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The Four Sons: A Lesson for Parents and Teachers

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Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner, ztl, explains that there are two basic methods through which the mitzvah of Sipur Yetziat Mitzrayim may be accomplished. The first is simply through telling, relat­ing and sharing the story of Egypt. The second involves a give and take between the storyteller and the listener. These two modes are unrelated and are not necessarily dependent on each other. One can tell a story without being prompted or asked, just as one would respond to a searching and curious individual.

The Haggadah proclaims that “concerning four sons did the Torah speak, a wise one, a wicked one, a simple one, and one who is unable to ask.” It never limits us to a single method of answer or communication. That very open-endedness invites us to find ways to communicate, to share and inspire the miraculous content of our redemption with all four sons.

For the wise and simple, parents and teachers have the opportunity to be not merely maggid but also respond to their personal inquiries and curiosi­ties and most importantly, to provoke and prod and inspire.

Rabbi Hutner’s lesson is that there are many ways to share and teach the ideas, ideals and concepts that must be and deserve to be communicated at Pesach. So to the wicked and the one unable to ask, we simply lay it out there. We tell it as it is, without anticipation of follow-up questions and reactions.

It is our task to discover the appropriate method for the respective student. At our Seder tables, we too often fear our rasha child will “infect” our other children; that our off the derech child will somehow draw our chacham son away. But the opposite is often true – the love and respect we show our OTD child demonstrates the power of our love and respect to our other children, even as it keeps them close to the fold, always knowing they belong with us and to us.

As parents and teachers, we are obligated to teach. But in order to truly fulfill our responsibility, we must embrace the truth that every Jew has a right to learn and to be respected. To be successful, each individual Jew deserves an individual answer – one that can be found if we only take the time to discover the individual merit.

About the Author: Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran is an educator, author and lecturer. He can be reached at e1948s@aol.com.


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