical Book of Exodus, right after the instructions are given for the first Passover (painting the doorposts with blood and such) and right before the Death of the Firstborn plague actually happens.

Which child would you associate this verse with: Wise, Wicked, Simple, or Doesn’t Know How to Ask?

(ז) מַצּוֹת֙ יֵֽאָכֵ֔ל אֵ֖ת שִׁבְעַ֣ת הַיָּמִ֑ים וְלֹֽא־יֵרָאֶ֨ה לְךָ֜ חָמֵ֗ץ וְלֹֽא־יֵרָאֶ֥ה לְךָ֛ שְׂאֹ֖ר בְּכׇל־גְּבֻלֶֽךָ׃ (ח) וְהִגַּדְתָּ֣ לְבִנְךָ֔ בַּיּ֥וֹם הַה֖וּא לֵאמֹ֑ר בַּעֲב֣וּר זֶ֗ה עָשָׂ֤ה יְהֹוָה֙ לִ֔י בְּצֵאתִ֖י מִמִּצְרָֽיִם׃
(7) Throughout the seven days unleavened bread shall be eaten; no leavened bread shall be found with you, and no leaven shall be found in all your territory. (8) And you shall explain to your child on that day, ‘It is because of what יהוה did for me when I went free from Egypt.’

Context: This is from the Biblical Book of Exodus, after the Israelites were freed from slavery and Moses told them to keep the holiday of Passover every year.

Which child would you associate this verse with: Wise, Wicked, Simple, or Doesn’t Know How to Ask?

(יג) וְכׇל־פֶּ֤טֶר חֲמֹר֙ תִּפְדֶּ֣ה בְשֶׂ֔ה וְאִם־לֹ֥א תִפְדֶּ֖ה וַעֲרַפְתּ֑וֹ וְכֹ֨ל בְּכ֥וֹר אָדָ֛ם בְּבָנֶ֖יךָ תִּפְדֶּֽה׃ (יד) וְהָיָ֞ה כִּֽי־יִשְׁאָלְךָ֥ בִנְךָ֛ מָחָ֖ר לֵאמֹ֣ר מַה־זֹּ֑את וְאָמַרְתָּ֣ אֵלָ֔יו בְּחֹ֣זֶק יָ֗ד הוֹצִיאָ֧נוּ יְהֹוָ֛ה מִמִּצְרַ֖יִם מִבֵּ֥ית עֲבָדִֽים׃ (טו) וַיְהִ֗י כִּֽי־הִקְשָׁ֣ה פַרְעֹה֮ לְשַׁלְּחֵ֒נוּ֒ וַיַּהֲרֹ֨ג יְהֹוָ֤ה כׇּל־בְּכוֹר֙ בְּאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם מִבְּכֹ֥ר אָדָ֖ם וְעַד־בְּכ֣וֹר בְּהֵמָ֑ה עַל־כֵּן֩ אֲנִ֨י זֹבֵ֜חַ לַֽיהֹוָ֗ה כׇּל־פֶּ֤טֶר רֶ֙חֶם֙ הַזְּכָרִ֔ים וְכׇל־בְּכ֥וֹר בָּנַ֖י אֶפְדֶּֽה׃

(13) But every firstling donkey you shall redeem with a sheep; if you do not redeem it, you must break its neck. And you must redeem every male first-born among your children. (14) And when, in time to come, a child of yours asks you, saying, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall reply, ‘It was with a mighty hand that יהוה brought us out from Egypt, the house of bondage. (15) When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, יהוה slew every [male] first-born in the land of Egypt, the first-born of both human and beast. Therefore I sacrifice to יהוה every first male issue of the womb, but redeem every male first-born among my children.’

Context: This comes a few verses later, right around the first time that the commandment of Tefillin is given.

According to the Torah (Ex. 13:2, 13:12, Num. 3:13, 18:15-16), the first-born of everything belongs to G-d, including first fruits. Since G-d has no body, the way this works is that G-d gets the pleasing smells (basically of holy barbecue) and the priests with their families get to eat the meat, grains, and “fruits” (includes vegetables) that the Israelites bring. This is because the priests don’t get their own portion of land (Num. 18:20), so they are dependent on the Israelites to bring them food. The donkey was the only non-kosher domesticated animal that the Israelites had, so it got redeemed with a sheep (as in, you gave the sheep to the priests and kept the donkey). Originally, the first borns were the ones who were supposed to serve G-d, but after they succumbed to the idolatry at the Golden Calf and the Levites didn’t, the Levites got the job and the first-born non-Levites had to be redeemed with “the money equivalent of 5 shekels” (Num. 18:15-16). This is why you don’t have a pidyon haben if you are a Kohen or Levite.

Which child would you associate this verse with: Wise, Wicked, Simple, or Doesn’t Know How to Ask?

(כ) כִּֽי־יִשְׁאָלְךָ֥ בִנְךָ֛ מָחָ֖ר לֵאמֹ֑ר מָ֣ה הָעֵדֹ֗ת וְהַֽחֻקִּים֙ וְהַמִּשְׁפָּטִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר צִוָּ֛ה יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ אֶתְכֶֽם׃ (כא) וְאָמַרְתָּ֣ לְבִנְךָ֔ עֲבָדִ֛ים הָיִ֥ינוּ לְפַרְעֹ֖ה בְּמִצְרָ֑יִם וַיֹּצִיאֵ֧נוּ יְהֹוָ֛ה מִמִּצְרַ֖יִם בְּיָ֥ד חֲזָקָֽה׃ (כב) וַיִּתֵּ֣ן יְהֹוָ֡ה אוֹתֹ֣ת וּ֠מֹפְתִ֠ים גְּדֹלִ֨ים וְרָעִ֧ים ׀ בְּמִצְרַ֛יִם בְּפַרְעֹ֥ה וּבְכׇל־בֵּית֖וֹ לְעֵינֵֽינוּ׃
(20) When, in time to come, your children ask you, “What mean the decrees, laws, and rules that our God יהוה has enjoined upon you?” (21) you shall say to your children, “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt and יהוה freed us from Egypt with a mighty hand. (22) יהוה wrought before our eyes marvelous and destructive signs and portents in Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his household;

Context: This is from the Biblical Book of Deuteronomy, right after the Shema and V’Ahavta.

Which child would you associate this verse with: Wise, Wicked, Simple, or Doesn’t Know How to Ask?

Step 2: The Mechilta

(א) … 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. תם מה הוא אומר, מה זאת – ואמרת אליו בחוזק יד הוציאנו ה' ממצרים מבית עבדים. ושאינו יודע לשאול, את פתח לו – שנאמר והגדת לבנך ביום ההוא וכו'.

(1) …There are four children: a wise child, a wicked child, a simple child, and one who does not know how to ask. What does the wise child say? "What are the testimonies and the statutes and the judgments that the L-rd our G-d commanded us?" — you, likewise, "open" to him in the halachot of Pesach — "we don’t eat after the afikomen." What does the wicked child say? (Exodus 12:26) "What is this (Pesach) service to you?" "to you" and not to them. Because they disassociated themselves from the congregation and denied the foundation (of the faith), you, likewise, blunt their teeth and tell them (Ibid. 13:8) "Because of this (that) the L-rd 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. What does the simple child say? (Ibid. 14) "What is this?" And you shall tell them (Ibid.) "With might of hand did the L-rd take us out of Egypt from the house of bondage." And the one who does not know how to ask, you open for them, as it is written (Ibid. 8) "And you shall tell your child on that day, etc."

Context: The Mechilta (circa 200s CE in Israel ) is an early book of Midrash (Rabbinic interpretation), in this case focused on the Book of Exodus. Similar to how the Gemara takes apart the Mishnah and examines it phrase by phrase, Midrash does that to the Torah and the Megillot. In this case, the verse in question is Exodus 13:14, which starts “If your child asks you tomorrow…”. Since there were times where the Hebrew word for “tomorrow” (“Machar”) might have actually meant “today” (Exodus 17:9), this needed to be discussed. It seemed that a clear case of “Machar” actually meaning “in the future” was Deut. 6:20, another source verse for The Four Children, and this leads us into the first discussion of The Four Children.

Note that in the Mechilta, its version of The Wise Child’s verse uses an interpretation from the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Torah by 70 scholars in Alexandria, Egypt, in the 100s CE) which says “Commanded us”, unlike the traditional Masoritic text that says “commanded you”.

Here’s how the verses line up in the Mechilta:

Wise Child - Question = Deut. 6:20; Answer = Mishnah Pesachim 10:8

Wicked Child - Question = Ex. 12:26; Answer = Ex. 13:8

Simple Child - Question = Ex. 13:14; Answer = Ex. 13:14

Can’t Ask Child - Question = None; Answer = Ex. 13:8

For the Child Who Does Not Know How to Ask (and also The Wise Child in this version), the Mechilta says that you are supposed to open for them. How would you go about doing that?

Step 3: The Jerusalem Talmud

הלכה: תַּנֵּי רִבִּי חִייָה. כְּנֶגֶד אַרְבָּעָה בָנִים דִּיבְּרָה תוֹרָה. בֶּן חָכָם בֶּן רָשָׁע בֶּן טִיפֵּשׁ בֶּן שֶׁאֵינוֹ יוֹדֵעַ לִשְׁאָל. בֶּן חָכָם מָהוּ אוֹמֵר. מָ֣ה הָֽעֵדֹ֗ת וְהַֽחֻקִּים֙ וְהַמִּשְׁפָּטִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר צִוָּ֛ה יְי אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ אוֹתָנוּ. אַף אַתָּה אֱמוֹר לֹו. בְּחוֹזֶק יָ֗ד הֽוֹצִיאָ֧נוּ יְי מִמִּצְרַ֖יִם מִבֵּ֥ית עֲבָדִֽים׃ בֶּן רָשָׁע מָהוּ אוֹמֵר. מָ֛ה הָֽעֲבוֹדָה הַזֹּ֖את לָכֶֽם. מַה הַטּוֹרַח הַזֶּה שֶׁאַתֶּם מַטְרִיחִין עָלֵינוּ בְּכָל־שָׁנָה וְשָׁנָה. מִכֵּיוָן שֶׁהוֹצִיא אֶת עַצְמוֹ מִן הַכְּלָל אַף אַתָּה אֱמוֹר לוֹ. בַּֽעֲב֣וּר זֶ֗ה עָשָׂ֤ה יְי לִ֔י׃ לִי עָשָׂה. לְאוֹתוֹ הָאִישׁ לֹא עָשָׂה. אִילּוּ הָיָה אוֹתוֹ הְאִישׁ בְּמִצְרַיִם לֹא הָיָה רָאוּי לְהִיגְּאֵל מִשָּׁם לְעוֹלָם. טִיפֵּשׁ מָהוּ אוֹמֵר. מַה־זֹּ֑את. אַף אַתְּ לַמְּדוֹ הִילְכוֹת הַפֶּסַח. שֶׁאֵין מַפְטִירִין אַחַר הַפֶּסַח אֲפִיקוֹמָן. מַהוּ אֲפִיקוֹמָן. שֶׁלֹּא יְהֵא עוֹמֵד מֵחֲבוּרָה זוֹ וְנִכְנַס לַחֲבוּרָה אֲחֶרֶת. בֶּן שֶׁאֵינוֹ יוֹדֵעַ לִשְׁאָל אַתְּ פְּתַח לוֹ תְחִילָּה. אָמַר רִבִּי יוֹסֵה. מַתְנִיתָא אָֽמְרָה כֵן. אִם אֵין דַּעַת בַּבֵּן אָבִיו מְלַמְּדוֹ.

HALAKHAH: Rebbi Ḥiyya stated “The Torah spoke about Four Children, a wise child, a wicked child, a stupid child, and a child who does not know how to ask. What does the wise child say? What are the testimonials, the ordinances, and the laws, that the Eternal, our God, commanded us? Also you shall tell them, with a strong hand did the Eternal lead us out of Egypt, the house of slaves. What does the wicked child say? What does this service mean to you? What is this exertion which you impose on us every year? Since they excluded themselves from the community, also you shall tell them, because of this did the Eternal do for me when I left Egypt. For me, God did it, for that child God did not do it. If that child had been in Egypt, they would not have been worthy ever to be redeemed. What does the stupid child say? What is this? Tell them the rules of Passover, that one may not eat after the afikomen. What does that mean? That one not leave one group and join another group [to keep eating]. With the child who does not know how to ask, you have to begin and initiate with them.” Rebbi Yose said, that is what the Mishnah says, “if the child does not know how to ask, their parent instructs them.” [regarding the Ma Nishtana].

