Concerning four sons the Torah speaks: One wise, one wicked, one simple,
and one who does not know how to ask. (The Pesach Haggadah)
And you shall tell your child on that day
Why are only four varieties of children mentioned here? Could there not be
more types than this? Are wise and wicked opposite terms? Does
the simple one stand in contradistinction to the one who does not know
how to ask? Whats the order here?
Having just heard the shocking claim that We were slaves in Egypt and
HASHEM our G-d took us out with a strong hand and an outstretched arm
there are really only four kinds of reactions. Lets imagine, for
example, someone would enter a University cafeteria and claim to be
Napoleon. Now let us measure the responses. One student will come running
over immediately with a note pad and paper and begin to pepper the man
with the hand in jacket with detailed questions. Hell be excited to have
a primary source for a paper on French history.
Another will be automatically repelled. Hell begin to look for the exit,
assuming that this man is a lunatic and he has just escaped from a mental
institution. Why else would a grown person walking around in the 21st
century make such an outrageous claim? A third will inch a little closer
and wonder, observing the other two opposite responses, and inquire more
generally, Who is Napoleon? Did he invent a pastry?
A fourth fellow sitting self-absorbed, in a corner, will glance
occasionally at the excitement but retreat again to whatever else hes
doing. When asked his opinion on the matter hell shrug his shoulders, his
look will say, Who cares who this guy is?! Ive got my own problems? Let
him be whoever he wants to be! Its not my business!
These four attitudes divide evenly into two categories. There are two
types of responses of those who have some knowledge base, and two possible
responses by those who dont. The wise one is knowledgeable and his
appetite is stimulated by the Seder and he wishes to know more and more.
That hunger must be fed.
The wicked one is haunted by the fact that that he fails to live up to
what he knows. His conscience doesnt give him rest. His level of
existential angst is heightened by the Pesach Seder so he feels a need to
reject it all. He is basically told that he can only push himself away. He
could never derail G-ds plan- His seder, but only his role in that plan.
Thats his medicine.
The simple one doesnt know whats flying but is willing to take some
risks to discover what the real story is although the price of knowledge
might be required action. He is embraced and admired for his courage to
want to know.
As for the son who does know how to ask, hes paralyzed with fear to
venture out of his comfort zone or maybe just to be found ignorant. He
therefore emulates the ostrich, enjoying the temporary bliss of
ignorance. He needs to be prompted and made to feel safe thats its ok
not to know and it better to find out what you need to know than not!
The Maharal asks why the word one appears before the name of each
category of child and he says that they are really one person. We have
all these parts within us though one may be more dominant at a given time.
There are areas in which we are growing from strength to strength and
others in which we are at risk of shrinking. Certain new and exciting
topics are due to arise that may become our new friends for years to come
and then there are those topics, Well, lets not go there! The question
for each of us at the Pesach Seder is, How do we approach this child?