Mother and her 2 kids spends Passover vacation on beachside

Thoughts on the Four Sons

Hello dear readers,

Tonight, I was helping my son, Reuven, with his tanach homework. Teaching my one son got me thinking about teaching the four sons of the pesach hagaddah, and how we describe in the maggid section that we are supposed to teach each son separately, according to his need and abilities.

Of course, there’s an education element to this part of the hagaddah. The idea of teaching your children and transmitting the story of the exodus from one to the next, is one of the central themes of the pesach seder. Part of that idea is recognizing that although there is one Torah, there are many ways of looking at it. Therefore, there are many ways for a student to learn it, and therefore as parents and educators we must have many ways to teach it to the many different types of students.

All these different learners are important. In a way, it reminds me of another holiday foursome, the four species of sukkot. One famous interpretation of the four species is that they are four different things that are bundled into one same thing, whether it’s four body parts (lulav is the spine, etrog is the heart, hadasim are the eyes and aravot are the lips), or four types of people (lulav is taste with no smell, etrog is taste and smell, hadas is smell but not taste, aravot is no smell nor taste).

Wait, let’s not get lost in a tangent about a different holiday! Let’s get back to the four sons.

I’ve always been struck by the order the hagaddah provides when presenting the four sons: wise, wicked, simple, and the one who does not know how to ask. Each one is based on a verse in the torah, but the sons are not presented in that order (which is wicked, simple, the one who does not know how to ask and then wise). It’s also not a judgment of virtue which would place the wicked son last (or first, I guess, in a reverse ranking). Rather, since the seder is a night of education, I think the hagaddah is framing the order of the four sons with a valuing of intellect and curiosity in learning.  In this case, it’s better to ask the wrong questions than not ask anything at all.

Ultimately, each of us has characteristics and traits of all four of these sons within us. Sometimes we are wise, other times we are afraid to ask, and sometimes we may even be wicked (hopefully, only in short, fleeting bursts, if that!). So this Pesach, whether you are sitting the dining room of a nice Passover hotel or around your own table, make sure to think about education and the different ways to teach not only your children, but also yourself.

More soon,


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