Context: This is from the Jerusalem Talmud, commenting on the Mishnah and finishing around the year 400 CE. It is after the Mechilta was written, so it seems to be in conversation with that text. In the Jerusalem Talmud, we get an attribution of this section to Rabbi Hiyya, a student of Rabbi Judah HaNasi. There were 3 Rabbi Hiyyas; this one was probably Rabbi Hiyya bar Abba, not Rabbi Hiyya the Great, or Rabbi Hiyya bar Yoseph, since only Rabbi Hiyya bar Abba was called "Rabbi H​​​​​​​iyya". This lines up with the timeline of the Mechilta.

Note that in the Jerusalem Talmud, The Wise Child’s verse (Deut. 6:20) is still using “commanded us”, not “commanded you”.

Here’s how the verses line up in the Jerusalem Talmud:

Wise Child - Question = Deut. 6:20; Answer = Ex. 13:14

Wicked Child - Question = Ex. 12:26; Answer = Ex. 13:8

Stupid Child - Question = Ex. 13:14; Answer = Mishnah Pesachim 10:8

Can’t Ask Child - Question = Ex. 13:8 (allusion, since the verse doesn’t say that your child will ask you); Answer = Not in the Torah

How do you feel about the change from “The Simple Child” to “The Stupid Child”? Adopt, Adapt, or Abolish that change?

“The Wicked Child” has an extra line only found in the Jerusalem Talmud - “What is the exertion which you impose on us every year?” When have you felt like The Wicked Child when it comes to preparing for Passover?

The Jerusalem Talmud and the Haggadah switch the answers for the Wise and Simple Children. Which do you prefer?

Step 4: The Modern Haggadah

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

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:

תָּם מָה הוּא אוֹמֵר? מַה זּאֹת? וְאָמַרְתָּ אֵלָיו "בְּחוֹזֶק יָד הוֹצִיאָנוּ ה' מִמִּצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים".

וְשֶׁאֵינוֹ יוֹדֵעַ לִשְׁאוֹל – אַתְּ פְּתַח לוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר, וְהִגַּדְתָּ לְבִנְךָ בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא לֵאמֹר, בַּעֲבוּר זֶה עָשָׂה ה' לִי בְּצֵאתִי מִמִּצְרָיִם.

What does the wise [child] say? "'What are these testimonies, statutes and judgments that the Lord our God commanded you?' (Deuteronomy 6:20)" And accordingly you will say to them, 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)."

What does the evil [child] say? "'What is this worship to you?' (Exodus 12:26)" 'To you' and not 'to them.' And since they excluded themselves from the collective, they denied a principle [of the Jewish faith]. And accordingly, you will blunt their teeth and say to them, "'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 them.' If they had been there, they would not have been saved.

What does the simple [child] say? "'What is this?' (Exodus 13:14)" And you will say to them, "'With the strength of [God’s] hand did the Lord take us out from Egypt, from the house of slaves' (Exodus 13:14).'"

And [regarding] the one who doesn't know to ask, you will open [the conversation] for them. As it is stated (Exodus 13:8), "And you will speak to your child on that day saying, for the sake of this, did the Lord do [this] for me in my going out of Egypt."

Context: This is from the Haggadah in use today. The Haggadah used to be a supplement to the siddur (as in Saadia Gaon’s siddur of the 900s) before becoming a stand-alone text in the 1300s with the Birds’ Head Haggadah (1300ish, Ashkenazi), Golden Haggadah (1320, Sephardi), and Sarajevo Haggadah (1350, Sephardi). The text of the Haggadah evolved over time, starting with 40 CE when Rabban Gamliel said that one must mention Pesach, Matzah, and Maror, until the late 1400s when “Chad Gadya” and “Echad Mi Yodea” are added. For more about the fascinating evolution of the Haggadah, see here:

Note that in the modern Haggadah, The Wise Child’s verse is now using the traditional Masoritic text (set in the 800s, after the Mechilta and Jerusalem Talmud), so the verse now reads “commanded you”.

Here’s how the verses line up in the Haggadah:

Wise Child - Question = Deut. 6:20; Answer = Mishnah Pesachim 10:8

Wicked Child - Question = Ex. 12:26; Answer = Ex. 13:8

Simple Child - Question = Ex. 13:14; Answer = Ex. 13:14

Can’t Ask Child - Question = None; Answer = Ex. 13:8

What do you take from the fact that “the Wicked Child” and “The Child Who Does Not Know How to Ask” get the same answer?

What do you take from the fact that both “The Wise Child” and “The Wicked Child” ask about “you” getting commanded, but only “The Wicked Child” takes heat for it?

Other Ways of Getting at the Same Idea

The Ballad of the Four Sons
(to the tune of "Clementine")
written by Ben Aronin in 1948

Said the father to the children
"At the Seder you will dine,
You will eat your fill of matzoh,
You will drink four cups of wine."

Now this father had no daughters,
But his sons they numbered four,
One was wise, and one was wicked,
One was simple and a bore.

And the fourth was sweet and winsome,
He was young and he was small,
While his brothers asked the questions,
He could scarcely speak at all.

Said the wise one to his father
"Would you please explain the laws.
Of the customs of the Seder
Will you please explain the cause?"

And the father proudly answered
"As our fathers ate in speed,
Ate the Pascal lamb 'ere midnight,
And from slavery were freed"

"So we follow their example,
And 'ere midnight must complete,
All the Seder, and we should not
After twelve remain to eat."

Then did sneer the son so wicked,
"What does all this mean to you?"
And the father's voice was bitter
As his grief and anger grew.

"If yourself you don't consider,
As a son of Israel
Then for you this has no meaning,
You could be a slave as well!"

Then the simple son said softly,
"What is this?" and quietly
The good father told his offspring
"We were freed from slavery."

But the youngest son was silent,
For he could not speak at all,
His bright eyes were bright with wonder
As his father told him all.

Now, dear people, heed the lesson
And remember evermore,
What the father told his children
Told his sons who numbered four!

Context: Ben Aronin was the Educator of Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. He was known as “Uncle Ben” to everybody and also did the Bar and Bat-Mitzvah tutoring for everybody. Uncle Ben wrote many books, plays, songs (like “The Latke Ditty”, which is to the tune of “Oh Chanukah Oh Chanukah” and starts “Each Chanukah we glorify brave Judas Maccabeus” -, and even city-wide pageants. This song was written in 1948 and published in his Haggadah in 1954.

Which version works for you better, the traditional text or the song? Why?

Context: This video was produced by BimBam - the makers of “G-dcast” and “Shaboom!”

Do you get more out of the text in the Haggadah or this video? Why?

The “Which of the Four Children Are You” Quiz

Context: This was published by BuzzFeed in 2015.

Which child were you?

Appendix A: Artistic Renderings of The Four Children Throughout History

From the "A Different Night" Haggadah by Noam Zion

Kippah tip to Rabbi Marina Yergin, and to Loren Berman for the questions

Which one(s) speak to you, and why?

The Four Children in Art

  • What do you notice?
  • How do the artists understand the children?
  • Who is who, and why?
  • How do the different children relate to one another?
  • What Jewish story is being told in this piece?

Prague Haggadah, 1526
The woodcut figures represent adult types. The wicked "child" is the soldier dressed in showy clothes with a feather in his ornate hat. His body language expresses arrogant self-assuredness and almost bursts the framework of the picture, while his black sword pierces the woodcut frame at a threatening diagonal. This figure has effectively read himself out of his people by assimilating to the military culture of Europe. By contrast, the wise "child" is represented by an elderly scholar whose body is smaller and weaker than that of the soldier. The simple child submissively points and gazes downward while the questionless child is wholy absorbed in the parent's story.

Amsterdam Haggadah, 1695
This is the first illustrated Haggadah to arrange pictures of the four children in one image. The artist is a convert from Christianity named Abraham ben Jacob. These copper-plate engravings are copied from various paintings of the Swiss Christian artist Matthaeus Merian. The wise child is a copy of Hannibal the general of Carthage as he swears to conquer Rome. The wicked child is simply a Roman soldier. The simple child is Merian's King Saul as a bashful young man about to be anointed by the prophet Samuel. The youngest child is another version of Hannibal. As in many medieval Haggadot the children are represented by adult types. The wicked stereotype is as usual the soldier who represents evil in two senses — the spilling of blood and the anti-type to the medieval Jewry with its scholarly and merchant traditions. The body position of the soldier reflects dynamism though a lack of stability, while the wise "Hannibal" stands confidently and commands attention. The simple "Saul" is closed within himself as he relies on the staff for support. The child who does not know how to ask is childlike only in the sense that he is the smallest of the four figures, although his hands open as if asking a question.

The Immigrant Family, Chicago Haggadah, 1879
Here the generation gap between Eastern European immigrants to the U.S.A. and their assimilated wicked son is foremost. Having adopted new-fangled American ways, the son smokes, dresses in black clothes with a modish cut and dances on his tilted chair. He takes the initiative in attacking his parents with an accusatory finger as if to say derisively, "what is this ritual for you?" The simple and the silent children, distinguished only by their hand motions, are mesmerized by the wicked son who sits at the head of the table holding forth. The other three figures — mother, bearded father and wise child with kippa — are dressed traditionally in pale white. Their body language bespeaks paralysis, passivity and lack of communication. The conversation is dominated by the three children in black, all with uncovered heads and backs turned. The family is divided culturally and generationally. Only the wise child identifies with the old ways.

The Boxer as Rasha, 1920, illustrated by Lola
The wicked child is a new kind of soldier. The culture of the naked physique, of sports, of the aggressive boxer is contrasted with a middle class seated scholar with a tie, glasses and a book. The passivity and introspection of the intellectual whose head is supported by his arm reflects the defensive status of traditional Jewish culture, when contrasted with the rise of American sports and perhaps contemporary Zionist youth movements that praised the values of the body. For example, two in a series of great Jewish boxers of this era were "Battling Levinsky" (nee Barney Lebrowitz, light heavy weight, 1916-1920) and Al McCoy (see Albert Rudolph, middle weight, 1914-1917) (E.J. 15:305).

German Expressionism: Jakob Steinhardt, 1923
The woodcut reflects post World War One "expressionism." Strong feelings are expressed in nonrealistic distorted facial expressions. Born in Poland and living through the horrors of war and the breakdown of traditional society, Steinhardt transforms the Prussian soldier with his pointed helmet and sword, the hero of his new land — into the wicked type whose face is graced with a bizarre smile. The wise type is smaller than the soldier, yet holding his book and pointing heavenward, he tries to reason with the soldier. The simple type wears a dunce hat and a ridiculous facial expression. The wise man points aloft to God, while the wicked soldier points at the simple one, reflecting a derisive attitude.

Istvan Zador, Four Children, Budapest, 1924
Abandoning the medieval types and their identifying props (sword and book), Zador shows faces differentiated only by their expressions and the position of their hands. His wise type may even be a woman — the only woman among the illustrations of the Four Children in any of the Haggadot before the rise of Jewish feminism. Her wisdom is reflected not in bookishness but in a pained expression of deep thought concentrated in the forehead. The wicked type raises a cynical eyebrow as he leans on his fist and half smiles self-contentedly. The third and fourth figures are more childlike in dress with wrinkleless foreheads. The open eyes, open mouth and raised eyebrows of the simple one express interest and astonishment.

Minimalism: Otto Geismar (Germany, 1927)
Geismar uses Jugendstil minimalism with its very simple strong lines to draw characters by means of their bodily contours. The wise type is classically engrossed in books as he leans his covered head on his arm; the wicked type is dynamic, interactive and unbalanced (as in the Amsterdam and Chicago Haggadot). The outstretched fingers before the face suggest that he is taunting the wise type. The third and fourth children are differentiated by their open or closed posture (hands and feet).

Arthur Szyk, Poland, 1939
The four figures epitomize the Jewish cultural and class struggles in interwar Poland. The wise figure is a delicate intelligent yeshiva "bochur" (unmarried student) dressed traditionally yet meticulously. His body language expresses the grace and modesty of the Torah student ideally understood as an intellectual and religious aristocrat. In contrast, the wicked figure is a middle-aged bourgeois Jew dressed to show off his aspirations to Western European modernity. While the wise student has no props, not even a book, the wicked figure sports a riding crop, a cigarette with cigarette holder, and a stylish monocle. He is dressed in a hunting outfit with a jaunty Tyrollian hat with a feather, an ascot around his neck, silk gloves and sharp spurs on his leather boots. His stance is self-confident, self-contained and arrogant in contrast to the simpleton who is fat and smiling, opening himself to the world trustingly with arms and legs spread out.
While the simpleton is still traditionally dressed with a small tallis, the one who does not even know how to ask is a worker dressed poorly, wearing proletarian boots, without any visible link to Jewish tradition. His contemplative expression suggests that his direction in life is not yet determined.

