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The Four Sons

The Last Shabbos before Pesach is called Shabbos Hagadol. A special Haftorah is read, from the book of Malachi.

Malachi 3:18 "And you will return and see the difference between the righteous man and the wicked one, between he who serves G-d and he who doesn't serve."

By Dint of Effort

The Talmud indicates that the verse refers to four distinct people. In Tractate Chagigah, 9b, Bar Heh Heh questioned Hillel regarding this verse: "The term 'righteous man' is the same as 'he who serves G-d,' and 'the wicked man' should be 'he who doesn't serve.' Why did the prophet use four different terms?" The master replied: "Both 'he who serves G-d' and 'he who doesn't serve Him' are righteous; yet one who reviews his studies one hundred times cannot be compared to one who reviews his studies 101 times."

Going the Extra Mile

Bar Heh Heh questioned further: "Because he was missing one extra review, he is called "not serving G-d?" Hillel replied, "Yes, indeed. Consider the donkey drivers. The drivers charge one zuz for ten Persian miles, but demand two zuz for driving 11!" Simply by going the extra mile, the donkey driver has reached a new category, a new level. Similarly, by reviewing his learning one additional time, the student has, through exertion, achieved an entirely new plane.

The Tanya explains that it was customary in those days (before the Talmud was recorded), for all the students to review one hundred times. Reviewing the first one hundred times was simply going through the required motions. It took no unusual effort. Only the one who goes beyond the usual effort is called "serving G-d."

Judaism sees all of life as challenge. If we take life with both hands and thrust it along in a directed path, not taking the easy way out, we will find rewards. Isn't it interesting that we see the same pupil, Bar Heh Heh, stating (Ethics of the Fathers, 5:23) "According to the effort is the reward."

To the Tanya, life is an actual war waged against one's nature. Only with such a battle is it possible to grow, and life is intended for growth.

The Imrei Emes uses the four kinds of people mentioned in our verse to understand the four sons in the Pesach Hagadah: The Wise Son, The Wicked Son, the Simple Son and the One Who Doesn't Know How to Ask.

The "wise son" has earned his title, surely, due to tremendous effort. Yet, he still asks basic questions. "What is the meaning behind the testimonies, statutes and laws which G-d has commanded you?" He is not content to be 'wise,' but aims to grow in wisdom. The constant battle waged for improvement is what truly gives him the title of "wise one." This is the importance of the Exodus from Egypt. The entire Torah is commentary on the Exodus, because we are constantly going through the Exodus. The wise son sees this, and tries to understand, to master the ongoing Exodus. He knows that he himself cannot rest on his laurels, but must constantly push forward.

The wicked son, however, detests the effort: "What do you see in all this 'service?' "

The Talmud in Tractate Megilah notes: "One who says 'I did not search, but I found' -- do not believe. One who says 'I did not search, and I did not find' -- do not believe. One who says 'I searched, but I didn't find' -- do not believe. Only, the one who says I searched, and I found' -- believe him! It is only through great exertion that real progress can be achieved in our lives.

Presumably, the four searchers correspond to the four sons as follows:
'I did not search, but I found' -- The wicked son.
'I did not search, and I did not find' -- the one who doesn't know to ask.
'I searched, but I didn't find' -- the simple son.
'I searched, and I found' -- the wise son. The wise one teaches us: Only if we constantly search, can we find!


 
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