Dwell on the Past by Avi Wollman


Each year, when we conduct our Seder, we speak about four different sons: the wise son (Chacham), the wicked son  (Rasha), the simple son (Tam), and the son who does not know how to ask (She’eino Yodeia Lish’ol).  Each son asks (or fails to ask) his own unique question, and the father answers each one accordingly.  However, as the Sfat Emet notes, if one looks deep into the roots of the questions, one can find that each son, in his own way, is really asking the very same question.

The Chacham asks, “Ma Haeidut Vehachukim Vehamishpatim Asher Tziva Hashem Elokeinu Etchem,” “What are the testimonies, the statutes, and the ordinances which Hashem our God has commanded you?”  The wise son’s many complicated and involved questions are all ultimately coming to ask, “Why dwell on our past?”  Accordingly, the father responds, “Ein Maftirin Achar Hapesach Afikoman,” “After the Pesach offering, no dessert is to be eaten!”  The father is telling his son the Halacha that one may not eat anything after the Afikoman, which we do in order to keep its taste in our mouths.  This analogy teaches that we are not just keeping the Geulah from Mitzrayim in our mouths, but we are also preparing for our final Geulah from the Galut in which we currently find ourselves.

The Rasha then asks, “Mah Ha’avodah Hazot Lachem,” “What is this service to you?”  He is in effect asking, “What point is there in all of these strange things we do to commemorate something that happened so long ago?”  He finds the entire thing ridiculous and pointless.  However, the father sets him straight: “Ba’avur Zeh Asah Hashem Li Betzeiti Mimitzrayim,” “It is because of this that Hashem acted for me and took me out of Egypt.”  He tells his son that commemorating the past is not pointless; it is because we remembered who we are and where we came from that Hashem saved us in Egypt.  Had the son been in Egypt with his philosophy, he would never have been saved.

The Tam is next to come forward.  He simply asks, “Mah Zot,” “What is this?”  The Tam, like his siblings, is having the same problem.  He cannot understand why we keep thinking about the past.  The father answers him, “Bechozek Yad Hotzianu Hashem Mimitzrayim Mibeit Avadim,” “With the strength of His Hand did Hashem bring us out of Egypt, from the house of bondage.”  The father explains that when Hashem took us out of Mitzrayim, He did it based on what He knew we would do in the future, as we were unworthy at that time.  Hashem saved us because of this Mitzvah to have a Seder that we are fulfilling now.

Finally, the Sheeino Yodeia Lish’ol, true to his name, does not ask anything.  He remains silent because he simply does not care.  He, too, fails to see the point in commemorating the past.  The father also tells him, “Ba’avur Zeh Asah Hashem Li Betzeiti Mimitzrayim,” “It is because of this that Hashem acted for me and took me out of Egypt.”  It is because we remembered our past that Hashem took us out of the spiritual impurity of Egypt.  The father tells his son that he, too, must participate in this Seder to escape his own “Egypt.”

No matter which son parallels us best, it is essential to understand personally why commemorating the past is so central in the celebration of Pesach and in all of Judaism.  In Judaism, we understand that our past is our present and our future.  We know that by commemorating our past, we learn how to live appropriately in the present in order to ensure a successful future.  This is key to the Seder and essential to our faith.  This year, we can only highlight this message at the Seder through Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim.  Next year, however, may we be able to commemorate our final Geulah, as well.

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