Nota Koslowsky, U.S.A., 1944
Koslowsky, like Freeman and Oren below, portray the Four Children as children in age and dress. Here the wise child (with a bourgeois tie) takes cover behind his desk and screens the world out with his hand. He is studious but cloistered. The wicked child dominates the field because he stands and gestures demonstratively. His riding crop, a bottle of liquor, cigarettes and an open shirt represent an angry bohemian revolt. His body language is dismissive and his neck is twisted uncomfortably. The other children are merely absorbed in eating.

Socialist Zionism — Tzvi Livni, Israel, 1955
This Haggadah expresses the newly triumphant Zionist socialist pioneering spirit of the early years of the State of Israel. Unlike medieval haggadot, the four children are actually children - young adolescents. Israeli Zionism placed an inordinate emphasis on the young who would sweep away the old ways. Therefore the hearts and minds of the adolescent generation must be won over to ideologically motivated pioneering. In each drawing the questioning child is juxtaposed to the parental answer portrayed by the objects displayed.
a. The wise child who still holds the traditional symbol — the book — is dressed as a pioneering member of the Kibbutz. His answer follows roughly the traditional answer — "Tell the wise son the laws of Pesach." Yet these Jewish symbols may also be understood in a nationalist spirit: The menorah is the symbol of the State of Israel, the ten commandments are the moral common denominator of Jews and the Pesach plate symbolizes national historical memory. Most anomalous is the lulav which belongs ritually to Sukkot, not Pesach. It may well symbolize the agricultural revival of the land of Israel so central to Zionist socialist ideology and so glaringly absent from the traditional seder. Generally the answer to the wise child represents not a rebellion against Jewish tradition, but its accommodation to the spirit of modern Jewish nationalism.
b. The wicked child is the city slicker "gussied up" with a fancy handkerchief and a tie. His cynical question — "What is all this 'avodah' to you?" is reinterpreted. While "avodah" in the traditional Haggadah refers to "services," the "cultic" rites of the seder, here it is translated as pioneering "agricultural" work, of making the desert bloom along with the military defense of the land represented by the towers. Towers and stockades were built overnight in the illegal settlements erected by the Zionists in the late 1930's in defiance of the British colonial government.
c. The simple child wonders about mass immigration to Israel typical of the 1950's when the population doubled. He is answered by the traditional and the modem Haggadah: "God brought us out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." Zionists felt they were reliving the original exodus.
d. The child who does not know how to ask is ironically and pointedly the anti-Zionist Orthodox child with peot (sidelocks). While in the medieval iconography he would have been the epitome of the wise and observant child, here he is demoted to "ignorant child," knowing nothing of the flora and fauna of Eretz Yisrael and of the "book of knowledge" of Jewish national history and general education. The artist regards it as a matter not of age or of personality but of indoctrination that the most traditional child is least able to ask questions about the changing world around him.

Clashing Cultures: Siegmund Forst, Europe & U.S.A., 1958-59
Siegmund Forst introduces his illustrated Haggadah in the following way: "This . . . old Jewish book . . . speaks of sorrow and hope . . . It appears in contemporary dress, illustrated by one who himself has suffered the flames and escaped them" (1941). The central Jewish cultural conflict in these drawings lies between the Jewish socialist revolutionary and his elderly ultra-orthodox Eastern European forebearers.
In the 1958 version, the wise old man lives by his faith in God and the Torah but his age and his defensive posture reflect his threatened status in a changing world. He looks worriedly to Heaven for salvation. The wicked bespectacled, self-hating intellectual tramples the Torah displaying an adolescent resentment against the old, dying order. The simpleton dressed in a business suit and the child without questions wearing his American baseball cap provide an attentive audience. For Forst, the Jewish revolutionary has displaced the soldier as the representative of the wicked child. Forst did not see the socialists as a legitimate continuation of the Jewish ideal of liberation from bondage that was born in the exodus from Egypt.
In the 1959 version the wicked revolutionary who raises his ax against the Ten commandments resembles Leon Trotsky (Lev Bronshtein), a Marxist leader of the Bolshevik revolution (1917). The simple child is a sports fan who loves gambling and smoking, while the fourth child is a passive worker.

Paul Freeman, Four Children with Animals, 1960
Freeman, like Koslowsky and Oren, portrays the Four Children as children in age and dress. Freeman creates an orientalist flavor. Identifying each child with an animal he distinguishes them by personality traits. The wise child is colorfully dressed, and open to the world. Located under a tree with an owl, he is not at all bookish or reclusive even though he holds a book and expounds. The wicked child is identified with the aggressive snake in the Garden of Eden. His body language is closed and defiant and his clothing dark and foreboding in color. The simple child is epitomized by the sheep that follows blindly, while the fourth child sleeps beside a mother goose.

Shraga Weil: Four Children, Four Musicians
(Israel, ©1963 Safrai Gallery)

The Four Children are portrayed as a quartet of musicians, each with his own instrument: the wise, with a shofar (for announcing the coming of the messiah as Elijah is depicted in medieval haggadot); the wicked, with a drum (typical of soldiers marching to war); the simple, with a horn; the one who does not know how to ask, with rattles (typical of a child). The quartet are formed from basic geometric shapes: wise and wicked — circles; simple — square; fourth child— triangle and circle. The wise character is portrayed as a bearded wise man wearing a striped tallit as well as the priestly breast plate. The wicked one is a metal military machine whose armor is his body (head as a helmet with eyes, legs as stove pipes). The simple one is identified with Noah who is called "simple" (tameem), meaning wholly righteous. Above his head is the dove with an olive branch. His striped cloak may recall Joseph's coat, the sign of being chosen. The fourth figure is the only child here (smaller in stature and dressed as a child without shoes).

Dick Codor (U.S.A., 1981): The Marx Brothers
How better can the Twentieth Century be summed up than by a portrait of Groucho Marx as the "Wise Guy?"

Dan Reisinger: Four Aspects in Each of Us (Israel, © 1982 Rabbinical Assembly of America)
While the Middle Ages offered a world view with clear types — wise and wicked — the contemporary view is dubious about stereotypes and judgmental categories applied to human beings. Each person is a somewhat chaotic mixture of all the categories. The artist has used a collage of torn colored papers whose outlines are not sharp, which overlap haphazardly and whose colors and nongeometric shapes interact in complex ways. It is probably impossible to label these four collages according to the four categories of the Haggadah.
Perhaps Reisinger was thinking of the famous quote from Rabbi Yisrael Salanter (19th C, Lithuania and Germany): "Each of us contains all aspects of all four children" — each of us is a unique and changing collage.
These images are a featured part of the Rabbinical Assembly (U.S.A. Conservative movement) haggadah, "A Feast of Freedom."

The Four Children as Four Books:
David Wander,
The Haggadah in Memory of the Holocaust, ©1988

The four children in The Haggadah in Memory of the Holocaust reflect different attitudes towards Jewish tradition as symbolized by a book for we are "the people of the book," in the phrase coined by the Muslims. For the wise child, Judaism is an open book with letters to be read and studied. For the wicked child, the tradition burns up as it is destroyed. The association with Nazi book burning is chilling. For the simple child the book is open since he asks questions, but the child himself is still blank, still unlearned. Finally, for the fourth child, Judaism is a closed book. This child awaits someone to "open" the book and the pupil to one another as the Haggadah advises "You will open up" the Exodus story for the child who does not even know how to ask.

A Teen Looks at Israeli Society:
2 Views from Tanya Zion (1994 and 1996)

Tanya Zion, an Israeli teenager from a religious Zionist family (and daughter of Noam Zion, author of A Different Night) offers two portraits of Israeli society using Four Children. In 1994 she looked at both choices and no choices. Most provocative is her view of the Child Who Does Not Know How To Ask — ultra-orthodox youth, who are taught NOT to ask critical questions about his relation to Zionism, to Western culture or to Torah. In 1996 she looked at choices for girls as role models change.

The Blessing of Diversity:
David Moss, The Moss Haggadah, ©1996

The artist and calligrapher David Moss explains his depiction of the Four Children:
Every child is unique and the Torah embraces them all. The iconography that I've chosen here is based on playing cards. As in a game of chance, we have no control over the children dealt us. It is our task as parents, as educators, to play our hand based on the attributes of the children we are given. It is the child, not the parent, who must direct the process. This, I believe, is the intent of the midrash of the four children.
Each child's question appears on his card, and the Haggadah's answer appears below the card. The gold object in each picture denotes the suit of the card. The staves, swords, cups and coins used in Southern Europe developed parallel to the more familiar hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades of Northern Europe. The figures are likewise taken from archaic systems of playing cards which included king, knight, page, and joker or fool. The king image here represents the wise child wearing the crown of Torah. The knight represents the wicked child. In almost all old haggadot the wicked child is shown as a soldier, sometimes mounted, sometimes on foot. The page is the simple child, and the joker or fool is the child who is not even capable of asking.
I got the idea of representing the children as cards, by the way, from the tradition dating from the Middle Ages of depicting the simple child, or the child who doesn't know how to ask, as a jester or fool. I drew a book in each picture and positioned it to reflect each child's attitude to the tradition.
The text of the Haggadah introduces the four children with a short passage in which the word baruch (blessed) appears four times. I have designed these two pages to correlate each of these four "blessings" with one of the four children: every child is a blessing.
Diversity, how we deal with it, and how we can discover the blessing within it, is perhaps the theme of the midrash of the Four Children.
(David Moss, 20th C. artist, U.S.A. and Israel)

Appendix B: The Fifth Child

Kippah tips to Rabbi Marina Yergin and Loren Berman, plus Paul Wieder of the April 2022 "Jewish Chicago" magazine

Which of these resonate with you? Are there others you would add?

If we say "Let all who are hungry come and eat", what is the 5th child hungry for that would entice them to come?

The Assimilated Child

The late Lubavitcher Rebbe suggested in 1957 that there is a fifth child on Pesach. The four children of the Haggadah are all present, sitting round the table. The fifth child is the one who is not there, the child lost through outmarriage and assimilation. Rabbinic tradition tells us that in Egypt, many Jews assimilated and did not want to leave. The Torah uses a phrase to describe the Israelites’ departure from Egypt, Vachamushim alu bnei Yisrael miMitzrayim (Exodus 13: 18). This is normally translated as ‘The Israelites went up out of Egypt armed for battle.’ However Rashi, citing earlier authorities, suggests that hamush may not mean ‘armed.’ Instead it may be related to the word hamesh, ‘five’. The sentence could therefore be translated as, ‘Only a fifth of the Israelites left Egypt.’

The rest, he explains, perished in the plague of darkness. The plague itself was less an affliction of the Egyptians than a way of covering the shame of the Israelites, that so many of their number did not want to leave. The loss of Jews through assimilation has been an ongoing tragedy of Jewish history. How do we allude to it on seder night? By silence: the fifth child – the one who is not there.

-- Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, z"l

Modern society has had an impact upon the Jewish people: today we have yet another son. The son who does not even attend a seder.

Yes, it is true. There are many Jews out there who are not going to attend a seder this Passover. They can be put into three basic categories: 1) They have no place to attend. 2) They do not care to attend. 3) They do not know of Passover or its seder.

Just as there are answers for the Four Sons, there must be answers for this fifth son as well.

For those who have nowhere to attend, we must aggressively advertise the invitation found within the Haggadah, "All those who are hungry, let them come and eat! Whoever is in need, let him come and partake of the Passover!"

Those who do not know that it is Passover or that there is such a thing as a seder are perhaps the most worrisome of the groups. Most likely, they do not have the fond memories of Passovers past. They are, in fact, in danger of losing their Jewish identity altogether, G‑d forbid. As Jews, we are all responsible for the welfare of one another. We must therefore endeavor to introduce these people to their great inheritance, the Torah, the grandeur of their Judaism. If we should happen to see a person drowning, we would dive in to save him/her without thinking twice. We must, without delay, "pull out all of the stops" to rescue those who need us most!

