The following selections are from the popular haggadah
Arzei Halevonon that brings together divrei Torah from
Torah giants of modern times, as selected by the compiler.
The Wicked Son -- What Does He Say?
HaRav Moshe Feinstein noted that when the Torah records three
of the four sons' questions they are described in the
singular: "When your son will ask you," "You shall tell your
son." But when it comes to the wicked son's question, the
Torah uses the plural: "When your children will say to you."
This, Rav Moshe explained, alludes to the fact that when a
wicked person airs his antagonistic views towards his
culture, he usually assembles a group of other misfits around
him to make a greater impression on his audience and to
increase his sphere of influence. The fact that the wicked
son is a rabble-rouser makes him particularly dangerous, and
this is why the Haggadah cautions us to put a halt to his
demagoguery by "blunting his teeth."
It Is Because Of This That Hashem Did So For Me When I
Went Out Of Egypt
As the Haggadah soon explains, the meaning of "because of
this" is that G-d took us out of Egypt in order to eat these
foods -- matzah, morror and the pesach offering
-- and to perform all the other mitzvos of the Torah (see
Rashi to Shemos 13:8). Rav Moshe Feinstein noted that
it seems rather odd that this is the answer given to the
child who is unable to ask questions. That child presumably
knows absolutely nothing about the Exodus, being totally
ignorant of his heritage. Why, then, does the Torah stress
for this son the mitzvos of eating the three Seder
foods and their relevance to the importance of the Exodus --
instead of, perhaps, something along the lines of the answer
given by the Torah for the simple son in Shemos 13:14-
Rav Moshe concluded from this that the son "who does not know
how to ask" is not an ignorant man, or an assimilated,
uneducated Jew. Rather, he is a man who is quite familiar
with the rituals of Judaism and performs them faithfully.
However, he does so out of habit and conditioning; he does
not know why the mitzvos are important, nor does he care. He
does not lack the intellect to ask, but the interest to ask.
For this son the Torah's response is indeed quite fitting:
"You open up the conversation with him," explaining the
profound significance of the mitzvos which he regards with
such indifference. Let him know that it is because of the
mitzvos that G-d took us out of Egypt altogether.
Holidays for Rejoicing
The Torah does not specifically call for rejoicing on Pesach
as it does for Succos (Devorim 16:14) and Shavuos
(ibid., 16:11); this requirement has to be derived
indirectly, exegetically. Rav Moshe Feinstein explained that
the reason for this is that it goes without saying that
Pesach, the holiday on which our liberation from bondage and
our foundation as a nation are celebrated, calls for great
rejoicing; the Torah therefore did not have to mention this
Similarly, Pesach is the only one of the three Festivals in
which the concept of sharing our bounty with "the Levi, the
stranger, the orphan, and the widow" is not mentioned. Here
too, Rav Moshe explained, the Torah felt it obvious that
during Pesach, when we recall that "we were once slaves to
Pharaoh in Egypt" and that all that we now have has come to
us only through the grace of G- d, should be a time when the
less fortunate members of society should be called upon to
share in our rejoicing.
Therefore It Is Our Duty To Thank...
According to the Rambam, there is no obligation (from the
Torah) to pray on a regular basis. Rav Aharon Kotler pointed
out, however, that indeed there is no need for the Torah to
impose an obligation upon us in this regard. The psalmist
compares man's relationship to G-d to that of a small child
to its mother (Tehillim 131:2). Just as the child does
not need to be instructed to call out to his mother when he
wants something, because he naturally senses his dependency
on her, so too, we do not need to be given a formal
obligation to call out to G-d to fulfill our needs, if we
would only recognize that He is the only One Who can grant
those needs. Man is completely dependent upon G-d's grace for
every moment of his life; the continual functioning of the
intricacies of his physical body as well as the survival of
his soul from day to day are nothing short of miraculous, as
we say in the daily prayers, "We thank You . . . for our
souls which are in Your charge, and for your miracles that
are with us every day." Our reliance on G-d for our daily
existence is in fact much more extensive than that of a child
on its mother; as the Midrash puts it, "For every
breath one takes he owes thanks to Hashem." Thus, it should
be only natural for us to turn to G-d to seek fulfillment of
our needs; there is no need for this search to be mandated by
the Torah. On the contrary, it is considered reprehensible to
pray out of the mere sense of obligation, as we are taught in
Pirkei Ovos (2:18): "Do not make your prayers into a
routine, mechanical habit, but rather a genuine appeal for
mercy and a supplication before G- d."
G-d Chastened Me Exceedingly But He Did Not Let Me
No matter how severely a human being may suffer, the Psalmist
tells us that he still has something to be thankful for; his
situation, desperate as it may be, is better than death.
HaRav Chaim Shmulevitz illustrated this principle by citing a
Midrash about a council called by Pharaoh, which he
convened to advise him how to combat "the Jewish problem."
There were three people who were called upon to discuss the
issue, the Midrash tells us: Bilam, who conceived and
suggested the scheme to murder all the male Jewish newborns;
Yisro, who fled rather than be involved in the evil
conspiracy; and Iyov, who remained silent throughout the
proceedings, neither protesting nor endorsing the proposal.
All three received their appropriate "rewards" for their
behavior, the Midrash continues: Bilam was slain by
the sword, Yisro merited to have illustrious Torah scholars
among his descendants, and Iyov was punished with the
harshest sufferings known to mankind.
Surely Bilam, who originated the murderous proposal deserved
a greater punishment than Iyov, who was silent. Yet Bilam met
his death through the blow of a sword, quickly and relatively
painlessly, while Iyov's suffering was so intense that it has
become proverbial. It is evident, therefore, that even the
most formidable pain and suffering imaginable should be
considered as better than losing one's life. This is so,
explained Rav Chaim, because as long as a person is alive --
no matter what the circumstances -- he is capable of making
decisions and thus doing mitzvos, further elevating himself
spiritually, an accomplishment that is impossible once life
has ended. "Better one hour of repentance and good deeds in
this world than the entire life of the World to Come"
(Pirkei Ovos 4:22).
The thought is further borne out in a verse in Eichah
(3:39): "What can a living man complain about?" Rashi
explains: "How can a person complain abut whatever events may
occur to him, in view of the kindness I have shown him in
granting him life?" All the calamities of life pale in
comparison to the gift of life.
HaRav Chaim also noted that the patriarch Yaakov was punished
for not taking this lesson to heart. When Pharaoh asked him
how old he was, he took the opportunity to voice his
complaints about life to the monarch: "Few and evil were the
days of my life . . . " (Bereishis 47:8-9). The
Midrash says that Yaakov was punished for this
statement by having thirty-seven years shorn away from his
life span. It is true that he had to bear many hardships in
life -- fleeing from his spiteful brother into exile for over
three decades, living with his hostile, conniving father- in-
law for over twenty years, having his most beloved son taken
away from him for twenty-two years etc. But he should have
appreciated the fact that he had been granted life altogether
rather than insinuating that his life had not been worth
living. For this lack of sensitivity, the Midrash
teaches us, he was punished, measure for measure, with a
diminishment of the years of his life.