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   by Jacob Solomon

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In the future, years after the Exodus…

It shall be when your children say: "What is the meaning of this service to you?" You shall reply: "It is the Pesach sacrifice for G-d, who passed over the Israelite homes in Egypt, when He plagued the Egyptians, and saved our households. And the people bowed and prostrated themselves" (12:26-27).

The Passover Hagadda indentifies "What is the meaning of this service to you?" as the question of the wicked son. "To you" means "to you, but not to me". Unlike the Israelites who "bowed and prostrated themselves" in recognition and due respect for the Hand of G-d, that son's words imply that he has no desire whatsoever to associate with the experiences and teachings of his people.

The Sforno, however, dissects this very short and direct question into its component parts. The words "this service" and "to you" actually make three separate points. Firstly, festive sacrifices are brought on the actual day of the festivals, whereas "this service" is the late afternoon before. Secondly, all offerings take place between the daily morning and afternoon communal sacrifices; "this service" is after-hours. Thirdly, why is the Passover offering "to you"? Why does it require you as an individual to be involved?

And the Torah responds to each point. "This service", the Passover offering is not brought during the day, but in the late afternoon close to nightfall as it was at night (12:29) when "He plagued the Egyptians and saved out households". "When he saved our households" also means that the miracle of killing of the Egyptian firstborn and the sparing of the Israelite firstborn affected each and every family. Therefore each Israelite must associate by bringing the Passover sacrifice on an individual basis.

A careful study of text of the Hagadda would comfortably accommodate the Sforno's explanation. The Sforno attends to question's content of "What is the meaning of this service to you?" The Hagadda additionally responds to the question's nuances of rebuking with ve-af hakheh et shinav "and also set his teeth on edge". Give him also a sharp, cutting retort. "Because of what G-d did for me when I came out of Egypt". "For me" and not "for you", commenting that "had been there, he wouldn't have been redeemed".

The key words are "and also set his teeth on edge". First, answer the question according to the content. Secondly, answer the question according to the nuance, with the linking "also".

That contains an important principle in teaching. Some students "try it on" by asking questions to show-off or to disrupt, rather than quest for knowledge and understanding. In each case, the teacher should initially accept the content of the question for what it is and respond to the question as it stands. Afterwards - publicly or privately depending on the situation - he should address unacceptable nuances of the question as necessary.

For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at and on the material on the Haftara at .

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: 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:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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