Let us aggressively seek out the Fifth Son, wherever or whoever she or he might be. Every lost Jew we bring back into the family may be compared to the discovery of a lost treasure of incalculable value.

It is not enough to just set an extra place at the seder table. Not any more. We must fill the extra place with a warm body. We can then fill that warm body with the warmth that is Judaism.

The Child of Potential

One of the most familiar parts of the Passover Seder is the four sons/children. These children represent the different places in which people come to the Seder: knowing and wise; selfish (or wicked); simple (or not knowing); and the fourth is silent as he or she doesn’t know what to ask and is just taking everything in. However, this breakdown doesn’t include a fifth child missing from the Seder, whether we give voice to him or her or not. The fifth child is the child of potential: the child that those struggling with infertility are working to create or the child that almost was, but the pregnancy ended before its completion.

The biggest difference in the Passover Seder from other Jewish observances is that it isn’t expected to occur in a synagogue within a large Jewish population. It occurs in homes across the world with families and friends gathering to retell the story. People come to this holiday in all different places and spaces in life: managing their own struggles whatever they might be. As 1 in 8 couples experience infertility and 1 in 4 pregnancies end in loss, it would be foolish to assume that someone struggling with these issues isn’t attending a Seder with you. These struggles tend to be silent and invisible, especially within our holiday structure.

The idea of a fifth child is not a new one. In fact, the ​Lubavitcher Rebbe​ famously spoke about the fifth son of the Pesach Seder, but in doing so, was referring to Jews who had lost their faith and strayed from being Jewish. This idea has been one that my friend ​Rabbi Uri Topolosky​ has adopted and spoken about. He includes this fifth child at his Passover Seder, but not only as the child that has lost his or her Jewish way, but also as the child that is unformed and unable to physically be at the table.

Infertility and pregnancy loss are devastating experiences that are far too common and hidden. Giving them voice can be considered to be a great act of loving-kindness since many who struggle yearn to talk about it, but are unsure how others will respond. Many people attempt to say well-intentioned refrains such as, “Just relax, and you’ll get pregnant;” “G-d only gives you what you can handle;” “This is part of G-d’s plan for you” or “Why not adopt?” Hearing such advice often has the opposite effect. Rather than connecting, these comments make people who are on a fertility journey or grieving pregnancy loss want to retreat and isolate. It confirms that others aren’t able to put themselves in their shoes or understand their pain, and reinforces the need to stay quiet about these experiences.

Including the “fifth child” at Seder reaffirms that families experiencing infertility or pregnancy losses are seen, not only by family and friends, but also by their religion. Ways to include the “fifth child” at your Seder:

The story of Passover leads to the Jews wandering for 40 years in the desert, searching for the Land of Israel. This parallels the journey of a couple struggling to build their family: looking forward with hope, waiting for it to happen, potentially lots of false turns, wondering if or when their family will be complete, until (we pray) they reach their “promised land” of fulfilling the dream to parent. Whatever their promised land turns out to be, may they have a voice at the table. Let their hopes to tell the Passover story to their children be recognized.

In honor of this fifth child or for the many other reasons people may be missing from the Passover Table, considering asking a fifth question: who is missing from our Seder?

- Julie Bindeman

The Addicted Child

The Haggadah gives us clear instructions on how to talk to the four different sons at the seder table. But what about the fifth child, the addicted son or daughter who is just not able to get free? How can we feast on foods that symbolize the stages of liberation and the miracles when our own child acts on compulsions that are the opposite of freedom? How do we talk to this child?

Our addicted son or daughter, spouse or sibling, is the most enslaved of us all. Addiction is the antithesis of freedom (although for the addict it does seemingly present a “solution,” an escape from emotional, physical, and mental pain). For most of us, our experience of stress or emotional pain is uncomfortable but bearable. We have different resources to deal with the ups and downs of life. But for addicts, the only solution is to to numb themselves from inner and outer torment...

Let us also think about the sixth son or daughter who is not at our seder because he or she is in recovery. Next year this child will be at our seder, fully present and celebrating the freedom that comes after the struggle of a lifetime — a struggle that few people can understand. The sixth child is undergoing the miracle of healing and recovery, and next year will meet us again, whole, healthy, and free.

Shoshana Schwartz,

The Estranged Child

One of the best-known elements of the Passover seder relates to four children – smart, rebellious, simple, and not sure how to ask questions. In today’s fractured society, another person is all too often missing from the seder table. That fifth child is actually an adult…a member of the family with whom we have little contact. This is the relative, who, for whatever reason, we don’t speak to.

Maybe there were disagreements over choices people made, or money, or who knows what. Over time, alas, positions hardened, and now relatives, or entire branches of families, no longer speak to one another. These family feuds can go on for years, decades, even lifetimes, if no one speaks up.

In today’s crazy world, the split might have been over politics. In the past, when it came to political differences, most people could “agree to disagree.” Today, unfortunately, a bitter divide exists along political lines in our society, and relationships, marriages, and even families have broken up over differing political views.

Or maybe it was a personal matter, in which one member of a family said or did something that at least one other person found unacceptable. Maybe A didn’t like B’s choice of mate, or career, or approach to raising his or her children. Maybe it was an offhand, hurtful comment that created deep emotional injury. Maybe the comment was offhand and was meant to hurt. But now, for whatever reason, the principals in this drama aren’t speaking and everyone else in the family has had to choose sides.

Perhaps the dispute had to do with religious beliefs—one member of the family married someone with a different religious, ethnic, or racial background, or perhaps there was an action like infidelity, bankruptcy, or who knows what that one member of the family, or the entire family could not stomach.

Sad to say, this scenario plays out all too often, and these disputes take on lives of their own. There are probably 10th generation Hatfields out there who still have it in for 10th generation McCoys. But while those sorts of family feuds are the stuff of history or fiction, there are plenty of real family battles that have gone on for years and appear to have no end in sight.

This Passover, it’s time to end those battles. Not to get depressing, but everybody dies. Everybody. This includes the relatives with whom you may be having a longstanding disagreement. There are few feelings worse than realizing that a parent or sibling with whom you had an ongoing, simmering dispute is now dead and gone and that problem can no longer be resolved.

Is any disagreement worth it?

One message of Passover is humility, that God runs the world, and that our own egos can keep us from connecting deeply with God and our fellow humans. The shift from bread to matzo symbolizes this point. Bread puffs itself up as if to say, look how great I am. Matzah, on the other hand, is referred to as lehem oni, poor man’s bread, lacking in the slightest shred of ego.

The problem is that everyone’s waiting for everyone else to take the all-important first step. This Passover, break the cycle.

Ego itself stands for “edging God out”, for believing that we, like Dr. Seuss’ Yertle the Turtle, are the rulers of all we see. Of course, we all know what happened to Yertle.

If Passover asks us to set aside our egos and recognize that Something greater than ourselves is in charge, why can’t we set aside our ego-based disputes with family members or friends and put those disputes where they belong—in the past?

The problem is that everyone’s waiting for everyone else to take the all-important first step.

Passover celebrates the Israelites’ miraculous escape from Egyptian bondage, the splitting and crossing of the Reed Sea, and the enjoyment of freedom for the first time in centuries. According to the Midrash, a Jew named Nachshon took the plunge into the waters of the Reed Sea, and his courageous action caused the water to split and dry land to appear beneath it.

In other words, somebody has to take the first step, even when the deep waters of disagreement are swirling.

In your family or friendship circle, is there someone with whom you have had a longstanding dispute? A parent, a child, an estranged relative of any stripe, a one-time best friend? With the wisdom that time and distance confer, does the fissure between you and your estranged relative or friend really make sense anymore? Isn’t it time to put it to rest, while you are both on this side of the grass?

This is the time to reach out to that person, let bygones be bygones, and move on. The biblical Nachshon didn’t wait for others to take the first step. He took it, and everyone benefitted. Isn’t it time for you to be Nachshon in your own family, and set aside your own ego for the greater good?

This year, make a place at your Seder table for your estranged family or friend. How can we expect outside forces, whether they are the government, the schools, or even God, to make the world better, if we aren’t willing to take a simple step ourselves?

This year, set a place for the “fifth child” at your Seder table, the one from whom you have been estranged.

If you do, this will be the most meaningful Seder of your life.

Other Possible Fifth Children

  • The son who does not even turn up at the Seder. The rasha (wicked) son is rebellious, but at least he turns up and shows his commitment to the Jewish people, even though he mocks its traditions. The she’eino yode’ah lishol (who does not know how to ask) is ignorant of his tradition, but nevertheless is still committed to his people and comes to the Seder. However, this fifth son, is so cut off from his people (perhaps caused by the exile) that he is either unaware that it is Seder night or he has no interest in it. He is an assimilated Jew.
  • The son who refuses to turn up to the Seder. He is the self-hating Jew who is embarrassed by his traditions and people. He does not hesitate to criticize his nation and to hold hands with our enemies. You may want to discuss a Rashi that is related to this theme. Shemot 13:18 states: “…the children of Israel left Egypt ‘khmushim’”. Rashi explains that ‘khmushim’ means “armed” with weapons of war. He also offers an additional interpretation: only one fifth of the children of Israel left Egypt. He derives this from the root of the word ‘khmushim’ which is khamesh, or five. At the time of the Exodus there were Jews who did not want to be part of the Jewish people. They stayed in Egypt and perished together with Israel’s enemies.
  • The son who got tired of paying lip service to the term: “Next Year in Jerusalem.” He has actually packed up his bags and has gone to Jerusalem. He is not making an Seder in exile, but a truly free Seder in his homeland (Perhaps he will drink five cups!).
  • The son who has returned to his tradition. His parents never made a Seder, but nevertheless he has come back and wants to be a part of his heritage. Use this question to initiate a discussion about Jewish identity.

Based on Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in "Traditional Alternatives",

Other Fifth Children

Famously, in his 1957 pre-Passover letter, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, proposed that “The Fifth Son,” is any Jewish man or woman who “is conspicuous by his absence from the Seder service.” These individuals are “lost children” who are choosing to not participate in the Seder and the Rebbe is calling upon all those reading his letter to do the work of inviting them in.

Another example of the hidden fifth child, the child who isn’t there, is the child who perished in the Holocaust. In this scenario, we are called to remember those who are unable to be at our tables for the Passover Seder because they perished during the Shoah. Once again, this is a child who is unable to be present, but whose presence is very keenly felt.

This year, another “hidden child” has been brought to our attention. A child who has always been there, but whose presence we have, all too often, chosen to ignore. I’d like to call this fifth child, the “left-behind child.” These are the Jews who, due to mobility challenges, a general lack of access or resources, or some other reason felt unable to access much of Jewish life. This child is the new person in town who neither knows how to do the Seder nor knows where to go. This is the now widowed adult who no longer has someone with whom to share the Seder. The person who doesn’t want to impose upon others, but also cannot run a Seder by themselves so they then participate in no Seder at all.

One of the amazing blessings that has come out of the terrible pandemic in which we all live is the immense amount of virtual resources that are now available. No matter what day of the week, what time of day, or what time zone, there is a prayer service that we can join. Tremendous learning is occurring every day and talented artists are sharing their work over Facebook, Zoom, and other platforms. It appears that access to Jewish resources is now greater than it has ever been.

One manifestation of this new reality is that this Passover, there will be virtual Seders and pre-Seders going on all around the world. As we are now all, “left-behind children,” we are developing resources and opportunities for individuals and communities to come together in sharing the celebration of the Passover Seder. Both those we know and those we have not yet met are learning about these opportunities to share in the Seder together so that we can live the words of the Seder, in that “all who require can now celebrate Passover.”

My hope is that we never forget these fifth children, those who have all too often, been left behind. Next year, when we can (God-willing) once again celebrate the holiday with family and friends, when we are once again offering community Seders at our synagogues, I hope that we continue to remember those who were able to access Passover this year unlike any other. I hope that our virtual resources do not diminish as a result and I pray that all our Seders are enriched by this increased participation. Because a Seder isn’t complete unless all five children are represented.

Still More Fifth Children

As a teacher I meet Wise, Wicked, Simple, and Unsure children all the time, and to each I have an approach to help them learn as best they can. It is when I come across a child whose circumstances are totally intellectually debilitating that I am lost. The Fifth Child has autism or disabilities. The Fifth Child comes from a broken home, raised by cruel parents. The Fifth Child runs from law and immigration officers for a reason they are not old enough to understand. The Fifth Child is lost to gun violence. The Fifth Child is lost to drugs. The Fifth Child is lost to incessant bullying, parental and societal pressures. The Fifth Child is so busy trying to support their loved ones that they have no time to question why it is that a child is working an adult’s hours or needs to steal in order to eat.

