Teach Him Like the Laws of Pesach
חָכָם מָה הוּא אוֹמֵר?
מַה הָעֵדוֹת וְהַחֻקִּים וְהַמִשְׁפָּטִים אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה׳ אֱ-לֹקינוּ אֶתְכֶם?
וְאַף אַתָּה אֱמָר לוֹ כְּהִלְכוֹת הַפֶּסַח: אֵין מַפְטִירִין אַחַר הַפֶּסַח אֲפִיקוֹמָן.
The wise [son], what does he say? “What are the testimonial rites, the dictates and the laws which Hashem our G-d commanded you?”
And even you tell him like the laws of the Passover [offering]. We do not conclude after the Passover [lamb], a dessert.
This is the last of the thoughts that have been lagging since they crossed my mind during my sedarim. And it’s all about one letter, the kaf of “kehilkhos“. “Like the laws of the Pesach”. Why are we teaching him “like the laws”, rather than the laws themselves?
Later we tell the story of the all-night seder in Benei Beraq:
מַעֲשֶׂה בְּרַבִּי אֱלִיעֶזֶר וְרַבִּי יְהוֹשֻעַ וְרַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן עֲזַרְיָה וְרַבְּי עֲקִיבָא וְרַבִּי טַרְפוֹן, שֶהָיוּ מְסֻבִּין בִּבְנֵי בְרַק, וְהָיוּ מְסַפְּרִים בִּיצִיאַת מִצְרַיִם כָּל אוֹתוֹ הַלַּיְלָה עַד שֶׁבָּאוּ תַלְמִידֵיהֶם וְאָמְרוּ לָהֶם: רַבּוֹתֵינוּ, הִגִּיעַ זְמַן קְרִיאַת שְׁמַע שֶׁל שַׁחֲרִית.
There was an event with Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah and Rabbi Aqiva were reclining [at a seder] in Beneiq Beraq, and they were telling about the exodus from Egypt that entire night. Until their students came and said to them: Our rabbis! It has come time to read the morning Shema!
Omitted is a similar story of Rabban Gamliel’s all-night seder in that same generation. This is the last Tosafta (10:8) of tractate Pesachim:
אין מפטירין אחר הפסח [אפיקומן] כגון [אגוזים] תמרים [וקליות].חייב אדם [לעסוק בהלכות הפסח] כל הלילה — אפילו בינו לבין בנו, אפילו בינו לבין עצמו, אפילו בינו לבין תלמידו.מעשה ברבן גמליאל וזקנים, שהיו מסובין בבית ביתוס בן זונין בלוד, והיו [עסוקין בהלכות הפסח] כל הלילה עד קרות הגבר, הגביהו מלפניהם ונועדו, והלכו [להן] לבית המדרש.איזו היא ברכת הפסח? “ברוך … אשר קדשנו במצותיו, וצונו לאכול הפסח.”איזו ברכת הזבח? “ברוך… אשר קדשנו במצותיו וצונו לאכול הזבח.”
We do not conclude after the Pascal offering a dessert, such as nuts, dates, and candies.
A person is obligated to busy himself [studying] the laws of the Pesach that entire night. Even if [only] between him and his child, even between him and himself, even between him and himself, even between him and his student.
An event with Rabban Gamliel and the elders , that they were reclining [at their seder] in the house of Boethus ben Zunin in Lod, and they were busy with the laws of the Pesach that whole night until the rooster crowed. They removed [the seder table] from before them and left, and went to the beis hamedrash.
The core of the Sanhedrin — its head, Rabban Gamliel, and the elders — made a seder about the laws of the qorban Pesach in Lod. This actually fits what we already know about Rabban Gamliel’s understanding of the seder, also from the Haggadah:
רַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵל הָיָה אוֹמֵר:כָּל שֶׁלֹּא אָמַר שְׁלשָׁה דְּבָרִים אֵלּוּ בַּפֶּסַח, לֹא יָצָא יְדֵי חוֹבָתוֹ, וְאֵלוּ הֵן: פֶּסַח, מַצָה, וּמָרוֹר.
Rabban Gamliel would [often] say: Whomever doesn’t talk [about these] three things on Pessover, did not fulfill the obligation. They are: the Pesach offering, matzah, and maror.
To Rabban Gamliel, the seder revolves around the mitzvos of the night.
This is in contrast to what we discussed in the prior entry about Rabbi Aqiva, being the rabbi of Benei Beraq he was the host of the other seder, one which some of the members of the Sanhedrin made on their own. (Perhaps it was even the same year? A poetic thought, one we would like to be true, but we really can’t know.) But we saw how Rabbi Aqiva and another attendee, Rabbi Eliezer, focused more on the narrative. As we discussed in the prior blog entry, they counted exactly how many ways Hashem punished the Egyptians.
That is the seder we retell every year.
What do we tell the wise son? This son is fascinated with the laws of Pesach. (He is the proverbial Litvak.) He runs the risk of becoming the person who times each shofar blast with the second hand on his watch, making sure the teqiah is long enough to match the shevarim-teru’ah that preceeded it. And in the meantime, doesn’t hear the call of the shofar in the depths of his soul. In pursuit of a stringency, his loses the entire message.
We do not teach him the laws of Passover until the very last one about not eating afterward. We teach him to be more like that law. We are supposed to go to bed with the taste of the mitzvah in our mouths. Yes, in his discussion of the three mitzvos of the night, even Rabbi Gamliel relates each to the story of the Exodus. But it is Rabbi Aqiva explicitly telling the story of the seder that we repeat as an example.
רַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵל הָיָה אוֹמֵר:כָּל שֶׁלֹּא אָמַר שְׁלשָׁה דְּבָרִים אֵלּוּ בַּפֶּסַח, לֹא יָצָא יְדֵי חוֹבָתוֹ, וְאֵלוּ הֵן:
פֶּסַח, מַצָה, וּמָרוֹר.