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It shall be when your children say to you: 'What is the meaning of this service to you?' Then you shall say: 'It is the Pesach sacrifice for G-d, Who passed over the Israelite homes in Egypt, when He plagued the Egyptians, and saved our homes. And the people bowed and prostrated themselves.' (12:26-27)
'What is the meaning of this service to you?' is cited by the Passover Hagadda as the Torah reference to the question of the wicked son. 'To you', is understood to mean 'to you only, but not to me'. And the text of the Hagadda brings a different answer. It tells the father to give him, additionally (to the above verse) a sharp answer (literally 'blunt his teeth'). '…G-d did this for me when I came out of Egypt' (13:8). 'For me' and not 'for you'. 'Had you been there, you would not have been redeemed'.
This text in the Hagadda invites two questions. Firstly, the reply: 'This is the Pesach service for G-d' appears to be an explanation - hardly a means of teaching a wicked son to show more respect for the ways of his father. Secondly, the verse quoted by the Hagadda as a reply to the wicked son is not the one that the Torah actually uses in that context.
One detail of the Torah's answer to the wicked son brings a clue. That is the final words of the answer to the wicked son: 'The people bowed and prostrated themselves'.
That in itself is the core of the answer to the wicked son. In reply to 'What is the meaning of this service to you?' the father recounts the crucial miracle of the Exodus, adding the detail: 'The people bowed and prostrated themselves'. That implies that 'those people recognized the Hand of G-d, and showed Him due respect. You did not. Had you been there, you would not have been redeemed.'
That is, however, a relatively subtle and polite way of putting the message across. Some people can take the hint, and others need the point put forward more bluntly. The same applies to generations. In the generations closer to the Exodus, such a reply would have made the point. But by the time more than a thousand years had passed and the Hagadda text began to take shape in the form we knew it, something stronger was required. The composer of the Hagadda therefore added (as its text says 'in addition') much more powerful language - 'blunt his teeth' - give him a sharp, cutting retort, using 'For me' and not 'for you, and 'Had you been there, you would not have been redeemed'.
This demonstrates the Rabbi's commitment to a very important principle in education. The essence of a message remains the same, but it is appropriate - even required - to clothe that message in such a language that it conveys the message effectively to the generation and the people of the time.
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.co.il/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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