The Fifth Child was a slave in Egypt and the Fifth Child is a slave today, be it to society, their home, or their very own bodies. We must ask questions on their behalf and work to free them, and allow them and their more fortunate peers’ minds to inquire and understand. They are the future. We must allow a free future or we will all remain slaves in one way or another.

Appendix C: Other Interpretations of The Four Children

Kippah tip to Rabbi Marina Yergin and Loren Berman

The Four Mourning Children

There they were at the Seder table, as they always are. Between the first cup and the second cup, right in the middle of the telling of the tale, they made their appearance, right on schedule. First was the wise child, the one who seems to have all the answers; sober, sensible and responsible in everything he does. “We knew the end was coming,” said the wise child. “Mom had a long life, a good life. Her time had come. We wouldn’t have wanted her to suffer. To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.”

Next to the wise child sat the wicked child – the rasha, we call him, a word which could just as easily be translated “the angry one, the one who is rebellious, defiant, alienated.” The rasha was full of emotions that made everyone else at the table uncomfortable. “I’m furious,” he says. “I want to smash something or tear someone apart. How could my wife get cancer at her age? Young women aren’t supposed to die.” It’s no good putting your arm around the rasha. He takes offense if you try to console him. Rage and resentment radiate from him like an open flame – it is hard to be close to him.

A little ways away sits the simple child, overcome by grief. Her throat aches; tears spill from her eyes; she feels lost and alone. “I miss my daddy,” she says. “I loved him. I need him.”

And over in a corner is the one too devastated to say anything at all. The unthinkable has happened to her. She’s in shock. She walks around in a kind of daze. Half the time she doesn’t know where she is, or what she’s doing. She can barely force herself to get out of bed. Sometimes she stays there all day long.

Four children at the Passover table – four human responses to the death of someone we love. One has found some peace; one, like Amitai Etzioni, is angry; one simply grieves and yearns; one, suffering unbearable loss, has nothing to say. Each year, at Pesach, we revisit them in the Haggadah. Each year, all four are invited to our Seder. All of them are welcome. All of them are honored. We don’t try to change them. We don’t try to move them along or force them to progress. We don’t try to make the other three into the wise child. They all remain themselves.

If the Seder were a lecture hall it would deliver facts and answers, resolving all doubt and confusion. If the Seder were a hospital it would dispense bandages and medicine, promising to take away pain. The Seder is neither of these. It’s a conversation. It’s a place for questions and stories, for open doors and open-ended discussions. If you come to the Seder table angry or sad or quiet nobody will force you to be different. You’re welcomed into the circle as you are. There’s hot chicken soup with matzah balls; there is singing; there are rituals and traditions; you are with family.

Source: (unclear as to who wrote this)

4 Sons: A healing journey (Kippah Tip to Esther Azar)

The wise one- can integrate into the community and understands that boundaries keep them safe and allow for true freedom

The Rashah - Starts to allow their anger to surface and begins to recognize the impact of the trauma and his victimization

The tam- Is just begining to recognize that sometihng is wrong and can begin to ask questions

The one who doesnt know how to ask- is silenced by the trauma

Temple Emunah Women's Seder Haggadah Design Committee

Wise Daughter

The Wise daughter understands that not everything is as it appears.

She is the one who speaks up, confident that her opinion counts. She is the one who can take the tradition and ritual that is placed before her, turn it over and over, and find personal meaning in it. She is the one who can find the secrets in the empty spaces between the letters of the Torah.

She is the one who claims a place for herself even if the men do not make room for her.

Some call her wise and accepting. We call her creative and assertive. We welcome creativity and assertiveness to sit with us at our tables and inspire us to act.

Wicked Daughter

The Wicked daughter is the one who dares to challenge the simplistic answers she has been given.

She is the one who asks too many questions. She is the one not content to remain in her prescribed place. She is the one who breaks the mold. She is the one who challenges the status quo.

Some call her wicked and rebellious. We call her daring and courageous. We welcome rebellion to sit with us at our tables and make us uneasy.

Simple Daughter

The Simple daughter is the one who accepts what she is given without asking for more.

She is the one who trusts easily and believes what she is told. She is the one who prefers waiting and watching over seeking and acting. She is the one who believes that the redemption from Egypt was the final act of freedom. She is the one who follows in the footsteps of others.

Some call her simple and naive. We call her the one whose eyes are yet to be opened. We welcome the contented one to sit with us at our tables and appreciate what will is still to come.

Daughter Who Does Not Know How to Ask

Last is the daughter who does not know how to ask.

She is one who obeys and does not question. She is the one who has accepted men's definitions of the world. She is the one who has not found her own voice. She is the one who is content to be invisible.

Some call her subservient and oppressed. We call her our sister. We welcome the silent one to sit with us at our tables and experience a community that welcomes the voices of women.

Passover Haggadah of the Reform Rabbinical Council and Dirshuni – Israeli Women Writing Midrash, edited by Nechama Weingarten-Mintz and Tamar Biala, Yediot Sefarim, 2009

The Torah spoke of four daughters:
One is wise, one is angry, one is simple, and one knows not how to ask.

The wise one, what says she?

“What are the testimonies, statutes, and laws that our fathers and mothers passed down to you?” (H3)
You then shall tell her: "Testimonies" – because our mothers also witnessed that same miracle. “Statutes” – because we were given commandments and statutes to reflect on, as it says: "and I will reflect on Your statutes" (Psalms 119:48). "Laws" – these stand for the words, poetry, interpretation, improvement, and Tikkun to which we are committed.

The angry one, what says she?

What is this service of yours?

You – reach out your arms to her and say: You too are a part of this night of Exodus from Egypt, as it says: "It was thanks to righteous women [...] that the Israelites were delivered from Egypt." (Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 11b), and so your voice too deserves to rejoice in the song of freedom, like the prophetess Miriam: “And all the women went out after her with tambourines and dances” (Exodus 15: 20).

The simple one, what says she?

What is this?

And you say to her: “In every generation, every man must regard himself as if he came out of Egypt” (Mishna, Pesahim 10:9). ‘Man – every individual, as it says: “Male and female created He them … and called their name Man” (Genesis 5:2). “Himself” – what does this mean? His essence – because in each and every one of us there is an Egypt, which we are commanded to be aware of, which we are commanded to depart from, which we are commanded to drive out from within ourselves.

The one who knows not how to ask

You commence and tell her: “Lift up your voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid” (Isaiah 40:9) “For your voice is sweet, and your countenance is comely” (Song of Songs 2:14). Without your voice, our power is diminished, our conversation dwindles.
“We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters, with our flocks and with our herds we will go; for we must hold a feast unto the Lord” (Exodus 10:9) because we are all part of the Exodus.

Appendix D: Labeling the Questions, Not the Children

"The Four Children: Our Annual Seder Guests"

By: Rabbi Robert Dobrusin

We welcome them to our seder table every year. Our holiday would not be complete without them. They are fascinating creations, with their roots in the Torah and their identities crafted by Talmudic rabbis who were perceptive about human nature. They run the gamut: one is wise, one is rebellious or perhaps wicked, one is simple, one doesn't even know how to ask. They have been portrayed in many different ways; you can see them wherever you look, across the history of Jewish art and interpretation.

They don't talk to each other, but they definitely talk to us.

They demand our attention and inspire us to talk back to them with our own commentary and our own conclusions. They appear at our table and demand that we recognize them and identify with them.

And we do identify with them. Each year we ask ourselves: Which one of these am I? As so many of our commentaries have suggested, each of us is really composed of all four, rolled into one complex person. We have our moments of wisdom. We can be rebellious. We have a need to confront the world with basic simplicity. We often don't even know where to begin to ask. Yes, that is what the commentaries say. But deep in our hearts, each year -- depending on what has happened in our own lives or in the world at large -- we identify more closely with one or the other.

These four children who are wise, rebellious, simple, and unable to ask represent us, and we know it.

But there is one thing about them that is not like us. Unlike us, they can never change. Each and every year, each asks or doesn't ask the same question; and the question each asks or doesn't ask is written in stone, taken directly from the Torah's verses describing a father teaching his child about the Exodus.

I grew up in a home where the four children were among the most important characters we met over the course of the year. My father, who led our seder, loved them and found them to be deeply meaningful and inspirational. Perhaps because of that, I took his fascination even further by teaching classes year after year about the intricacies of this section of the haggadah. I love to teach this text. And I always end it with the same lesson: Our kids, like us, are distinct people and go through different stages, and each must be answered differently, in a way appropriate for each.

I recently realized something troubling about the four children that I had never noticed before. It was so obvious but I had missed it all along.

I am troubled by the fact that we don't let them change. Throughout history, they will always be wise or rebellious or simple or unquestioning. They are never allowed to be any different. How can we do this? How can we set them in stone the way we do? There is one simple reason. They don't change because they each have been given a name: wise, rebellious, simple, unquestioning. And once someone has a name, that name becomes his or her identity.

The wise child will never rebel; she will always be wise. The rebellious child will never conform; he will always be the rasha. The simple child will never understand; he will never grow. The fourth will never speak; she will forever be silent.

The rabbis were usually so on target in their educational techniques, but here they have misled us. How much wiser would it have been if they had introduced these four children as one who asked a wise question, the one who asked a rebellious question, the one who asked a simple question, the one who did not ask at all?

It would have been a subtle difference, but it would have been instructive. For instead of labeling them, it would have been their question that would have been labeled, and there would have been the possibility of change. We would have freed them from their reputations and focused on action instead of personality. The high holy day machzor teaches us the same lesson. In the Yom Kippur Selichot prayers, we first say anu k'shay oref, we are obstinate. But a few paragraphs later, in the Ashamnu, we read kishinu oref, we have acted obstinately. This is the thought with which we are left, and it is a subtle reminder that it is our actions, not our labels, that truly count.

When we label ourselves or attach a label to someone else, it is nearly impossible to shake it. How many children have suffered because they have been labeled? How many adults have found the road to teshuvah, repentance, blocked because society has labeled them as a burden that cannot be shed? How many of us struggle to escape the labels we have internalized and allowed to dominate our lives?

In so many ways, our actions are an extension of our personalities. But how often do we use that as an excuse? We say, I'm just an obstinate person, I'll never change. How often does society expect nothing more from someone who has been labeled hopeless? How easy is it to miss the fact that a person we have classified has done something positive and praiseworthy? Instead, we treat people with suspicion and skepticism.

Of course, once we have acted in a certain way often enough, it does become difficult to break out of that pattern. Our rabbis taught, sichar mitzvah mitzvah, sichar aveyrah aveyrah, the result of doing a mitzvah is doing another mitzvah, the result of sinning is sinning again. Our actions do become ingrained. But that is what teshuvah is meant to correct, breaking away from patterns. As difficult as it is, it is infinitely more difficult when our actions become identified with our very being.

Think back to those four guests at the seder table, and how horrible their lives have become because we've never let them be any different than they were at the moment they opened their mouths or sat silently. What a terrible injustice we have done to them and to so many of God's children have came after them.

This Pesach, let us resolve to change.

Published in the Spring 2010 magazine edition of "CJ - Voices of Conservative / Masorti Judaism". Rabbi Robert Dobrusin was the rabbi of Beth Israel Congregation in Ann Arbor, MI then.

Appendix E: A Smattering of Other Texts and Thoughts That Shed Light on The Four Children

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?

Septuagint: (3rd-2nd century BCE Greek translation of bible) Devarim 6:20

hosa eneteilato Kyrios ho Theos henom hemin

- the question is in the first person plural (us), not the second (you).

(כ) אֲרֵי יִשְׁאֲלִנָךְ בְּרָךְ מְחָר לְמֵימָר מָא סָהֶדְוָתָא וּקְיָמַיָא וְדִינַיָא דִי פַקִיד יְיָ אֱלָהָנָא יָתְכוֹן

20) When your son asks you in time to come, saying: ‘What mean the testimonies, and the statutes, and the ordinances, which the LORD our God has commanded you? (Yatchon = Etchem, you plural)

אֲרֵי יִשְׁאֲלִנָךְ בְּרָךְ מְחָר לְמֵימָר מָא סָהֶדְוָתָא וּקְיָמַיָא וְדִינַיָא דִי פַקִיד יְיָ אֱלָהָנָא יָתְכוֹן

Yatchon = Etchem (You, plural)

(Onkelos is an early Aramaic translation of the Torah, attributed to 2nd century CE)

כנגד ארבעה בנים דברה תורה. כי כל כך רצה לקיים ענין סיפור יציאת מצרים בזרעינו, שהפריש להגיד ולספר לכל בן ובן כפי מה שהוא.

