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Posted on April 12, 2024 (5784) By Rabbi Label Lam | Series: | Level:

And it will come to pass if your son asks you tomorrow, saying, “What is this?” you shall say to him, “With a mighty hand did HASHEM our G-d take us out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. (Shemos 13:14)

if your son asks you in the future: The Hebrew word “machar” sometimes means “now” and sometimes means in the future. – Rashi

If your son asks you tomorrow, saying, “What are the testimonies, the statutes, and the ordinances, which HASHEM our G-d has commanded you?” (Devarim 6:20)

If your son asks you tomorrow: There is a “machar”- “tomorrow” that means in the future -Rashi

Here we have the source for two of the four sons spoken about at the Pesach Seder. It’s the simple one who asks, “What is this?” and the wise one that asks “What are the testimonies, the statutes, and the ordinances, which the HASHEM our G-d has commanded you?” From a subtle verbal cue, the father has to determine which medicine to administer to which son. Curiously both are introduced in the Torah with a phrase, “If or when your child asks you tomorrow…”. In each situation Rashi tells us something different about that word “tomorrow”. In one place, by the simple son, he says that tomorrow can sometimes mean literally tomorrow, immediately after today and sometimes it means in the far future. By the wise son Rashi just offers the second meaning of tomorrow that it refers to the distant future. Why does Rashi give two differing definitions for the very same word?

The Talmud tells us that one of the key-identifying signs of a wise person is their ability to see and anticipate the future. The Sefer Cheshbon HaNefesh writes that the nature of the animal aspect of the human soul is to be absorbed only in the present. He sees what he wants and forgets about everything and everybody else. On the other hand, the G-dly soul is transcendent and can factor in to his decisions the past and the future beyond his lifetime.

There was a famous psychological experiment that was done many decades ago that revealed dramatic and telling results. It was famously titled the “Marshmallow Experiment”. The basic gist was that children were offered the option of having a marshmallow now or more later. All of the children made one of those two choices and were written into the category of either the “marshmallow now” or “marshmallows later” group. The children were followed throughout their lifetimes until adulthood and those who were able to defer gratification and preferred the “marshmallows later” achieved disproportionately more than the other group. As a principal, whenever I would interview children for entry into school, I would always ask the child if they would like a candy now or two later when we are done. I never used it as the basis of acceptance but their answer told me something about their nature.

When talking to young people I would often employ the following powerful rhetorical device because it opens up a different part of their mind. I would say something like this, “I am not speaking to you now as you are sitting here today. Rather I am speaking to you twenty and forty years from now when you will be sitting around the Pesach Seder with your wife and your children and grandchildren. Then you will know how your parents and grandparents feel about you and you will begin to understand how much HASHEM loves us. You may remember that an old man with a white beard told you it would be so and how right he was.”

History meets destiny at the Pesach Seder. The past intersects and dances with the future. The farther one can see into the past, the farther they can see into the future. The wise son wants to know about all the types of laws that were gifted through his father and to the Jewish People at Mt. Sinai. He is asking about the past. His tomorrow is a tomorrow of the future. The simple son is asking about the present, “What is this”, in front of him. He may miss the grand sweep of history and drown in the cultural currents of the present. His tomorrow may only be about what he is doing the next day. We need to help him to focus on the marshmallows of the future.