Rabbi Dovid Saks
(Passover 5774) Pesach!
In the Hagadah during the Seder the questions of four different sons
The wise son asks, “What are all these testimonies, statutes and laws that G-d Almighty has commanded?”
Rabbi Nisan Alpert o.b.m. wonders why he is asking this question specifically on Passover. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to ask this on the holiday of Shavuos when the Torah and its laws were given?
Also, the answer the Torah gives, “We were slaves to Pharoh in Egypt and G-d took us out with an outstretched arm with great miracles,” doesn’t seem to adequately answer the questions.
Rabbi Alpert offers the following novel and significant approach.
The Chochom / wise son’s question stems from his understanding that serving G-d out of love is more favorable than serving Him out of reverence. He asks, “Why do we need to be mandated and required to fulfill all the testimonies, statutes and laws of the Torah? Why wasn’t the Torah set up in a way that we are to study the Torah and then of our own volition and through our personal commitment and devotion perform Mitzvos and serve G-d out of love?
The Chochom does not mean to comply with the adage, ‘I am deeply devoted to G-d and I will serve him the way I see fit,’ for the Chochom / wise son of the Hagadah is not wise due to his secular wisdom. Rather, his wisdom comes from his vast Torah scholarship and deep devotion to the Almighty. He isn’t looking for shortcuts or to lessen his observance; rather he wants to observe everything in the Torah through his own choice of love of the Almighty instead of through a command.
Truth be told, this is how our forefather Avraham served the Almighty. He wasn’t commanded to do so. He figured out the Mitzvos and fulfilled them out of love and devotion to G-d, and G-d actually called him, “Avraham my beloved.”
To this question, the Hagadah answers, “Yes, this mode of relationship based on love of serving the Almighty worked and was the mode of service for our forefathers Avraham, Yitzchok, Yaacov and the twelve tribes. However, when their descendants became slaves to Pharoh in Egypt and became integrated into Egyptian society they couldn’t and didn’t serve G-d in this capacity. They actually found it impossible to serve G-d this way and slowly blended and became absorbed into Egyptian culture to the point that if G-d would not have freed the Jews at that specific time of redemption, the Jews would have sunk to the lowest levels of spirituality and would not have been worthy of redemption.
In order for the Jews to be worthy of redemption, G-d commanded them with laws for the first time! They were commanded to sacrifice the Pascal lamb, apply the blood to the inner door frame of their homes, roast the lamb and eat it later that night with Matzah and Morror.
These laws gave them a structure to personally and collectively serve the Almighty and through fulfilling them they became meritorious for redemption.
As the Jews became a nation during their redemption from Egypt, the laws they were given became their national constitution and mandate – for this was the only way to have a unified people, having a common purpose.
From the point of the Redemption on, serving G-d based on personal feelings of love ended. From then on we were first mandated and commanded how to serve the Almighty. Only after fulfilling and appreciating the testimonies, statutes and laws of the Torah can one gradually raise his level until he fulfills the Torah and it’s Mitzvos with love, devotion and admiration of the Almighty!
Each year we sit down at the Seder with family and friends and we recharge ourselves with the basics of our belief in the Almighty and His intervention on our behalf.
We should also appreciate the value of the word Seder. Seder means order. Passover is the time when G-d began giving us directives. The Mitzva structure actually serves to give us Seder – order within the everyday grind of our busy lives.
Wishing you a restful, peaceful and inspirational Shabbos and Pesach!
Rabbi Dovid Saks