Wednesday, April 04, 2007

what you say and how you say it

Parshat Bo

In the haggada, The Rasha, the wicked son, asks what is this service to you? The answer we respond to him is by striking him on the teeth and telling him that had he been in Egypt he would not have gone out with the rest of the Jews.

In Parshat Bo, in 12:26-27, the passuk says, "when your children say to you what is this service for you? You will say it is the Pesah sacrifice for Hashem who skipped over the houses of the Jews...etc.

Why is it that in the haggada when the Rasha asks this questions he is punched in the face but in the Torah we give the child an answer. What is the difference? And why in the haggada do we say the Rasha will ask this question when in the Humash it does not differentiate and it seems that it is a valid question?

I think the difference is in the attitude and the setting. In the Humash, the question is being asked out of interest and curiosity. In the haggada the question is being asked out of rejection and scoffing.

When the children ask because they really don't know but want to, the answer is about the Pesah sacrifice. Whenthe children ask and it is clear they are asking in a scoffing and rejecting manner, the answer has to be sharper.

As "they" say, it is not just what you say, but how you say it.


a_man said...

For the chacham, tam and the son who know not how to ask, their questions are answered right away (for the latter, there's no question per say, but we take care of him right away too by "at ptach lo.")

So, we find that the whole, long, elaborate maggid portion is really targeting the wicked son!!!

So, we go through the whole shpil and give all the attention to the wicked son before we finally answer with the words of the Torah at the very very end of maggid (in the section of "kol she lo amar shlosha dvarim elu bepesach lo yatzah.... pesach:...", where it quotes Exodus 12:27.)

The lesson to learn from this, it seems, that we should attempt to fulfill the prophecy "lo yidach mimeno nedach". We should not allow anyone to be left out of the Jewish fold. Some, unfortunately, are at a greater risk of being nedach/lost, and they need more attention. If that means giving over to them the whole maggid -- so be it.

On a related issue, "striking him on the teeth" is not an accurate translation (though I have seen similar phrases myself in a number of translated aggadot.) A more accurate translation, if I may, is "blunt his teeth": an expression meaning to blunt out the sharpness of his question. Removing the sting...

We exclaim, in his presence: "if he was there he would have not been redeemed." We tell him, in order words: You think you're a wise-guy? You think you can dis-associate yourself from your people and heritage? Think again -- you should know that only if you were there (in Egypt, before matan Torah) you would have not been redeemed. (And indeed you would have perished in the plague of darkness.) But since you're here after matan Torah, which binds us all and promises "lo yidach mimeno nedach" (i.e., no jew is a write-off) there's hope for you -- and you have no similarity to those Jews who perished there (during the plague of darkness). You are here and you will be redeemed in the final redemption!

By turning the tables around, on him, so to speak, we blunt his teeth and show him that despite his attitude, he cannot be considered septate from his people and Hashem. This compounded with telling him over all of maggid prompts him to reconsider his approach and say "halel" with the rest of the seder-attendees.

Chag Kasher Ve Sameach to you and Klal Yisrael.

Neil Harris said...

Thanks. I'm glad I hadn't seen this one before.