– Author: Rav Ben Tzion Shor

What is the emotion we encounter as the sun sets on Erev Pesach? For many of us it can best be described as complete and utter relief. The chametz has been burned, the kitchen is sterile from any traces of chametz, the oven and fridge are recognizable and the entire house is spotless (and dustless, which is of course the real reason for Pesach). The table is laid and ready for the Seder and one even has some time to go over and prepare the Haggada.

However, in truth – the main attraction and work starts then. The Gemara[2]  brings down a few bizarre customs that were held on Pesach night: distributing parched grain and walnuts to the children, eating the Matzah hastily [3], snatching the Matzah from one another[4]   and from the children[5]   as they eat, and even preventing people from staying to learn in the Beit-Midrash (the study hall)[6] .  What is the explanation for all these halachot and customs? The answer is simple:

“On that day you shall tell your child, saying: It is because of this that Ha’Shem acted on my behalf when I went out of Egypt”

(Exodus 13:8)

“והגדת לבנך ביום ההוא לאמר: בעבור זה עשה  ה’ לי בצאתי ממצרים”

(שמות פרק יג’ פסוק ח’)

One of the two commandments from the Torah that are still applicable in our time on Pesach night, is the mitzvah of the Haggada. “There is a positive commandment from the Torah to tell the story of the miracles and wonders that occurred to our forefathers in Egypt on the eve of the fifteenth of Nissan“.

This is how the Rambam [7] formulates the mitzvah. He concludes by stating “even the great sages must tell of the Exodus, and the more one tells, the more praiseworthy it is “. However, even though the mitzvah of the

Haggada also applies to “great sages”, the focus of the mitzva  is for each father to relate the story of the  Exodus to his child[8], as it is clearly stated in the pasuk [9]. This is the reason for all the strange customs held on Pesach night; to keep the children awake and to arouse their interest, in order to be able to fulfill the mitzvah of the Haggada in the best way.

But why is the mitzvah specifically between father[10] and son[11]? The simple answer is that this is the best and perhaps only way, to pass the tradition from generation to generation. However, there is a deeper aspect as well. If we look closely in the Torah regarding the story of the Jewish people in Egypt, we see that the different decrees enforced upon the Jewish people were focused on the sons. The hard labor that was meant to break the people and prevent any kind of procreation; the Midrash that tells us that Paroh bathed in the blood of three hundred slaughtered boys; and of course the genocidal decree of killing any male child the moment he was born, are only some of the actions that the Egyptians took against the sons. Why?  By eliminating the male children the Egyptians would accomplish their goal of assimilating the Jewish nation. Once there would be no males the Jewish girls would be forced to marry Egyptians, and slowly but surely the Jewish nation would be eradicated. The Torah counters the Egyptians plan ensuring that the Jewish nation and tradition continue on through those same sons that the Egyptians tried to kill.

If the main goal of the Haggada is to pass down the Jewish faith and tradition to those who were not meant to be alive,  a deeper look reveals to us insights regarding the topic of Chinuch. This in turn will give us a better understanding of our children, our students and perhaps even ourselves. The best (but not only) place to start is of course the Haggada’s reference to the teaching of the sons. The Haggada tells us that there are four sons:

“The Torah has spoken of four sons: one wise, one evil, one simple, and one who does not know how to ask a question”

(Haggada of Pessach)

“כנגד ארבעה בנים דברה תורה:

אחד חכם, ואחד רשע, ואחד תם,

ואחד שאינו יודע לשאול”

(הגדה של פסח)

This phrase – amongst countless others throughout the Haggada – raises a number of questions and ideas that could be explored. We will focus on  just a few.

The number 4

The number four repeats itself quite often, in Jewish tradition: four cups of wine, four phrases of redemption, four Tzitziot, four Parshiot in the Tefilin, four species in the Lulav, and probably the source of it all – the four letters that form the name of Ha’Shem. So it doesn’t take us by total surprise when the Haggada states that there are four sons; however what is the significance of this number? One can answer this on different levels. The simple (but not shallow) answer is that the Torah was given to the entire Jewish nation, with all its variety of characters. Being so, the Torah must present itself in different ways in order to be suitable for all.

