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Friday, April 15

The Weekly Shtikle - Shabbos HaGadol and the Pesach Seider

            I had a thought recently relating to Shabbas HaGadol and where it fits in the grand scheme of the calendar. We have discussed on another occasion an observation from R' Shmuel Wagner, mashgiach of Ohr Yerushalayim, regarding the four terms of geulah found in the beginning of parshas Va'eira and their correspondence to the four cups of wine at the seder. There is a fifth term, "veheiveisi," which corresponds to Eliyahu's cup but it is not included in the main four. It occurred to me that perhaps the parshios leading up to Pesach follow the same structure. There are four special weeks, known as the arba parshios - Shekalim, Zachor, Parah and HaChodesh. Each have a special maftir and special haftarah. Then we have Shabbas HaGadol, not part of the special four and not having its own maftir, but still special nonetheless. I am not quite sure how to connect the four parshios to the four terms of geulah (except perhaps Zachor to "vehitzalti,) but the connection to Eliyahu's cup works nicely as the end of the haftarah deals with the coming of Eliyahu HaNavi on the Great Day.


One of the most deeply analyzed portions of the Hagaddah is the section dealing with the four sons. But I won't let that stop me from endeavouring to offer some original thoughts on the topic. The four sons are traditionally referred to as the wise son, the wicked son, the simple son and the son who does not know enough to ask. However, as I will show, this is an overly simplistic and in some ways inaccurate labeling of these characters. The theme of the seder night is chinuch, educating our progeny about the great miracles of Yetzias Mitzrayim. This is specifically done in the form of question and answer as illustrated by the Mah Nishtanah. The Hagaddah's labeling of these four sons is not an assessment of their characters in general but rather, it is an analysis of the way they ask questions. The Hagaddah delves into how these four sons fill the role of "question asker" at the seder.


To illustrate this point clearly, we begin, as the Hagaddah does, with the chacham. Traditionally, he is considered the wise son. Yet, he asks, "What are the testimonies and the decrees and the ordinances that HaShem, our God, commanded you?" If he is so wise, why does he not know the answers? His question, and the answer we are told to give him seem to be a testimony to his lack of knowledge. But it is not what he knows that concerns us. He is a chacham not because he is wise but because he craves wisdom. We know that when he asks his questions, he is interested in learning the answers. Indeed, R' Yochanan (Berachos 55a) states that HaShem grants wisdom only to the wise.


The supposedly wicked son is perhaps not as wicked as we might have thought. But, his questions have wicked intentions behind them. He asks in a condescending manner. The simple son, as well, is dubbed as such because he asks plainly and simply, "What is this?" He has neither the condescending tone of the wicked son, nor the intrigued thirst of the wise son. He simply wants to know what is going on.

This approach really helps understand the labelling of the son who doesn't know to ask. Since the point of the seder is for the children to ask, we must devote special attention to those who do not. Again we are not concerned with what they know. It is what they ask, or do not ask that matters. In concurrence with this approach is a beautiful thought from Netzi"v in his Hagaddah, Imrei Shefer. We are instructed with respect to the son who doesn't know to ask, "At pesach lo." I had always understood this to mean that you are to open up for him. In other words, since he doesn't ask, we have to open up the conversation for him. However, if the Hagaddah goes out of its way to tell us that this son does not ask, shouldn't it be our goal to teach him how? Netziv explains, therefore, that we are instructed to open his mouth. It is not enough to sit down and begin to teach him about the story of Pesach. We must teach him in a way that encourages him to ask questions so that he too may join the ranks of the "question askers."

Have a Chag Kasher veSamei'ach!

Eliezer Bulka

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