Orthodox Judaism/The wicked son's question
Why does the Haggadah attribute to the wicked so the question "what mean you by this service?" When it is the wisest of questions and indeed should be the question we all ask and continually re-ask about our form of spirituality. Indeed it is the quintessential question. Thank you kindly in advance
Hi Joel, and thank you for your question.
Let's first revisit the liturgy.
The Torah refers to four sons: One wise, one wicked, one simple and one who does not know how to ask a question. What does the wise son say? "What are the testimonials, statutes and laws Hashem our G-d commanded you?" You should tell him about the laws of Pesach, that one may eat no dessert after eating the Pesach offering.
What does the wicked son say? "What does this service mean to you?" To you and not to him. Since he excludes himself from the community, he has denied a basic principle of Judaism. You should blunt his teeth by saying to him: "It is for the sake of this that Hashem did for me when I left Egypt. For me and not for him. If he was there he would not have been redeemed."
What does the simple son say? "What's this?" You should say to him "With a strong hand Hashem took me out of Egypt, from the house of servitude."
And the one who does not know how to ask, you start for him, as the Torah says: "And you should tell your son on that day, saying 'It is for the sake of this that Hashem did for me when I left Egypt.'"
So, I'd like to point your attention to the fact that the question of the wise son is exactly the same as the question of the wicked son. Right?
And you're absolutely right; this is the quintessential question everyone should ask repeatedly.
When I was just starting out my corporate career, I was (and to some extent will always remain) what they would call "a hothead". Many times, while my comments were founded in fact and had quite a bit of substance behind them, I made them in a harsh, accusatory way that made the folks in the room feel apprehensive. With my tone or with the delivery of my comments, I often was perceived as disregarding my co-workers' experiences, knowledge, and abilities, as well as their genuine desire to have a cohesive team that can produce great value. I was perceived as someone argumentative, lacking respect, regardless of my smarts and education. As a result, I often lost the arguments (and promotions) I should have won had they only been fought on substance... alas, form matters as much if not more.
By how he forms his question, the wicked son shows his disdain and disrespect not just for the Passover seder, but for the ordeal that led up to it. "What's this drudgery to you?" he asks, and in this question it becomes apparent that he sees himself as disconnected from his roots, from his traditions, from his past - everything that the Passover Seder is constructed to preserve and cherish. For that reason, he is admonished, while the first son, who asks the same exact question, envelops it in a form that demonstrates his respect. "HaShem our G-d" he says, showing that he is a part of the tradition. Same question, same substance, the only difference is the delivery.
Hope that helps.