The Torah hasn’t “spoken of four sons” as much as the Torah is speaking to the four sons, four different prototypes of people that comprise the population. Some people are wise, some are evil, some are simple, and some just don’t have a clue, and each and every one of these individuals has, his or her, own way of understanding, and needs things explained in his own unique way. That is why the Torah has a number [12] of different answers to the same question, “What are we doing here on Pesach night around the Seder table?”. For some the answer is a long detailed list of the many Mitzvot and their reasons; for others it is a general explanation of the story of Exodus, and for some it is a very serious Musser Shmuse (chastisement) about fulfilling the Mitzvot or believing in Ha’Shem. This conclusion leads us to two very important insights when dealing with raising our children or even with just communicating with other people around us:


  1. There is no one truth! Meaning, of course there is only one truth which is Ha’Shem and the Torah, however there isn’t only one way to present this truth; and there isn’t only one way in Avodat Ha’Shem (worshiping God). Different people have different ways of worshipping Ha’Shem, and it is quite clear from this passage in the Haggada (as well as many other sources in the Torah and Chazal) that this diversity is accepted and even wanted by Ha’Shem. By trying to force our way upon other people and not accept other opinions (as long as they are within the boundaries of the Halacha), we might be committing a grave sin which is only adding to the division and separation of our nation, when what is needed above all is unity.


  1. There are many ways to relay information, both in content and in method. When we are trying to explain something to our spouse, child or even to a friend, we must keep in mind that a lack of understanding is not necessarily an ADD/ADHD diagnosis to be treated with meds, it might be a problem with the explanation. Perhaps the correct words weren’t chosen, maybe the tone was too intimidating, or possibly the timing was just a bit off. If we encounter difficulty in people understanding us, we should try and take a step back, examine what might be causing the short circuit, and return only after we have adjusted things in a way that could solve the problem. By doing this, we could save ourselves from so many endless arguments and fights, and become better spouses, parents, and friends.

So far we have discussed the first explanation for the number of the four sons, the four different types of characters that are among the population; however there is another deeper answer to this question. The four sons are not four different people as it seems at first sight, but one person who goes through four different stages as he matures. These stages parallel the different types of students that are mentioned in the Mishna in Avot.


“There are four types among students who sit before the sages: A sponge, a funnel, a strainer, and a sieve. A sponge, which absorbs everything (the good and the bad). A funnel, which lets in from one end and lets out from the other (forgets everything). A strainer, which lets the wine flow through and retains the sediment (retains only the bad). And a sieve, which extracts the flour dust but  retains the fine flour (retains the good)”

(Avot 5:15)

“ארבע מדות ביושבים לפני חכמים. ספוג, ומשפך, משמרת, ונפה. ספוג, שהוא סופג את הכל. משפך, שמכניס בזו ומוציא בזו. משמרת, שמוציאה את היין וקולטת את השמרים. ונפה, שמוציאה את הקמח וקולטת את הסלת.”

(אבות פרק ב’ משנה טו’)

At first the child does not know how to ask a question, he is lacking the ability to absorb and understand, like the funnel that lets everything pass through it. Later on he becomes simple or naïve, believing anything he hears, just like the sponge that absorbs everything. As he reaches his teens the child turns “evil”, meaning he starts a phase of reluctance and rebellion, and is like the strainer that picks up the negative things in life. At last he matures and grows into a wise young man that knows how to choose the good things around him, just like the sieve that retains only the good. The amazing part is that this “son” who is going through all these different phases is no other than “ourselves“! Each one of us has gone (or is still going) through the process of growing up, and has passed this same procedure to some extent or other.

Keeping this idea in mind, it allows us to view other people in a more positive light, understanding that we are all on a journey of growth going through different stages.  The child will be loved and cherished by his parents and family through each and every one of these stages. The Torah has spoken of four sons, or four stages that the son goes through, in order to show that no matter where or what our current situation is, Ha’Shem still loves us and is “talking” to us, and we should emulate Him, and act the same way with those around us. In fact the Torah itself tells us the same thing. “You are children of Ha’Shem your God” [13]. The Gemara [14] learns from this Pasuk  that even when we are unfaithful, even when we sin, even when we are evil, we are still the children of Ha’Shem, and not only simple children but extraordinary sons [15]. If we could internalize this idea and look upon others not as troublemakers or annoyances, but as “our children“, we could possibly generate a healthier relationship with the people that we are or should be closest with.

Why did the Sages change the order written in the Torah?

Up until here we dealt with the significance of the number of the sons; let us now talk about the order in which they appear in the Haggada. “One wise, one evil, one simple, and one who does not know how to ask a question”. Clearly we can notice that the order in which the sons are brought down is rather odd. A more reasonable order would be according to the order that they appear in the Torah, which is: the evil, the one that does not know how to ask, the simple and only then the wise. Another reasonable arrangement would be according to their spiritual level, and then it would be the wise, the simple, the one that does not know how to ask a question, and only at the very bottom of the list would be the evil.  Why did Chazal decide on this particular order? What are they trying to teach us? We will discuss two answers. The first will be an explanation of why the order is different in the Haggada than in the Torah. The second will be a different understanding of the Haggada’s order which could teach us quite a lesson.

