Rabbi Yechiel Wasserman
Head of the Center for Religious Affairs in the Diaspora, World Zionist Organization (WZO)
Twice, the Torah commands us about chinuch hayeladim (education):
“And you shall teach them to your sons and you shall speak of them,” (Devarim 6:7)
“And you shall tell your son on that day, saying, ‘Because of this, Hashem acted on my behalf when I went out of Egypt.’” (Shmot 13:8)
The former concerns learning Torah, and the latter relates to Pesach. Why does the Torah command us to “tell your son” specifically on Pesach?
A quick survey of the Haggadah indicates that the Seder is all about chinuch hayeladim.
The Haggadah opens with what can best be described as a conversation between the father and the son. On this night, we do things differently, in order to attract the child’s attention and to encourage him to ask questions. The son asks, “Mah nishtanah?”, and the father responds by conducting the Seder while explaining everything. After all, the main thrust of the mitzvah is lisaper b’Yetziat Mitzrayim (to recount the Exodus from Egypt).
In order to recall Yetziat Mitzrayim on Pesach, we must do more than simply eating the matzah and the maror and drinking the four cups of wine. These actions are all accompanied by the stories. As we are taught, “The more one recounts Yetziat Mitzrayim the more praiseworthy it is.”
Succot also references Yetziat Mitzrayim, as it says:
“You shall dwell in booths (succot) for seven days; every citizen in Israel shall live in booths. In order that your generations shall know that I had the Children of Israel live in booths when I took them out of the land of Egypt…” (Vayikra 23:42-43)
However, on Succot, we suffice with actions alone – such as taking the lulav and dwelling in the succah. These acts are not accompanied by stories.
Why is Pesach different from Succot? Jewish emunah (belief) is based on the fundamental principle that:
“I am Hashem, your God, Who has taken you out of the land of Egypt.” (Shmot 20:2)
This principle impacts all of Judaism’s positive and negative mitzvot. As a result, Jews mention Yetziat Mitzrayim every day, on every Shabbat, on every festival, and on every occasion. Yet, on the Seder night, there is a separate mitzvah to recount Yetziat Mitzrayim, and its objective is to implant emunah within us.
Effective chinuch involves a combination of actions and stories. If a father wants to impart our nation’s history to his son, he must do more than perform all of the Seder’s familiar actions, such as: eating matzah to remember the bread of affliction eaten by our forefathers; consuming maror to symbolize bitterness; and every other activity which brings our nation’s chronicles to life. All these activities must be accompanied by a long and detailed explanation.
We read in the Haggadah:
“Blessed is the Makom Baruch Hu; blessed is the One Who gave the Torah to his people Israel. Concerning four sons does the Torah speak.”
How are the two parts of this passage connected? Also, would it not have been more appropriate to sing the opening statement on Shavuot as a joyful praise to HaKadosh Baruch Hu for giving us the Torah and for thereby selecting us from among the nations?
The “four sons” represent the four types of children prevalent among the Jewish people. Each one requires personalized instruction and an individualized approach. There is no single style of education. Rather:
“Train the youth according to his way.” (Mishlei 22:6)
The Torah provides a solution for each son, and therefore, “blessed is the Makom Baruch Hu.” In other words, we are praising HaKadosh Baruch Hu for giving “the Torah to his people Israel,” because the Torah contains different educational approaches and solutions for each child. Thus, “tell your son” specifically on Pesach, because Pesach is the basis of our emunah as the Jewish people. Am Yisrael left Egypt in order to receive the Torah, which is the basis of our existence as a nation. And therefore, at the Seder, using his or her own words, each and every Jew must “tell your son on that day, saying, ‘because of this, Hashem acted on my behalf.’”
Jewish educators, historians, and those familiar with our heritage must recount the history of our people. A nation which does not know its past cannot live in the present while dreaming of its future. We must internalize the idea that the enslavement in Egypt was the first galut (exile) which was then followed by additional galuyot. Furthermore, we must ponder the significance of being separated from our Jewish homeland during two thousand years.
Wherever they find themselves, the heads and members of the Torah MiTzion kollels contribute significantly to Jewish and Zionist education in Jewish communities throughout the Diaspora. When it comes to chinuch, we must enlist all of our assets and abilities in order to find ways to strengthen the children of Israel in the spirit of our tradition and heritage.
Best wishes for a chag kasher v’sameach to all of Am Yisrael.
Rav Yechiel Wasserman is the head of the Center for Religious Affairs in the Diaspora, in the World Zionist Organization and Torah MiTzion is very grateful for the Department’s ongoing support.