Parashas Bo

The account of the four sons and how the father should interact with them is a familiar segment of the Pesach Haggadah. This week’s parashah describes the interaction with three of the sons:
1. The wicked son asks (Shemos 12:26): “What is this service to you (לכם)?” And the Torah tells us to say (ibid. 12:27): “It is a Pesach offering unto Hashem, who passed over the houses of the Children of Yisrael in Egypt ….”
2. The simple son asks (ibid. 13:14): “What is this?” And the Torah tells us to say: “With a strong hand Hashem took us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage.”
3. To the son who does not know how ask, the Torah tells us to say (ibid. 13:8): “It is on account of this that Hashem took action for me when I went out from Egypt.”
However, in the Haggadah’s account of how to answer the wicked son, the Haggadah does not present the answer the Torah tells us to give him, but instead presents the explanation that the Torah tells us to give to the son who does not know how to ask, interpreting it as speaking of Hashem’s taking action “for me and not for him.” The commentators have grappled with the question of why the Haggadah presents an answer different from the one the Torah gives. An additional question can be posed about the wise son’s query (Devarim 6:20): “What are the testimonial laws and the statutes and the ordinances that Hashem our God commanded to you (אתכם)?” Here, the wise son, just like the wicked son, uses the phrase “to you” rather than “to us.” We can thus ask why we do not relate to him in a similar way, speaking of Hashem’s taking action “for me but not for him.” Why is it that the wicked son’s לכם prompts a rebuke but the wise son’s אתכם does not? The Maggid answers that, when the Sages instructed us to answer the question “What is this service to you (לכם)?” with a rebuke, they were not basing this instruction on the use of the term לכם, but instead were basing it on a more compelling consideration. The Maggid then proceeds to explain the matter.
He brings out the point with an analogy. Suppose a person goes to a neighbor’s house and sees his servant doing something that looks strange, such as boring holes in the walls. If the visitor is a man of understanding, he will realize that the servant is surely not doing what he was doing on his own volition, but rather is acting according to his master’s orders. He will thus ask the servant: “Please tell me, my friend, why did your master tell you to do this?” If the visitor is a fool, on the other hand, he will misguidedly assume that the servant was operating on his own accord. And so he will gruffly ask him: “Why are you doing this work?”
The respective questions of the wise son and the wicked son, the Maggid says, follow a similar pattern. When this wise son asks his question, the way he phrases it shows clearly that he realizes that his father is doing what he is doing because Hashem ordered him to do so (with the wise son implicitly acknowledging that, since he is also Hashem’s servant, it is incumbent on him to do the same), and he is asking his father if he knows the reason behind the order. Accordingly, the father answers him by explaining the reason behind the Pesach service (“We were slaves in Egypt, and Hashem took us out of Egypt with a strong hand ….” [Devarim 6:21-25]). The way the wicked son phrases his question, by contrast, reflects that the fact that he does not bear in mind that we are Hashem’s servants, obliged to act according to His bidding. He wonders why his father is doing things that seem so strange. And so he asks: “What purpose do these actions serve for you?” He is indicating by his question that he does not see himself as obliged to do what his father is doing, for he regards it as an unnecessary and senseless machination.
The Sages therefore tell the father to answer in a reproving way, saying that “it is on account of this that Hashem took action for me when I went out from Egypt” – for me and not for you. It is true that this answer uses the formula that the Torah designated for speaking with the son who does not know how to ask. Nonetheless, it is a fitting answer to the wicked son, because of its allusion to Hashem’s taking action “for me and not for you.” The Sages aptly tell us to blunt the wicked son’s teeth with this answer, and tell him that if he had been in Egypt he would not have been saved – due to his misguided views, he would have wallowed in Egypt in everlasting disgrace. The father should not hesitate to quarrel with him and tell him straight out where he stands, to keep him from behaving with such insolence in the future.
In this vein, David HaMelech declares (Tehillim 139:21-22): “For indeed, those who hate You, Hashem, I hate, and I quarrel with those who rise up against You. With the utmost hatred I hate them – they have become enemies unto me.” It befits a man of wisdom, when he meets a person who is wicked, crooked, and perverted, to hate this person. Thus it is written (ibid. 97:10): “O you who love Hashem: Hate evil.” At the same time, he should not quarrel with him, for no purpose is served in doing so. Indeed, David tells us elsewhere (ibid. 37:1): “Do not contend with evildoers.” A different approach should be followed, however, with an all-out heretic who seeks with suave words to entrap his fellow men. When you meet such a person, it is not enough for you to hate him in your heart. You must quarrel with him to the point that he likewise hates you.
The Maggid brings out the point with a parable. There was a man who was extremely good-hearted and acted nicely toward everyone; he never got angry, not even with those who hated him. Once a thief came to his house, and he quarreled with him vigorously. People asked him: “What is different today that you show such anger toward this scoundrel? We never saw you get angry like this.” The man replied: “It always was enough for me to hate wicked people in my heart; I never felt a need to quarrel with them. It is different, though, with this thief. I have to protect myself so that he will not steal anything from me. So I have to quarrel vigorously with him to the point where he hates me and wants nothing to do with me, and loathes coming to my house.”
David’s declaration is along these lines. David hates those who hate Hashem, but he keeps his hate concealed in his heart. But with people who rise up against Hashem – heretics who seek to turn others away from revering and serving Him – David openly quarrels, hating them with the utmost hatred and treating them like enemies, to the point where they likewise hate him.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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