The Haggadah of Pesach describes four different types of children and how parents should respond to them. Each one is unique and together they represent the family at the Seder table. The four sons are caricatures. They represent the different types of children and they teach us that we must carefully answer each one’s questions from the different place they are coming from. Implicit in the commandment to tell and to teach is that each child has an inherent right to be taught.
It seems like the parent of the wise son has the easiest task, as it is written in Mishlei: “בן חכם ישמח אב” “the wise son will please his father”. The wise son is his own teacher. He thinks of questions that need answers, and he finds the answers himself in the books he reads. After all, since he loves to read books and is guided by them, he finds it easy to become wise through his own efforts. The wise son may appear to be the ‘easy’ one in the eyes of his parents. He is seen as the one who brings Nachat (pleasure) to his parents and their hope for the future. He poses concrete questions and is given concrete answers. What happens when the wise son,who may believe he knows it all, asks intelligent questions that are met with concrete answers that do not satisfy him?
The wicked son, the rebel, seems to present a greater challenge to his parents. His way of speaking is annoying. While the members of his family are busy preparing for the Chag, he shows his boredom by yawning while asking the question: “What does this labour mean to you?” It would be very easy to get angry with him, or to even ignore him. Instead, smart parents listen and explain to him that anyone with such an attitude of apathy would not have come out of Egypt. They tell him: “If he had been there, he would not have been saved.” The wise parent hugs his wicked son and says to him: “How lucky we are that we were all saved and came out of Egypt and that you are here with us. I don’t want to think what would have happened if, G-d forbid, you were there in Egypt that night if you had rebelled by refusing to join those leaving Egypt. We are so happy that you are here.”
The simple son merely asks: “What is this?” The parent, who confronts the challenge of raising his son with sensitivity, answers his question with respect by entering into a conversation in a way that can be understood by his son. He recognizes that his son will best understand simple, factual stories, and tells him that “G-d brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand”. Furthermore, he tells him stories of miracles that the son will find beautiful and moving.
As for the son who does not know how to ask, here the parents face a hard challenge. The problem is that their son has no interest, or has lost his interest in sitting around a table. This may be a child who is so fascinated by attractions like television, the computer or smart phone that he is not aware of things going on around him.It is also possible that this child may want to ask but lacks confidence and fears being seen as a fool. Parents must be patient, and try to understand the challenges of this child, and initiate conversation until the child is comfortable and confident enough to share his thoughts.
The story of The Four Sons provides us with a model for parents in speaking and listening to their children ( sons and daughters) that will encourage their confiding their challenges and struggles knowing that their parents understand and unconditionally accept them for what they have to share.
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Chag Pesach Sameach- Happy Passover