The Torah’s order is the evil [16] one, the one that does not know how to ask [17], the simple one[18]  and the wise one [19]. Why? Because the Torah is looking ahead into the future, and is warning us of what to beware, what to look out for. The Torah knows that deterioration doesn’t just come out of nowhere; it always starts with evil. So the first thing we must do if we want to prevent any trouble is to “take care” of the evil, or in other words to answer the evil son’s questions and get him back on the correct path. If we fail to address the problem the evil is bound to influence its surroundings, and the first in line is the one who does not know how to ask. By not asking this son is ignorant to everything we do, and quickly he will be affected by the evil’s tempting notions. The Torah continues by telling us what will happen next if we keep on ignoring the situation. The next to be influenced are the simple, and even though at first they were able to resist the ongoing downfall, as time goes by they start having more and more doubts, until finally they too are captured in the evil’s net. And before you know it only the wise and just are left, and they too will eventually be drawn down by the people around them. The Torah is showing us the exact process of the deterioration, and we need to learn from this what to prepare for and how to deal with it.

However, when Chazal put together the Haggada they weren’t addressing the future anymore but the immediate present. The day to day life where we are already surrounded by the four different types of sons, and instead of preventing the downfall we must counter it. That’s why the order in the Haggada is different from the Torah, because it is serving a different purpose. The way to counter the downfall is first through the wise son. The first thing is to strengthen the ranks, and to create a strong steady force that could stand its ground against the evil’s influence. The next step is to stop the bad influence’s source, and in order to do that we have to confront the evil son himself. After we’ve taken care of the negative influence it is time to start repairing the damages, and getting things back to the way they should be. So we will start with the simple who were last to fall and could easily be convinced to return, and then approach those who don’t know how to ask who will need more time as they never truly understood us. The Torah and Haggada are teaching us that we should always prepare in two dimensions, how to prevent unwanted situations and how to deal with them if they occur anyhow. “The wise know how to avoid situations that the smart know how to solve” [20]. The Torah is showing us how to be wise, and the Haggada is showing us how to be smart. Both these ways are important since different scenarios call for different ways of action. This is true both in spiritual issues and also in non-spiritual matters, and will help us be more prepared for anything that may come.

The second understanding of the Haggada’s mentioned earlier is based upon the writings of the Ari [21]. According to this explanation the Haggada’s order is not one list but two, and it divides the sons into two pairs, or as they are called in the Yeshivish world – Chavrutot (learning buddies). You can’t just team up any two people (and teenagers in particular) and expect them to learn together productively. Much thought (and some luck) must be put into pairing students in hope that they will learn well together. They must be on the same learning level, have a common language and interests, and have the ability to get along, so it is no easy task matching them up.

This is where the Haggada comes in, teaching us an important lesson on this matter. Not everyone is suited for the other, and we have to think carefully about the possible consequences. For instance, the Haggada teams up the wise and the evil. Why? Why not team up the evil son with the simple one? You’d think that they would have more in common and get along better with each other. However, even though this might be true the obvious result of such a match is that the simple son would be influenced by the evil son. We need to take into consideration not only the students’ preferences, but also the goal that we want to achieve by teaming them up. That’s why the Haggada matches the evil son with the wise one, because only the wise could withstand the evil’s temptation and have a positive influence in return. Only the wise is a correct match for the evil. The same is true for the simple son and the one that does not know how to ask a question, they too are a matched pair. Why?! First of all they are both more or less on the same level, in contrast to the wise and evil who ask deeper and more sophisticated questions. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, is the result we want to achieve by pairing them up. The simple is always in the wise sons shadow, he is always second and that’s why he doesn’t strive to develop. By putting him as the leader of the second pair he will become more dominant and will quickly reach new heights. The son who does not know how to ask is apathetic to everything we are trying to teach him, and the only way to get to him is by causing him to ask, to develop an interest.

The way to do this is not by lecturing him on what he must do and feel (which is what the wise son would probably do) but to introduce him to the world of simple questions and pure yearning for knowledge and understanding. These things could not be shown to him by the wise son who is busy with his Shtaygen (deep intensive learning), but only by the simple son who is currently at that stage of simple questions and a thirst to learn. The Haggada is teaching us that we always need to be aware of who is around us, our children, and our pupils, because the effect that we could have on others or others have on us might be crucial for the future. This lesson is important for teachers, parents, and even for children themselves when they need to choose with whom to hang around and who to befriend.

