The Torah speaks about four sons:
one who is wise, one who is wicked, one who is simple, and one who does not know how to ask.
כְּנֶגֶד אַרְבָּעָה בָנִים דִּבְּרָה תּוֹרָה:
אֶחָד חָכָם, וְאֶחָד רָשָׁע, וְאֶחָד תָּם, וְאֶחָד שֶׁאֵינוֹ יוֹדֵעַ לִשְׁאוֹל.
The wise one, what does he say?
“What are these testimonies and rules and regulations that the Lord Our God commanded you?” (Deuteronomy 6:20)
And so you shall tell him about the laws of Passover: “On Passover, nothing is eaten after the afikoman.”
חָכָם מָה הוּא אוֹמֵר?
“מַה הָעֵדוֹת וְהַחֻקִּים וְהַמִשְׁפָּטִים אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ אֶתְכֶם?” (דברים ו כ)
וְאַף אַתָּה אֱמָר לוֹ כְּהִלְכוֹת הַפֶּסַח: “אֵין מַפְטִירִין אַחַר הַפֶּסַח אֲפִיקוֹמָן”.
The wicked one, what does he say?
“What is this service to you?” (Exodus 12:26)
“To you” — and not to him. And by separating himself from the collective, he betrays a principle. And so you shall be harsh with him and say to him, “For what God did for me as I came out of Egypt” (Exodus 13:8). “For me” — and not for him. Because if he had been there, he would not have been redeemed.
רָשָׁע מָה הוּא אוֹמֵר? “
מָה הָעֲבֹדָה הַזֹּאת לָכֶם?” (שמות יב כו),
לָכֶם – וְלֹא לוֹ. וּלְפִי שֶׁהוֹצִיא אֶת עַצְמוֹ מִן הַכְּלָל, כָּפַר בְּעִקָּר. וְאַף אַתָּה הַקְהֵה אֶת שִנָּיו וֶאֱמֹר לוֹ: “בַּעֲבוּר זֶה עָשָׂה ה’ לִי בְּצֵאתִי מִמִּצְרָיִם” (שמות יג ח), לִי – וְלֹא לוֹ. אִילּוּ הָיָה שָׁם, לֹא הָיָה נִגְאָל.
The simple one, what does he say?
“What is this?” And you shall say to him, “With a strong hand and an outstretched arm, God took us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery.” (Exodus 13:14)
תָּם מָה הוּא אוֹמֵר?
“מַה זֹּאת? וְאָמַרְתָּ אֵלָיו: בְּחֹזֶק יָד הוֹצִיאָנוּ ה’ מִמִּצְרָיִם, מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים” (שמות יג יד).
And for the one who does not know how to ask, you start the conversation for him.
As it is said, “And you will tell your child on that day, saying, ‘For what God did for me as I came out of Egypt’” (Exodus 13:8).
From the Passover Haggadah
וְשֶׁאֵינוֹ יוֹדֵעַ לִשְׁאוֹל – אַתְּ פְּתַח לוֹ,
שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: “וְהִגַּדְתָּ לְבִנְךָ בַּיוֹם הַהוּא לֵאמֹר: בַּעֲבוּר זֶה עָשָׂה ה’ לִי בְּצֵאתִי מִמִּצְרָיִם” (שמות יג ח).
Foundations for Planning
- How do Jewish practices reflect Jewish values?
- How can we transmit a message to different types of people?
- How does the description of the four sons teach us about being inclusive of others?
- How can I make the Haggadah relevant for me, for my family and for my community?
- How has the Haggadah changed over the years?
The Four Sons section of the Seder is taken from a midrash (Mekhilta De’Rabbi Ishmael, 13, 14) which talks about four ways to observe the commandment to tell the story of the exodus from Egypt. This commandment appears in the Torah four times and...
The Four Sons section of the Seder is taken from a midrash (Mekhilta De’Rabbi Ishmael, 13, 14) which talks about four ways to observe the commandment to tell the story of the exodus from Egypt. This commandment appears in the Torah four times and the Sages understood that each of those commandments represents a different type of person (wise, wicked, simple, and one who does not know how to ask) and a different way to transmit the story, corresponding to the needs of the individual child. The wise son asks, “What are these testimonies and rules and regulations that the Lord Our God commanded you?” From his question, we can see that he wants to learn and understand in a detailed manner. The answer that is appropriate for him is a halachic answer that includes information about the laws of Passover. The wicked son asks a question that is perceived as defiant: “What is this service to you?” He seems to take himself out of the story. Therefore, he receives a harsh and cruel answer. The simple son asks: “What is this?” In response to his simple question, he is given a simple answer about the exodus from Egypt. In the case of children who do not know how to ask — that is, those who have trouble expressing themselves or do not understand that there is anything to ask about — adults need to take the initiative and start the conversation. The idea of giving each of the sons an answer that suits him is congruent with the educational philosophy of the Book of Proverbs, which says, “Teach a young person according to his path and even in old age he will not stray from it” (22:6). While the Haggadah mentions four sons, today, some people have a custom to add four daughters and to address their unique characteristics.