Hashem was so intent on maintaining the story of the Exodus in our offspring, that he differentiated [the four types of children] and recounted the story for each child, as they are (i.e., each at their own level).

Kos Eliyahu, Pesach Haggadah, Magid, The Four Sons 5:1

(1) Sh’ayno yodeah lishol - The one who doesn’t know to ask: ...
Why does the Haggadah say, aht p’tach lo, “You shall open for him”? The language here should have been the same as the Bible, hagayd lo… “you shall tell him” or it should have been the same language used to offer the answer to the wise son, emor lo, “You shall say to him.”
And yet another question: the verse goes on to say, “It is because of this that the Lord did for me when I went forth from Egypt.” The Torah should have specified what it is that God did for Israel when they left Egypt rather than just alluding to it.
Since each of the four children is supposed to ask and only the fourth child doesn’t do so, we provoke him by acting in a strange fashion. That is why the Haggadah says Aht p’tach lo, “You open it for him.” Since he does not ask questions by himself you must get him to open up and ask questions. Give him the space to ask questions. From the way you speak to him he will know about what to ask questions. When you say to him “Because of this,” he will respond, “Why did you say ‘This’ since there is both matzah and maror on the table? Which one are you talking about – the matzah or the maror?”And when you say to him, “Which the Lord did for me,” he will respond by saying, “what exactly did God do for you?” That is why the biblical verse is written in this fashion – to encourage the fourth child to ask questions! He must ask questions so that we can answer questions in telling the story of the Exodus to him.

שִׁבְעָה דְבָרִים בַּגֹּלֶם וְשִׁבְעָה בֶחָכָם. חָכָם אֵינוֹ מְדַבֵּר בִּפְנֵי מִי שֶׁהוּא גָדוֹל מִמֶּנּוּ בְחָכְמָה וּבְמִנְיָן, וְאֵינוֹ נִכְנָס לְתוֹךְ דִּבְרֵי חֲבֵרוֹ, וְאֵינוֹ נִבְהָל לְהָשִׁיב, שׁוֹאֵל כָּעִנְיָן וּמֵשִׁיב כַּהֲלָכָה, וְאוֹמֵר עַל רִאשׁוֹן רִאשׁוֹן וְעַל אַחֲרוֹן אַחֲרוֹן, וְעַל מַה שֶּׁלֹּא שָׁמַע, אוֹמֵר לֹא שָׁמָעְתִּי, וּמוֹדֶה עַל הָאֱמֶת. וְחִלּוּפֵיהֶן בַּגֹּלֶם:

Seven things are [found] in an unformed person and seven in a wise person. A wise person does not speak in front of someone who is greater than him in wisdom or in number; and he does not interrupt the words of his fellow; and is not impulsive in answering; and he asks to the point and answers as is proper; and he speaks to the first [point] first and the last [point] last; and about that which he has not heard [anything], says, "I have not heard [anything]"; and he concedes to the truth. And their opposites [are the case] with an unformed person.

(ז) נִתַּאי הָאַרְבֵּלִי אוֹמֵר, הַרְחֵק מִשָּׁכֵן רָע, וְאַל תִּתְחַבֵּר לָרָשָׁע, וְאַל תִּתְיָאֵשׁ מִן הַפֻּרְעָנוּת:

(7) Nitai of Arbel says: "Distance [yourself] from a bad neighbor, do not befriend an evildoer and do not despair of punishment."

(ב) וְאַל תִּתְחַבֵּר לָרָשָׁע. שֶׁכָּךְ אָמְרוּ חֲכָמִים, כָּל הַמִּתְדַּבֵּק לָרְשָׁעִים אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁאֵינוֹ עוֹשֶׂה כְּמַעֲשֵׂיהֶם נוֹטֵל שָׂכָר כַּיּוֹצֵא בָּהֶם. לְמַה הַדָּבָר דּוֹמֶה, לְנִכְנָס לְבֵיתוֹ שֶׁל בּוּרְסִי, אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁלֹּא לָקַח מִמֶּנּוּ כְּלוּם, מִכָּל מָקוֹם רֵיחַ רַע קָלַט וְהוֹצִיא עִמּוֹ:

(2) "do not befriend an evildoer": As thus stated the sages, "Anyone who clings to evildoers - even though he does not act like them - gets retribution similar to them. To what is this matter like? To one who enters the house of a tanner - even though he doesn't take anything with him, nonetheless, he absorbed the foul smell and brings it out with him."

ויגדלו הנערים ויהי עשו איש ידע ציד איש שדה ויעקב איש תם ישב אהלים

When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the outdoors; but Jacob was a mild man who stayed in camp.

אֵלֶּה תּוֹלְדֹת נֹחַ נֹחַ אִישׁ צַדִּיק תָּמִים הָיָה בְּדֹרֹתָיו אֶת־הָאֱלֹהִים הִתְהַלֶּךְ־נֹחַ׃

This is the line of Noah.—Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his age; Noah walked with God.—

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.’

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?

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.

~ What are the strengths and weaknesses of each of those four children within you?

~ How can you harness those strengths for growth and spiritual progress?

(ג) דבר אחר וכל בכור בניך תפדה מנין שאם לא פדאו אביו הוא יפדה את עצמו. תלמוד לומר וכל בכור בני (קסב) אפדה. רבי יוסי הגלילי אומר הואיל ואמרה תורה פדה את בניך ולמד את בניך תורה, אם למדת על תלמוד תורה שאם לא למדו אביו (קסג) מלמד הוא את עצמו. כך אם לא פדאו חייב לפדות את עצמו. לא אם אמרת בתלמוד תורה שהוא שקול כנגד הכל שאם לא למדו אביו מלמד הוא את עצמו. תאמר בפדיה שאינה שקולה כנגד הכל לפיכך אם לא פדאו אביו לא יפדה את עצמו. והרי מילה תוכיח שאינה שקולה כנגד הכל שאם לא מלו אביו מל הוא את עצמו. כך אם לא פדאו אביו הוא יפדה את עצמו. לא אם אמרת במילה שחייבין עליה כרת שאם לא מלו אביו הוא מל את עצמו. תאמר בפדיה שאין חייבים עליה כרת לפיכך אם לא פדאו לא יפדה את עצמו. אמרת הפרש. אדון בנין אב מבין שלשתם. לא הרי מילה כהרי תלמוד תורה ולא הרי תורה כהרי מילה ולא זה וזה כהרי פדיה ולא הרי פדיה כהרי זה וזה. הצד השוה שבהן (כל) שהוא מצות האב על הבן אם לא עשה לו אביו יעשה הוא לעצמו. אף כל מה שהוא מצות האב על הבן אם לא עשה לו אביו הוא יעשה לעצמו. מכאן אמרו חייב אדם מן התורה למול את בנו ולפדותו וללמדו תורה וללמדו אומנות ולהשיאו אשה. רבי עקיבא אומר אף ללמדו שייט. רבי אומר (קסד) אף ישוב מדינה. והיה כי ישאלך בנך מחר לאמר יש מחר עכשיו ויש מחר לאחר זמן. מחר לאמר מה זאת הרי מחר לאחר זמן. מחר יהיה האות הזה הרי מחר עכשיו. מחר אנכי נצב על ראש הגבעה הרי מחר עכשיו. מחר יאמרו בניכם לבנינו הרי מחר לאחר זמן. מה העדות והחקים והמשפטים נמצאת אומר ארבעה בנים הם אחד חכם ואחד טפש ואחד רשע ואחד שאינו יודע לשאול. חכם מהו אומר מה העדות והחקים והמשפטים וגו' אף אתה אמור לו כהלכות הפסח ואמור לו אין מפטירין אחר הפסח אפיקומן. טפש מהו אומר מה זאת ואמרת אליו בחוזק יד הוציאנו. רשע מהו אומר מה העבודה הזאת לכם. לכם ולא לו ולפי שהוציא את עצמו מן הכלל כפר בעיקר אף אתה תוציאו מן הכלל ואמור לו בעבור זה עשה ה' לי בצאתי ממצרים לי ולא לו אילו היה שם לא היה נגאל. ושאינו יודע לשאול את פתח לו שנאמר והגדת לבנך ביום ההוא.

(3) Another Explanation "And first born of your children you shall redeem" (Exodus 13:13) Where [is the following law sourced: Regarding the redemption of the firstborn son from a priest.] If his father did not redeem him, he should redeem himself. It was taught saying: "And all first born of my sons I will redeem" (Exodus 13:15). Rabbi Yosei the Galilean says since the Torah said "Redeem your sons" and "Teach your sons Torah", if you learn regarding the study of Torah that if his father did not teach him he teaches himself. So to if [his father] did not redeem him he is obligated to redeem himself. [This is] not [so] if you said regarding the study of Torah that it is equal in weight to everything such that if his father did not teach him [Torah] he teaches himself. You should say regarding redemption which is not equal in weight to everything if his father did not redeem him he should not redeem himself. Behold circumcision will prove [that even regarding a law that is not equal in weight to everything if the father did not do it for the son, the son must do it for himself. Circumcision which it is not equal in weight to everything [this concept still applies:] if his father did not circumcise him he circumcises himself. So to if his father did not redeem him he should redeem himself. [This is] not [so] if you said regarding circumcision [that one who is not circumcised] is cut off [from the Jewish people] and if his father did not circumcise him he circumcises himself. You should say regarding redemption in which [one who is not redeemed] is not cut off [from the Jewish people] that if he was not redeemed he should not redeem himself. [This is of course not true] [We must] explain [these commandments through a general principle from which all three can be understood [separately]. [The laws of ] circumcision do not apply to Torah study and Torah study does not apply to circumcision and neither of them apply to redemption and redemption does not apply to either of them. The common principle between them is that they are all a commandment for the father to do for his son, [but] if the father did not do for his son the son shall do for himself. Accordingly anything that is a command for the father to do for his son [but] if the father did not do for his son the son shall do for himself. From here they said a person is obligated from the Torah to circumcise his son, to redeem him, to teach him Torah, to teach him a craft and to marry him off. Rabbi Akiva says even to teach him to swim. Rebbi says even manners. "It will be when your son will ask you tomorrow saying" (Exodus 13:14) there is a 'tomorrow' [that refers to] now [literally the next day] and there is a 'tomorrow' [that refers to] a [long] time from now. "Tomorrow the sign shall come to pass" (Exodus 8:19) this is a 'tomorrow' for now. "Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill" (Exodus 17:9) This is a 'tomorrow' for now. "Tomorrow your children will say to our children" (Joshua 22:24) This is 'tomorrow' for a [long] time from now. "What mean the decrees, laws and rules" (Deuteronomy 6:20) is found to be saying that there are four sons: one wise, one simple, one wicked, and one who does not know to ask. The wise one, what does he say? "What are the decrees, laws and rules etc." Accordingly you answer him about the laws of Passover and say to him "We do not have desert after the Passover sacrifice" (Mishna Pesachim 10:8). The simple one, what does he say? "What is this?" You shall say to him "With a strong hand he took us out" (Exodus 13:14). The wicked one, what does he say? What is this work for you? For you and not for him and since he takes himself out of the collective, his is a heretic. Accordingly you take him out of the collective and say to him, "It is because of what the LORD did for me when I went free from Egypt." (Exodus 13:8) for me and not for him. If he was there [in Egypt] he would not have been freed. And the one who does not know to ask you open for him as it says "You shall tell your son on that day" (ibid).

The Yalkut Shimoni is almost identical to the Haggadah and the Mekhilta, except that it uses Tippesh for the simple son, like the Yerushalmi, instead of Tam like the Haggadah.

What interests me about this version of the four sons is how it is brought up in the discussion in the Yalkut Shimoni. (If you find the translation unreadable, don't worry I wrote it. The piece is not that complicated I am just a poor translator.)

The section of Exodus in which the main verses (13:1 - 16) used in the four sons narrative deals with seemingly distant topics. 1) The redemption of the firstborn 2) The festival of Passover and its laws. The verses themselves imply that all the commandments discussed in the section are derived from the Exodus. The sanctification of the firstborn that requires redemption comes from the plague of the death of the firstborn. The laws of Passover of course come from the Exodus.

The Yalkut Shimoni offers another perspective into how these commandments are related. The Yalkut Shimoni shows how both redemption of the first born and the education of children are related, and since Passover is all about educating children it is only natural that the redemption of the first born and Passover should be placed side by side.

From this point onward the sources brought will only have pieces of the lesson of the four sons. The earlier sources may have versions of four sons that predate the accepted format, while the later sources are quoting small pieces of the already established lesson. This can be seen from the use of the phrase "The Torah spoke about four sons etc." With this phrase begins the complete version of the four sons teaching, so when later sources quote parts of the teaching they use this phrase. The earlier sources do not always use this phrase possibly pointing to a non-standardized form of the text.

והיה כי יאמרו אליכם בניכם עתידין לומר לכם: מה העבודה הזאת לכם. זה בן רשע שהוציא את עצמו מן הכלל, אף אתה הוציאו מן הכלל ואמור לו (י"ג ה') בעבור זה עשה ה' לי לי עשה ולא לך עשה:

"When your children will say to you" They are ready to say to you: "What is this work to you". This is the wicked son who takes himself out of the collective. Accordingly you take him out of the collective and say to him "Because of this the Lord did for me" (Exodus 13:5) He did for me and not for you.

Midrash Sekhel Tov and Midrash Lekach Tov are both later Midrashic works during the early middle ages. Therefore they cannot be used as a primary source for the lesson of the four sons. We can still use these sources to see which tradition these late Midrashim are following.

It is pretty clear that these later Midrashim are following the more accepted version and not the Yerushalmi.

(א) והיה כי יאמרו אליכם בניכם מה העבודה הזאת לכם. בשורה רעה נתבשרו ישראל באותה שעה, שעתידה תורה להשתכח מבניהם. והן שואלין כך במזיד, כלומר לכם ולא לו, וזה אחד מארבעה בנים שדיברה תורה כנגדם, אחד חכם, ואחד רשע, ואחד תם ואחד שאינו יודע לשאול, וזה הרשע שמוציא את עצמו מן הכלל וכופר בבוראו:

"And when your children will say to you, What is this work for you?" (Exodus 12:26) At that time Israel was informed of bad tidings, for in the future their children would forget the Torah. [The child] is deliberately asking this way, meaning [What is this work] for you and not for him[self]. He is one of the four sons that the Torah spoke about, one wise, one wicked, one simple, and one who does not know to ask. This [verse] is the wicked one who removes himself from the collective and denies his creator:

In the two sections of Midrash Sekhel Tov that are quoted above the wicked son and the son who does not know to ask are discussed.

The paragraph of "It could be from Rosh Chodesh" from the Haggadah is also related in Midrash Sekhel Tov after the paragraph on the son who does not know to ask. I have seen in a few versions of the Haggadah that "It could be from Rosh Chodesh" is actually part of the response to the son who does not now to ask. Midrash Sekhel Tov may be following that tradition of the four sons. This understanding is not completely solid because one could argue that since the section of "It could be from Rosh Chodesh" has its own heading in Midrash Sekhel Tov, it is not part of the response to the son who does know to ask.

(א) והגדת לבנך. יכול מראש חודש, יתחיל האב להגיד לבנו הלכות הפסח, ת״ל ביום ההוא, אי ביום ההוא יכול מבעוד יום, ת״ל בעבור זה, בשעה שמצה ומרור מונחים לפניך.

(ב) וצריך ליטול בידו מצה ולומר מצה זו שאנו אוכלים על שום מה כו׳, וכן מרור יטלנו בידו ויאמר מרור זה שאנו אוכלים על שום מה, על שם שמררו, אבל בבשר אסור ליגע ולומר פסח זה, שאין אנו אוכלין פסח בחוצה לארץ, ואסור לאדם לומר כבש זה יהיה לפסח, אלא יאמר כבש זה יהיה לנו לאכילה.

(ג) בעבור זה עשה ה' לי. כנגד ארבעה בנים דברה תורה, אחד חכם, ואחד רשע, ואחד תם, ואחד שאינו יודע לשאול.

(ד) לכל אחד ואחד נתנה תורה דרך להשיב כפי ענינו, שהרי העולם נברא בארבע מדות של בני אדם, אחד רשע, ואחד חכם, ואחד תם, ואחד שאינו יודע לשאול, וכל אחד ואחד נדרש בענינו, רשע מה הוא אומר, מה העבודה הזאת לכם, כלומר לכם ולא לו, ולפי שהוציא את עצמו מן הכלל שלא אמר לנו אלא לכם, בידוע שכפר בעיקר, לכך נאמר בעבור זה עשה ה׳ לי, כלומר לי ולא לו שאלו היה שם לא היה נגאל, אלא היה מת בשלשת ימי אפלה.

(א) "You shall teach your son" It could be from the first of the month, that the father should begin to teach his son the laws of Passover. It was taught saying "On that day" If it [must] be on that day, it could be from when the day begins [that the father should teach his son]. It was taught saying: "Because of this" [So the father must teach] at the time when unleavened bread and bitter herbs are sitting before [him].

(ב) He must pick up the unleavened bread and say "This is unleavened bread, why do we eat it? etc" Same for the bitter herbs. He should pick them up and say "These are bitter herbs, why do we eat them? because the made [our father's lives] bitter. But for the meat it is forbidden to touch and say "This is the pascal lamb", because we do not eat the pascal lamb outside of Israel and it is forbidden for a person to say this sheep will be for the pascal lamb, rather he should say this sheep will be our food.

(ג) "Because of this the Lord did for me" The Torah spoke about four sons, one wise, one wicked, one simple, and one who does not know to ask.

(ד) The Torah gave a way to answer each one according to his circumstance, for the world was created with four types of people, one wicked, one wise, one simple, and one who does not know to ask. Each one is derived from the verses in its circumstance. The wicked one, What does he say? What is this work for you? Meaning for you and not for him, and since he takes himself out of the collective by saying 'for you' and not 'for us' it is clear that he is a heretic. Therefore it is said "Because of this the Lord did for me" meaning for me and not for him. For if he was [in Egypt] he would not have been freed, rather he would have died in the three days of total darkness.

(א) והיה כי ישאלך בנך מחר. יש מחר לאחר זמן, ויש מחר בקרוב, כמו למחר יהיה האות הזה (שמות ח יט), מחר אנכי נצב (שם יז ט).

(ב) לאמר מה זאת. זו מדת התם שאינו חכם בדעת לשאול ואינו רשע לכפור, אלא הוא תם, ואינו יכול להבין ושואל מה זאת, ואמרת אליו בחזק יד הוציאנו ה' ממצרים, שאינו יודע לשאול את פתח לו שנאמר והגדת לבנך וגו׳ (שם ט יב).

(א) "When your son will ask you tomorrow" There is a 'tomorrow' for a later time, and there is a 'tomorrow' that will happen soon. For example "This sign will happen tomorrow" (Exodus 8:19) and "Tomorrow I will stand" (ibid 17:9)

(ב) "Saying what is this" This is the trait of the simple one who is not smart enough to ask and is not wicked enough to be a heretic, rather he is simple and is unable to understand, so he says "What is this?" You should say to him "With a strong hand he took us out of Egypt". [Regarding] the one who does not know to ask you open for him as it says "You shall teach your son etc" (ibid 9:12).

Midrash Lekach Tov also adds an abbreviated version of the three statements of Rabban Gamliel.

Additionally the later Midrashim tend to explain earlier concepts with more words. Both the wicked son and simple son get more narration of their thoughts. The wicked son is outright called a heretic, and the simple son is not smart enough to know to be wise or wicked.

The teaching of the two types of 'tomorrow' that appears in the Mekhilta and the Yalkut Shimoni shows up again here in Midrash Lekach Tov.

Judging people favorably, or being dan le-chaf zechut, is a commandment from the Torah, according to the Sages of the Talmud - including and especially when the behavior is ambiguous. We have just seen an example where we ourselves, most likely, did not judge the daughter particularly favorably, or at least it took some critical thought to do so when our instincts tried to lead us astray. Despite judging others favorably being a commandment, we see an example in the Haggadah where the rabbis seem to see ambiguous behavior from children, and then judge them at least one of those children less than favorably. This is the case of the Four Children, which is based on four different verses in the Torah:

The Verses
(כו) וְהָיָ֕ה כִּֽי־יֹאמְר֥וּ אֲלֵיכֶ֖ם בְּנֵיכֶ֑ם מָ֛ה הָעֲבֹדָ֥ה הַזֹּ֖את לָכֶֽם׃ (כז) וַאֲמַרְתֶּ֡ם זֶֽבַח־פֶּ֨סַח ה֜וּא לַֽיהוָ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר פָּ֠סַח עַל־בָּתֵּ֤י בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ בְּמִצְרַ֔יִם בְּנָגְפּ֥וֹ אֶת־מִצְרַ֖יִם וְאֶת־בָּתֵּ֣ינוּ הִצִּ֑יל וַיִּקֹּ֥ד הָעָ֖ם וַיִּֽשְׁתַּחֲוּֽוּ׃

And when your children say (yomru) to you, ‘What is this worship to you?’ you shall say, ‘It is the passover sacrifice to the LORD, because He passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but saved our houses.’” The people then bowed low in homage.

(ח) וְהִגַּדְתָּ֣ לְבִנְךָ֔ בַּיּ֥וֹם הַה֖וּא לֵאמֹ֑ר בַּעֲב֣וּר זֶ֗ה עָשָׂ֤ה יְהוָה֙ לִ֔י בְּצֵאתִ֖י מִמִּצְרָֽיִם׃

And you shall tell (ve-higadeta) your child on that day, ‘It is because of this that the LORD did for me when I went free from Egypt.’

(יד) וְהָיָ֞ה כִּֽי־יִשְׁאָלְךָ֥ בִנְךָ֛ מָחָ֖ר לֵאמֹ֣ר מַה־זֹּ֑את וְאָמַרְתָּ֣ אֵלָ֔יו בְּחֹ֣זֶק יָ֗ד הוֹצִיאָ֧נוּ יְהוָ֛ה מִמִּצְרַ֖יִם מִבֵּ֥ית עֲבָדִֽים׃

And when, in time to come, your child asks you (yishalcha), saying, ‘What is this?’ you shall say to them, ‘It was with a mighty hand that the LORD brought us out from Egypt, the house of bondage.

(כ) כִּֽי־יִשְׁאָלְךָ֥ בִנְךָ֛ מָחָ֖ר לֵאמֹ֑ר מָ֣ה הָעֵדֹ֗ת וְהַֽחֻקִּים֙ וְהַמִּשְׁפָּטִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר צִוָּ֛ה יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ אֶתְכֶֽם׃ (כא) וְאָמַרְתָּ֣ לְבִנְךָ֔ עֲבָדִ֛ים הָיִ֥ינוּ לְפַרְעֹ֖ה בְּמִצְרָ֑יִם וַיּוֹצִיאֵ֧נוּ יְהוָ֛ה מִמִּצְרַ֖יִם בְּיָ֥ד חֲזָקָֽה׃

When, in time to come, your child asks (yishalcha) you, “What mean the decrees, laws, and rules that the LORD our God has enjoined upon you?” you shall say to your child, “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt and the LORD freed us from Egypt with a mighty hand.

The Haggadah's Midrash

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

What does the wise [son] say? "'What mean the decrees, laws, and rules that the LORD our God has enjoined upon you?' (Deuteronomy 6:20)" 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)."

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 wicked [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, ‘It is because of this that the LORD did for me when I went free from Egypt.’ (Exodus 13:8)." 'For me' and not 'for him.' If he had been there, he would not have been saved.

תָּם מָה הוּא אוֹמֵר? מַה זּאֹת? וְאָמַרְתָּ אֵלָיו "בְּחוֹזֶק יָד הוֹצִיאָנוּ ה' מִמִּצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים".

What does the innocent [son] say? "'What is this?' (Exodus 13:14)" And you will say to him, "'It was with a mighty hand that the LORD brought us out from Egypt, the house of bondage. (Exodus 13:14).'"

וְשֶׁאֵינוֹ יוֹדֵעַ לִשְׁאוֹל – אַתְּ פְּתַח לוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר, וְהִגַּדְתָּ לְבִנְךָ בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא לֵאמֹר, בַּעֲבוּר זֶה עָשָׂה ה' לִי בְּצֵאתִי מִמִּצְרָיִם.

And [regarding] the one who doesn't know to ask, you will open [the conversation] for him. As it is stated (Exodus 13:8), "And you will speak to your son on that day saying, ‘It is because of this that the LORD did for me when I went free from Egypt.’