There is so much more to talk about in this passage in particular, and in the entire Haggada in general, but since the time is short and Pesach is nearly upon us we will have to end here. However let’s hope that these insights will lead us to learn more about educating our youngsters (and ourselves too!) and to improve our ways in Chinuch.

We’ will conclude with the words of the Piaseczna Rebbe [22]:

“King Shlomo wrote: “Train (Chanoch) the child according to his way; even when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Mishlei 22:6). Herein lies the fundamental principle of education (Chinuch). The goal is not merely that the child should listen and obey his father, while he is still a child and under his father’s jurisdiction, but more importantly, once he has matured and is his own master, “He will not depart from it”. Education is not merely a matter of commanding the child or the student, “Do this” or “Do that”, nor is it a matter of habit, of accustoming the child to the performance of good deeds. Education is a greater and more dynamic process than commands and habits. These two elements – commands and habits – are nothing more than tools that the educator must utilize in order to guide the child in Ha’Shem’s way…

When the word “Chinuch” is used in the context of educating children, it means to nurture the inherent character and talents that lay dormant within the child or only partially realized, and to develop them…

If a teacher wants to discover his student’s souls, their hidden inner reality…then he must be willing to be flexible. He must be willing to bend emotionally towards his students. He has to penetrate and move beyond their childishness until he reaches the hidden spark of their souls. Then he can bring out that spark, nurture it and make it grow.

Since this is the case, it follows that the process of educating will not be uniform for all the children. Rather, it will depend on each child and his individual nature, character, etc.…

…That is what King Shlomo was alluding to when he said, “Train the child according to his way“- according to the individual ways of each and every child.”

[1] ע”פ משלי פרק כב’ פסוק ו’: “חנוך לנער על פי דרכו…”.

[2] פסחים קט.

[3] רש”י שם.

[4] משנה תורה, זמנים, הלכות חמץ ומצה, פרק ז’ הלכה ג’.

[5] רשב”ם שם.

[6] לפי רש”י (שם) בערב פסח, על מנת שישנו בצהריים ויהיו ערניים בשעת הסדר. לפי תוס’ (שם) בליל פסח, כדי שיחזרו הביתה מהר ויתחילו את הסדר בעוד הילדים ערים, וכן פסק בשו”ע סימן תע”ב סעיף א’. ובמשנה ברורה (שם) הוסיף שהוא הדין בתפילה.

[7] משנה תורה, זמנים, הלכות חמץ ומצה, פרק ז’ הלכה א’.

[8] עייו חזון עובדיה הלכות פסח חלק ב עמוד נה ” לספר לבניו ולבנותיו”– וספר מקראי קודש  הלכות ליל הסדר עמוד רטו בהערה ג – מה שכתתב הגרמ”א זצ”ל.

[9] ערוך השולחן או”ח סימן תע”ב סעיף ב’, וז”ל: וטעמו של דבר, לפי שראינו שהתורה הקפידה על שאלות הבנים בלילה הזה כדכתיב כמה פעמים “כי ישאלך בנך וגו'”, וכל עיקר סיפור יציאת מצרים הוא על ידי שאלות הבנים ותשובות האב ועל ידי זה נתבררה האמונה הטהורה, לפיכך עשו כל הפעולות שהתינוקות יהיו ערים ולא ישנים בעת הסדר וכך חובה עלינו לעשות.

[10] עיין ספר החינוך מצוה כא שכתב שמצוה זה נוהגת בין זכרים בין נקבות . אך המנחת חינוך תמה עליו מהיכי תיתי שנשים  חייבות בסיפור יציאת מצרים?

[11] עיין הערה 8 מה שכתב חזון עובדיה “לבניו ולבנותיו” אך בגדר החיוב עיין שם בהערה של מקראי קודש כנ”ל

[12] עיין בהרחבה במפרשי ההגדה שלכאורה יש רק ג’ תשובות לארבע בנים, ובהסברים הנרחבים בנושא.

[13] דברים פרק יד’ פסוק א’. “בנים אתם ל-ה’ אלוקיכם”.

[14] קידושין לו. “רבי מאיר אומר בין כך ובין כך אתם קרוים בנים…”

[15] שם. “בני מעלייא”.

[16] שמות פרק יב’ פסוק כו’

[17] שמות פרק יג’ פסוק ח’

[18] שמות פרק יג’ פסוק יד’

[19] דברים פרק ו’ פסוק כ’

[20] פתגם עממי.

[21] ע”פ פירוש להגדה של פסח של הרב שלמה אבינר.

[22] חובת התלמידים- שיח עם המלמדים ואבות הבנים.

– Length: