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Pesah- Our Response to the Wicked Son

The Haggadah famously speaks of four different types of sons, instructing us how to fulfill the obligation of Sippur Yesi’at Misrayim (telling the story of the Exodus on Pesah) to each one. The wicked son, the Haggadah says, asks the question, "Ma Ha’aboda Ha’zot Lachem" – "What is this service to you?" He looks at the Misvot observed at the Seder and asks his parents what this is all about, what they are bothering with these special observances. The Haggadah instructs us to respond by citing the verse in Sefer Shemot (13:8), "Ba’abur Zeh Asa Hashem Li Be’seti Mi’Misrayim" – "It is because of this that Hashem acted for me when I left Egypt."

This verse seems very difficult to understand, and it seems even more difficult to understand how this answers the wicked son’s question. As the commentators note, the verse seems to say that G-d took Beneh Yisrael out of Egypt so that we can perform the Misvot of Pesah. This appears to be the opposite of the actual sequence of events. We would have thought that after the Exodus, G-d commanded us to perform the Misvot of Pesah in order to remember this seminal event. But this verse seems to be saying that to the contrary, G-d took us out of Egypt so we can perform the Pesah sacrifice, eat Masa and Marror, and so on.

How could that be? How could the purpose of the Exodus be to perform Misvot which commemorate the Exodus? And what does this have to do with the wicked son?

The Bet Ha’levi (Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik of Brisk, 1820-1892) explains that the wicked son questions the relevance of the Pesah sacrifice when its primary purpose is no longer necessary. The ancient Egyptians regarded the sheep as a deity of sorts, as they worshipped the zodiacal sign of Aries, which is symbolized by a sheep. The Pesah sacrifice was required as a public rejection of Egyptian paganism, and a statement of belief in monotheism. The wicked son claims that this statement was necessary only in the ancient world, when paganism was rampant and many people believed in the worship of cattle. But once the world no longer followed such foolish beliefs, there should no longer be any reason to observe this Misva. The wicked son thus asks, "What is this service to you" – meaning, how is it relevant now? Why should we still be required to observe this ritual?

The answer to this question is that the Torah in fact preceded the world’s creation. Even though many Misvot have reasons that we understand, there are also other reasons which are inaccessible to us. And therefore, even if the reason of a certain Misva – as we understand it – no longer applies, we are nevertheless bound by that Misva, because all Misvot are eternally relevant, binding and applicable. The proof is that even the patriarchs observed the Misvot of Pesah, despite the fact that the Exodus had not happened yet. This demonstrates that the Misvot are significant and relevant irrespective of their apparent reasons, because they preceded even the world’s creation, and are therefore not contingent on any particular time or place.

This is why the Haggadah tells us to respond to the wicked son by citing the verse, "Ba’abur Zeh Asa Hashem Li Be’seti Mi’Misrayim" – "It is because of this that Hashem acted for me when I left Egypt." This verse teaches us the very point with which we are to respond to this challenge – that the Misvot of Pesah are not dependent upon any particular time and place. Hashem brought the redemption so that we can fulfill the Misvot; He did not command these Misvot because the Exodus happened. The Misvot stand independent of any reason or rationale, and are binding in every day and age. This is our response to the wicked son, and this is one of the vitally important lessons of Pesah which we are to emphasize to ourselves and to our children on this special night.

Parashat Behaalotecha- Rectification is Always Possible
Parashat Naso- Emuna First
Shavuot- Celebrating the Eternal Torah
Shavuot- The Challenge – and Rewards – of Torah Commitment
Parashat Behar- Experiencing the Sweetness and Delight of Torah
Parashat Emor- Keter Shem Tob 'The Crown of Good Reputation'
Parashat Ahare Mot- Planting Our Spiritual Trees
Parashat Shemini- Respect and Reverence in the Synagogue
Pesah: Redemption Then and Now
Pesah- Its A Mirage
Parashat Vayikra- The Triple Sin of Dishonesty
Parashat Pekudeh- Counting the Things That Matter
Parashat Ki Tisa- The Sanctity of Every Jew
Purim and the Sale of Yosef
Parashat Terumah- The Torah’s “Footsteps”
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