- How do I lean? Ask the students to write about the study method that works best for them or to draw the study space that best suits them (for example, alone or with friends, with music in the background or quiet, at a desk or on a sofa). Then, ask some of the students to demonstrate their preferences in front of the class. Discuss the significance of the personal differences that were revealed and possible consequences they may have in the classroom.
- Ask five students to read the Four Sons section out loud, one reading the part of the narrator and a different student reading the part of each son. This will help bring the different voices in the passage to life.
Click here to view our consolidated list of suggested interactive pedagogies for classroom discussion.
- Each of the sons receives a different answer. What determines the answer given to each son? What does this teach us about the way we should learn?
- The son who is defined as wicked is admonished for his question. What do you think about this response to him? How would you respond to him?
- Even though the fourth son does not know how to ask, he is related to and is included in the conversation. Why do you think he is treated this way and not ignored? Try to describe the kind of child who does not know how to ask.
- What can we learn from the fact that all of the sons are invited to sit around the table and participate in the conversation, even those who may have less-positive traits?
- With which of the four sons do you most identify? Why?
- The Haggadah distinguishes between four personalities. What do you think about this division? Can we really call one child “wise” and another child “wicked”? Try to think how each son could be described differently.
- There are those who claim that each of us has different sides: sometimes we are wise, sometimes simple, etc. In what situations do you express each child? Give examples. (You can help the students find examples from their lives: When I’m angry…. When I feel insecure … When I’m somewhere I feel comfortable … When I’m with friends … etc.)
- In recent decades, some Haggadot have included an additional four daughters. Why was it important to the editors of those Haggadot to do that? What do you think about it? What does this teach us about the development of the Haggadah?
- Prepare crowns. On each crown, write a different way of learning. (For example: by reading, by listening or watching, in a group, with a study partner, by singing, by reciting out loud, etc.) Ask a student to put on one of the crowns, without seeing what is written on it. Then, have the other students tell that student the story of the exodus from Egypt in a way that matches what is written on the crown. Have the student then guess what is written on the crown he or she is wearing.
- To understand the differences between the sons, show the students the artwork by David Wander, which uses books to symbolize each of the four sons from the Haggadah (David Wander, from The Haggadah in Memory of the Holocaust, USA, 1984.). Discuss which book represents which son. How can you know? Why do you think that the author chose to use books as the symbol in this artwork? Ask the students to choose another symbol to represent the four sons and to draw a representation of the four sons using their symbol. (Examples: four cups, four musical instruments, four animals, etc.)
- The Haggadah discusses four sons and there are those who have filled in the gap and added four daughters. Try to suggest something new yourself. Write something about Passover or the exodus from Egypt from the point of view of four different characters. For example:
– Have the students research about four Jewish communities that experienced persecution and then freedom, such as the communities in the USSR, Ethiopia, Yemen and Iran. Read the testimonies of members of those communities, learn about their “exodus from Egypt,” and present the story from their point of view, in the style of the Four Sons (For example, a child from the former Soviet Union might ask: Why weren’t we allowed to go to synagogue? Tell him…)
– Psychologist Howard Gardner pioneered the theory that people learn and see the world and learn via multiple intelligences, for example logical-mathematical, musical, linguistic-verbal, etc. Write a passage explaining the story of Passover to children who exhibit four different types of intelligence, in light of Gardner’s approach. (For example: “The athlete, what does she say?”)
- Ask the students to think about how they can talk about the Four Sons at their family or community Seder. What message do they want to convey and how can they do so in a way that will suit the other Seder participants?
- Study the verse: “Teach a young person according to his path …” “חֲנֹךְ לַנַּעַר עַל פִּי דַרְכּוֹ” (Proverbs 22:6). This verse refers to personalized teaching. Discuss how an educational system could educate different types of students together in accordance with this principle.
- Look at artwork about the Four Sons. What does each picture add to the original text? How does each artist interpret the text?