The Four Parshiot and the Four Children

Dr. Meir Ben-Yitzhak, Bar Illan School of Education

The Sages established the formulation of the Haggadah and the rules of the Seder

evening as an educational array to strengthen faith through an unparalleled family

experience celebrated in Jewish homes.  In the spirit of the vacations taken during this

holiday, I might define the special characteristics of the Seder as the  “4 X 4 Israel Trail”

– four cups of wine, four questions, four sons and four (or five) expressions of

Redemption.  It is important to note, however, that this route does not begin on the

Seder eve, nor does it end there.

The Sages established a preparatory routine of four special Torah readings, leading up

to Passover.  The order of these readings points to four essential stages in building the

Jewish people:

1)  Parashat Shekalim, symbolizing belonging and mutual responsibility as a

precondition to establishing the nation.

2)  Parashat Zakhor, symbolizing trust in G?d defending us against outside foes who

threaten our survival.

3)  Parashat Parah, teaching us about the need to differentiate between the ritually

clean and ritually unclean in the life of the people as a precondition for a proper society.

4)   Parashat ha-Hodesh, symbolizing the destiny of the Jewish people – to uphold

the Torah and its commandments.

The four special Torah readings can also be viewed as a detailed didactic response to

the four sons mentioned in the Haggadah:

1)  What does the wicked son say?  “What is this worship of yours?”  Yours, not his.

This son does not see himself as belonging.  Parashat Shekalim is the answer to the

wicked son, for the half-shekel paid by every Jew completes that of his fellow.  Thus,

through this commandment we are taught the fundamental value of mutual responsibility

and belonging to the Jewish people.

2)  He who does not know to ask – you begin to tell him.  This son does not understand

why he must belong to the Jewish people, so acquainted with grief.  So how shall we

begin to explain?  Begin with Parashat Zakhor, which teaches us to have faith and trust

in G?d, who delivers us from our enemies that have risen up against us in every

generation in an effort to annihilate us, since the time of Amalek in the wilderness,

through Purim, until this very day.

3)  What does the simple son say?  “What is this?”  This son does not understand the

need for the commandments in the context of his life.  Parashat Parah teaches Jews

about an important principle:  to distinguish between the ritually clean and the ritually

unclean precisely when they are intermingled in the daily life of each of us, and in

general to observe the commandments even if the reasons behind them are not at all

clear to us, as typified by the ritual of the Red Heifer.

4)  What does the wise son say?  “What mean the decrees, laws, and rules that the

Lord our G?d has enjoined?  The wise son knows to distinguish between laws and rules

and takes an interest in the details of the commandments.  The answer to his question

is Parashat ha-Hodesh, symbolizing precise detailing of the commandments which

relate to the Passover sacrifice, matzah and hametz.  This son is on a level where he

can accept the burden of performing the commandments without question. 

Let us pray that this “Israel Trail” lead us to a rebuilt Jerusalem, speedily in our day. 

haggadah Section: -- Four Children
Source: Foundation For Family Education, Inc.