Preparing for Passover: Part 6

This has been a short series to help you learn a little more about the Haggadah for Passover. Before you decide to just blow through the Haggadah this year, why not learn a little about it?

I promised to talk about the reading from the Haggadah called “The Four Children” in Part 5, but forgot and so now I am doing it in Part 6. I mean well . . .

One part of the Haggadah that probably strikes new readers as strange is “The Four Children.” After a short but potent blessing to God the Omnipotent, the Haggadah says:

The Torah alludes to four children: one wise, one wicked, one simple, and one who does not know how to ask.

Many readers might wonder where the Bible talks about four kinds of children. Welcome to the delightful world of rabbinic thought. Rabbinic thought is about details and making connections between details. It’s a wonderful way to think. In modern lit classes, they call it close reading.

The rabbis are thinking of four passages from the Torah and there is a reason (I’ll get to it later) that connects these passages:

1. When your children ask you, ‘What do you mean by this ceremony?’ say, ‘It is the sacrifice of ADONAI’s Pesach [Passover], because ADONAI passed over the houses of the people of Isra’el in Egypt, when he killed the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” (Exod. 12:26-27, Complete Jewish Bible).

2. On that day you are to tell your son, ‘It is because of what ADONAI did for me when I left Egypt.’ (Exod. 13:8, CJB).

3. When, at some future time, your son asks you, ‘What is this?’ then say to him, ‘With a strong hand ADONAI brought us out of Egypt, out of the abode of slavery. When Pharaoh was unwilling to let us go, ADONAI killed all the firstborn males in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of humans and the firstborn of animals. This is why I sacrifice to ADONAI any male that is first from the womb of an animal, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem.’ (Exod. 13:14-15, CJB).

4. Some day your child will ask you, ‘What is the meaning of the instructions, laws and rulings which ADONAI our God has laid down for you?’ Then you will tell your child, ‘We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and ADONAI brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand. ADONAI worked great and terrible signs and wonders against Egypt, Pharaoh and all his household, before our very eyes.’ (Deut. 6:20-22, CJB).

What connects these passages? You could probably already tell: they are about explaining the Exodus experience to your children. In fact, in three of the four, the child asks a question leading to the response.

The rabbis deduced that these questions represented four kinds of children:

1. The wise son is in Deuteronomy 6:20-22. He is wise because he wants to know about the procedures and meanings of the commands of God.

2. The wicked son is in Exodus 12:26-27 because he asks what these commands mean to YOU and does not include himself.

3. The simple son is in Exodus 13:14 because his question sounds as though he is clueless about what is going on.

4. The one who does not know to ask is in Exodus 13:8, because there is no question but the parent answers anyway.

Really, the reading of “The Four Children” is a delightful part of the Passover. You can use it to teach your children that they should value faith and tradition and never ask, as in Exodus 12:16, “What does this mean to you?” Each child should include himself or herself in the question, “What does this mean for us?”

You can use this to teach your children a love for learning, so that they would want to ask as the child does in Deuteronomy 6:20.

Don’t have any children? Well, these are great lessons for adults too. Very few adults are like the wise child and too many are like the simple child.

So this year, have fun with “The Four Children,” one of the colorful lessons of Passover.

To get the rest of the series, click on the Category “Passover” to the right.


About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
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