The Four Sons: Wise, Wicked, Simple, and Secular

With which of the Four Sons in the Passover Haggadah do you identify?

D. Thomas Lancaster

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The Passover Haggadah that we read at the Passover Seder has a section called “The Four Sons.” It says, “The Torah speaks regarding four sons. One is wise, one is wicked, one is simple, and one does not know what to ask.” Who are these four sons? From where do they come?

The idea behind the Four Sons comes from the four times the Torah says that your children will ask you about the meaning of the Passover ceremony. The rituals of Passover are supposed to inspire curiosity. The Haggadah detected slight differences in the way that the son poses the question in the four passages, and it imagined that the Torah was hinting about four different types of people. With which of the four sons do you most identify? How would you share the good news of the kingdom with each of these four types of people?

The Wise Son

The Wise Son asks, “What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the LORD our God has commanded you?” (Deuteronomy 6:20). This child wants to know about his faith, and he is serious about his religion. He is a learner. He wants to understand the ceremony because he wants to participate. The Haggadah recommends stuffing his head full of Torah.

The Wicked Son

The Wicked Son asks, “What does this ceremony mean to you?” (Exodus 12:26). What makes this son so wicked? It seems like he asked a fair question. The Haggadah explains that he should have included himself in the question; he should have asked, “What does this ceremony mean to us.” By saying “to you” instead of “to us,” it’s like he was saying, “Dad, it’s your religion, not mine!” The Wicked Son regards himself primarily as an individual—not part of the tribe or family. He believes he is too cool or too smart or too sophisticated for religion. The world is about him and his personal interests.

The Simple Son

The Simple Son asks, “What is this?” (Exodus 13:14). He neither includes himself nor excludes himself; he is simply curious, wide-eyed and wondering. He is the seeker. He has not yet formed any conclusions, but like the wise son, he remains teachable and eager to learn. The Haggadah does not recommend stuffing his head as it did with the Wise Son, but, instead, we should gently lead him through the story, step-by-step: “By a strong hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery …” (Exodus 13:14).

The One Who Does Not Know What to Ask

The fourth son is unable to even pose a question. He’s clueless about Passover and clueless about God. This is where most people are at with HaShem. They are not asking at all because they don't know that they should be asking. The fourth son’s situation is sorrier than that of the wicked son. The wicked son made an educated choice—the wrong choice—but at least he knew there was a choice to be made. This other one doesn’t even know that much.

In this case, the Haggadah recommends, “You must begin the telling yourself.” We need to initiate the conversation about faith, God, and Messiah because the average person today does not know enough to realize what he does not know.

This Passover, look for opportunities to “begin the telling yourself.” Look for opportunities to inspire curiosity and share your faith with others. And resolve to be the wise son or daughter at the Passover table of our Master Yeshua.

About the Author

D. Thomas Lancaster is Director of Education at First Fruits of Zion, the author of the Torah Club programs and several books and study programs. He is also the pastor of Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, WI.

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