With Pesach approaching, this shiur will address one of the better known passages in the Haggadah – the section describing the “four sons”. We are all familiar with these characters: the wise son, the wicked one, the simpleton, and the one who does not know to ask. During different periods of our history the significance of each of these prototypes has undergone many metamorphoses, representing an endless source of inspiration for educators throughout the ages.
We shall examine this quartet from the perspective of man’s own inner reality. The four sons represent different voices that exist within each one of us.
The “wise son” is the voice of understanding and reason. It draws its power from the knowledge that a person accumulates during the course of his life, with the help of which he observes reality and weighs up his actions. This wise voice views the festival of Pesach from the point of view of the practical services and technical actions that must be undertaken.
The “wicked son” is the critical voice within us; it watches whatever is going on and offers its critical comments against the reality.
The “simpleton” is the voice of emotion: the emotion that feels directly, wholeheartedly, with no restraint and with no external considerations. Emotion relates to things on the basis of “gut reaction”. This aspect of a person takes an interest in that which appeals to him, that which touches him emotionally.
The voice that “doesn’t know to ask” is the subconscious, which never emerges in a deliberate way, but does sometimes reveal itself in indirect ways. We must open the door to this subconscious so as to allow it to emerge and expose itself fully.
Each of these voices enjoys a degree of prominence that fluctuates in accordance with different times and situations. Every person has certain voices that have greater influence than the others; they sometimes guide him “at the expense” of other voices which are relegated to insignificance. The Haggadah gives expression to each of these voices, helping the person to relate to other people and – more importantly – to himself. The Haggadah addresses each one of us, asking that we allow each voice to express itself at the Seder. Man is called upon to redeem the various voices jumbled inside him, from slavery to freedom.
If we look at the questions posed by each of the four sons and the answers provided for them, we see that each question truly emerges from a different point of view, and each answer tries to give some response to that point of view. We also see that all of the questions could conceivably arise in the same person, whether during different periods of life, or in different situations during the same period. Thus the “wise son” is interested in laws and judgments; the “wicked one” criticizes that which he sees; the “simpleton” is drawn after the action and expresses his curiosity in a most direct fashion, while the fourth son “does not know to ask”, and we must draw out that which exists within him.
Accordingly, the answers address each inner voice: The “wise son” is told of the law of the “afikoman”, based on the idea of the taste of matza continuing to accompany us even after the end of the meal. He is called upon to integrate the experiences of all his senses, rather than focusing only on the world of the intellect.
Likewise, the other sons are urged to give expression to all of the other inner voices within man.