"The wicked child" What makes the wicked child wicked? The fact that he excludes himself from the community. lThere are three basic forms of Jewish identity, Mordecai Kaplan (US 1883-1986) claims: we can identify as a Jew either by believing, behaving, or belonging. For Kaplan himself, the primary form of identity was belonging. Judaism is the religon of the Jewish people; it emerged out of the life experience of a people,, and therefore it is the Jewish people who are responsible to shape Jewish religion in every generation. To exclude oneself from the community is to abandon the relationship that above all makes one a Jew and to forsake the responsibility for the fate of Jews. Note also our response to the contrary child: We do all of this because "this is what Adonai did for me when I left Egypt:" "For me' and not for him," the text comments. The Exodus was not history alone; it is a contemporary event. I too was taken out of Egypt––Neil Gillman

(הִלֵּל אוֹמֵר, אַל תִּפְרֹשׁ מִן הַצִּבּוּר

Hillel says: Do not separate yourself from the community.

וּלְפִי דַעְתּוֹ שֶׁל בֵּן, אָבִיו מְלַמְּדוֹ.
And according to the intelligence and the ability of the child, the parent teaches about the Exodus.
Modern day educators understand that children are individuals and learn differently from each other. In order to teach effectively, a teacher must figure out what the student wants to learn, how they learn best, where they are at emotionally, and adjust their instruction accordingly.
The educators (rabbis) in the Mishnaic period, who lived about 2,000 years ago, also understood this. Here’s what they had to say about teaching children at the seder:
The wise child asks a very detailed question. This child seems to want to know everything there is to know about the Passover seder.
  • The Haggadah advises the parent to answer the wise child with lots of details about Passover. What do you think should be included in the answer?
The Rebellious Child
The authors of the Haggadah describe the rebellious child as someone who feels excluded or who excluded themselves. Some commentators note, though, that although this child feels like an outsider they are still sitting at the table.
  • How do you feel about the answer to the rebellious child given by the Haggadah?
  • How would you respond to the child’s challenge?
The Simple Child
The simple child asks a simple question and receives a basic answer. Sometimes we are so excited about a topic that we give our children more information than they are ready for or are interested in. The authors of the Haggadah are reminding us not to overwhelm our children with more information than they are ready for.
  • Try to explain Passover with only a few words. Who at your table can explain the most with the fewest words?
The Child Who Doesn't Ask
The quiet child doesn’t speak up or ask a question. Perhaps the child is too young to ask, is shy, or doesn’t have enough background knowledge to ask a question.
  • Why do you think the rabbis provided an “answer” even though the child didn’t verbalize a question?
  • What would you say to the quiet child?
Family Discussion
  • How would you portray each child? What would you include in each drawing to indicate which child it is?
  • Look at the illustrations of the four children in the manuscript section of the Sefaria Haggadah or other Haggadot that you might have in your home. How is each child depicted? What do the artists’ depictions add to your understanding of the children?

The story is told that once the Baal Shem Tov, the great Chasidic teacher, was leading a prayer service. Within the congregation there was a simple shepherd boy, who could barely read. He didn't know any of the prayers. But as the Baal Shem Tov led the congregation, the boy was so moved that he wanted to pray. Instead of the words of the prayers, he began to recite the letters of the alef-bet. He said, "Oh God, I don't know the words of the prayers, I only know all these letters. Please, God, take these letters and arrange them into the right order to make the right words." The Baal Shem Tov heard the boy's words and stopped all the prayers. "Because of the simple words of this boy," he said, "all of our prayers will be heard in the highest reaches of Heaven."

--Adapted by Rabbi Phyllis Sommer

חכם מה הוא אומר. הספיקות אשר ההתעוררות וההשקפה ראוי בהם הם. א) הוא הספק הכלל החכם והרשע למה לא אמר המגיד לכל אחד התשובה הנזכר בתורה לכ"א בצד שאלותו. ב) בתשובה להחכם למה בחר בהלכה זו דוקא באין מפטירין יאמר לו איזה הלכה שירצה. ג) שהחכם ג"כ אמר לשון אתכם כמו לשון לכם שאומר הרשע כמבואר בתורה בפ' ואתחנן ולמה עשה זה לרשע למוציא א"ע מהכלל ולא להחכם כיון שאמרו בלשון אחד. וביישוב זה נאמר כי החכם להיותו חכם מכיר במצות הבורא שקצתן הן עדות דהיינו שאנו מעידין בעשותנו אותם בטובות הבורא שעשה לנו כמו בפסח שאנו מעידים על נס הפסיחה וסוכות על ענני הכבוד וכיוצא באלו הרבה. והחקים הן להורות כי אנחנו עבדיו מקיימין גזרותיו כגזרת מלך על עבדיו ובהחוקים אנו חוגרין עלינו חותם המלך. והמשפטים הן המצות שנצטוינו בהנהגה שבין אחד לחברו. ובזה נראה גודל השגחתו עלינו שרוצה בטובתנו ומנהיג אותנו. והחכם שרוצה לקבל על עצמו הכל שואל (מה העדות והחוקים וכו') ורוצה שיודיעו לו הכל. ומהראוי שיהיה התשובה שישנו לו כל התורה בכללה ולא היה יכול התורה לפרש תשובה הראויה לו כי היה צריכה לשנות התורה וסמכה עצמה בזה כי בודאי ישנו לו התורה בכללה ולא כתבה רק לצוות להגיד לו מלבד השנות התורה בכללה להודיעו שהמצוה שאנו מקיימים מלבד שאנו מחוייבין לעשות אותן מדרך השכל לעשות למלך הטיב כזה ולהעיד על טובותיו יש עוד מעלה יצירה במצותיו שמקנין לנו חיים ניצחיים כענין שאמר בתשובתו ויצונו ה' לעשות החוקים האלה לטוב לנו לחיותינו כיום הזה כדי שיחזיק לבו ויוסיף השתוקקות להדבר ומהות הדברים לא הוצרך לשנות כי כתובין הן. והמגיד ג"כ לא היה יכול לכתוב כל התשובות דהיינו שישנה כל התורה בכללה רק מחמת שסידור השאלה לענין פסח אמר שיאמר לו כהלכות הפסח (ואין מפטירין אחר הפסח וכו') לדוגמא כיון שיש בה רמז עדות ולחוקים ולמשפטים כמו שנבאר בס"ד והיה שצריך שיאמר לו שאר כל התורה רק שנקט זה לדוגמא דהנה בהלכה זו דאין מפטירין יש בו שלשה פירושים בפרק ערבי פסחים. (א) שאין אוכלין הפסח בשני מקומות. (ב) שאינו נאכל בשני חבורות. (ג) דנאכל על השובע. וטעם לכל אלו נראה דהא דאינו נאכל בב' מקומות הוא לרמז להוציא מלב האפיקורסים האומרים שפועל הרע אינו פועל הטוב. ולזה הפסח שמורה על נס הפסיחה היינו בנגפו את בתי מצרים ואת בתינו הציל שממקום ומסיבה אחת יצא הטוב לנו והרע להם ולזה אינו נאכל רק במקום אחד. והא דאינו נאכל בב' חבורות להורות דנס הגאולה אינו יכול לבא כי אם בהיותנו בחבורה אחת כמבואר ברש"י בהושע אקרא דחבור עצבים אפרים הנח לו חלק לבם עתה יאשמו. ולהיותנו בחבורה אחת א"א כ"א בקיום משפטים שבין אדם לחברו. והא דנאכל על השובע הוא מהחוקים כמ"ש בשל"ה כי המצות ראוי שתאכל לתיאבון ומש"ה נקטו לדוגמא. ועיין עוד במ"ש בפיסקא שאח"ז.
The four types of children we encounter in the Haggadah are based on four verses in the Bible that contain the theme of telling children about the Exodus from Egypt. Why does the Torah repeat this same injunction four times? From the standpoint of the sages, these verses cannot be repetitive since every word in the Torah is meaningful. Each verse must add something to our understanding of this obligation. The sages concluded that the four verses must refer to four types of people who we encounter in our daily lives. They are also found at the Seder table. Each asks about the significance of the Exodus and the meaning of the customs we enact on the night of the Pesach offering. Because they are different in intellect and temperament, each deserves an answer that will help him understand the story of the Exodus on his own level.
Three of the verses contain questions and answers, and the fourth is a statement, “You shall tell it to your child on that day, saying, ‘It is because of this which the Lord did for me on this day when I went forth from Egypt.’” The sages, however, part ways with the Torah once the questions are asked. In some cases, they drew on the Torah’s answers to these questions and in others the Haggadah formulates its own answers to the questions taken from the text of the Torah.

What does the Wise child say? The Haggadah gives an answer to the wise child that is different from the one that is found in the Torah in response to his question. Why does the Haggadah choose to ignore the Torah’s answer? The wise child’s question reflects a broader perspective than just the laws and customs of Passover. He asks, “What these testimonies, statutes, and judgments which the Lord your God has commanded you?” He is asking not only about the feast Passover, but about the meaning of the Torah as a whole. The three types of laws to which the wise child refers (“Testimonies, statutes, and judgments”) reflect the totality of types of commandments found in the Torah:
Eduyot Testimonies or laws that allow us to or bear witness to the presence of God and the Holy One’s manifold kindness to us. For instance, the Seder allows us to testify to the power of God’s redemption from Egypt and the Sukkah is a reminder of the Clouds of Glory that protected the Israelites in the wilderness.
Hukim Statutes are laws that have no apparent rationale and are observed as an expression of our obedience to God. By following these statutes, we show our complete and unquestioning obedience to God. We do them simply because God commanded us to do so.
Mishpatim Judgments are laws that regulate our treatment of our neighbor and fellow man. These laws testify to divine providence. They teach us that God wishes to influence our smallest every day actions including our treatment of our fellow human being.
To answer the wise child, then, we would literally have to quote the entire Torah and that, which would not be very practical. The answer in the Torah is different from the one in the Haggadah. The Torah assumes that the questioner is familiar with the Torah as a whole. It reminds the questioner that we observe these laws out of a sense of obligation and as an expression of gratitude to God for all His kind acts, and also because in observing them we gain eternal life (“The Lord commanded us to observe…for our continued survival as is now the case.”) The Haggadah for its part focuses on answering the question from the perspective of Passover, since this is the context in which the question is now being placed. In point of fact, the passage in the Torah is not about Passover in particular, but a general question about observing the Mitzvot in general.
Why does the Maggid choose to concentrate on this particular point of Jewish laws that “one should not eat after the Afikomen”?
Rather than dealing of the reason for Pesach, the Maggid answers the question of the wise child by concentrating on just on particular law of Pesach – “One may not eat after the Afikomen.” This law is but one example of all three categories of Mitzvot. There are many reasons given for this particular law in the Talmud and they reflect the three categories of laws to which the wise child has referred. So not only are there three types of laws in the Torah but each law can really be seen serving all three purposes:
Eduyot – The Passover sacrifice then is a way of testifying to the unity of God. We do not eat after the Afikomen as a way of insuring that a person only eats the Passover offering in one location. The reason for this is that the Pesach offering was meant to be an expression of our belief that there is one God and that all things come from him. When the Israelites ate the Passover offering in one location, they realized that the God who protected them was the same God who was striking the Egyptian firstborn. Unity of worship was an expression of the unity of God.
Mishpatim – This law also teaches us the importance of living within a community. We are also not allowed participate with two groups in consuming the Passover offering. Groups of people came together to consume the offering and one could only be a member of a single group offering. This law teaches us that division and divisiveness makes redemption impossible.
Hukim – The Passover offering must be consumed when we are already satiated. Even though Matzot must be consumed when one is hungry, the Passover sacrifice had to be consumed at the end of the evening so that it was eaten when one was no longer hungry.
By learning this one law, we are able to illustrate the rationale behind all three types of commandments in the Torah. The general is present in the specific and the specifics contain the general. The world is present in a single grain of sand.

With appreciation to: Ari Elias-Bachrach, Tamar Grimm, Rabbi Meir Goldstein, Demetrios Vital, Rabbi Ahuvah Loewenthal, Shaul Wertheimer, Jeremy Borovitz, Dr. Rachel Lerner, Yael Mashbaum, Nelly Altenburger, Yitzchak G, Loren Berman, Rabbi Marina Yergin, Josh Franklin, Sefaria Education, Esther Azar, Benjamin Adler, Leah Herzog, Marci Hopkins, Mark Gerson