The Passover Hagadah
The Exodus and the Four Sons
A Potential Lesson
by Rabbi Yehudah Prero
Pesach commemorates the exodus of the nation of Israel from their slavery in
Egypt. The exodus marks the birth of the nation of Israel; the people emerged
from slavery to Pharaoh to become a nation, slaves only to G-d. The Medrash
(Yalkut Shimoni 225) sheds some light on how the exodus impacted Pharaoh and
his view of his former slaves.
"Vayehi b'shalach Pharaoh es ha'am..." "And it was when Pharaoh sent out the
nation..." The Medrash homiletically interprets the word "Veyehi" as "Voy,"
a groan akin to "oy yey." Who was it that groaned when Pharaoh sent out the
nation? It was Pharaoh himself, the Medrash states. The Medrash explains why
Pharaoh groaned by means of a parable. There was a man who collected a large
amount of sticks and twigs. Assuming that they were of little value, when he
brought this merchandise to market, he sold his entire inventory to one
purchaser for a very low price. The purchaser was a craftsman, an artisan. He
fashioned the sticks and twigs into boxes, structures, and other assorted
objects. When the seller saw these items fashioned from his twigs, he
groaned. "If only I had known the true value of these sticks, I would never
have rid myself of them for the price that I did!" Similarly, when Pharaoh
observed the people of Israel enslaved in Egypt, he saw them as haulers of
bricks and spreaders of cement. They were, in his opinion, mindless laborers.
He did not recognize the people for what they were: a powerful, capable,
intelligent nation. When Pharaoh set the people free, he suddenly saw
something he had never seen before. He saw an organized nation, with a banner
leading each tribe. He realized what he had in his country, and what he let
go. When he realized the true worth, the enormous value of the people, the
nation, he let go, he let out a groan.
In Mishlei (Proverbs), it is written (25:6) "Educate the child in the way he
should go." Rabbeinu Yona explains this passage to mean that one has to
accustom the child to proper character and refined actions in the fashion in
which he will be most successful. The child has to be taught in the fashion
that will best allow the child to comprehend what he is studying, and
incorporate it into his life.
We find in the Hagadah that there are four sons who need to know about the
exodus from Egypt: The Wise Son, the Wicked Son, the Simple Son, and the Son
Who Does Not Know How To Ask. The Malbim explains that the four passages
cited in the Hagadah, the responses to each of the sons, are all needed. Each
differs from the other, because each son is different, and as Rabbeinu Yona
explained, each child has to be educated in the way which best suits him.
Each of these children, four very different children, must be responded to.
They must learn about the exodus from Egypt. Why is this lesson so important?
Pharaoh failed to realize that the people enslaved to him had enormous
potential. Each person had a unique talent, a special ability, and a distinct
personality, something to add to the value of the people as a whole. Only
when he saw the nation together, acting together in concert, in splendor and
glory with banners furled, did he realize that he did not just lose a bunch
of slaves, but he lost a nation, a people. It was a huge loss. Pharaoh
learned a lesson about recognizing potential, and it is this lesson we can
When the nation left Egypt, they realized their potential. They were able to
develop into a nation, a process that slavery had stifled. Recognition and
realization of one's potential is a lesson that emerges from the departure
from Egypt. We teach this lesson to each child in the nation of Israel, in
the way that the child best understands. In this way, regardless the
intellect or relative capability of the child, the child will know that he or
she is a member of a nation. The child will know that he or she is a unique
part of a whole, who brings experiences to the table to add to the collective
value of the nation. We are told that we must educate our children in the way
that best suits them. We do this so that they will truly learn, so they will
truly be educated, so they will reach the highest educational plateau within
their grasp. They will reach their potential. We teach each of the four sons
about the departure from Egypt so that they will learn the lesson that
Pharaoh had to learn the hard way: the nation of Israel, in sum and
especially in its parts, is a treasure to be valued.
This issue is dedicated to the merit of Zev Dov ben Esther, an individual
who is in dire need of Heavenly mercy. May he have a speedy recovery, so he
can continue in his holy profession of realizing the potential of young
children, educating them accordingly.
|Telling Others|| ||The Evil Son|
For questions, comments, and topic requests, please write to Rabbi Yehudah Prero.
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