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 Hei Lachma Anya The Fifth Cup of Wine

The Wise Son

The wise [son]: what does he say?... you should reply to him, [teaching him] the laws of pesach: one may not eat any dessert after the paschal sacrifice.

The question asked by the wise son, and the answer given him has aroused the attention of the commentaries of the Haggadah.

Among the questions they ask are: Why of all the laws of Pesach does the Haggadah mention the law: "One may not eat any dessert after the Paschal sacrifice"?

The wise son desires to know all the laws relevant to Pesach, "the testimonies, statutes, and laws." As such, the answer to him should involve many laws of the Seder, not only one law, and the last law at that, one which describes our conduct after partaking of the Paschal sacrifice.

Also, the wise son's question: "What are the testimonies, statutes, and laws?" is problematic.

Since he is "the wise son," seemingly, he should know the Torah's laws. And if so, what is the intent of his question?

The above questions must be considered in light of the general principle that the exposition of the Haggadah follows a pattern of questions and answers. [37]

Thus when a man does not have any children, his wife must ask him the four questions, and if he is unmarried, he must ask the questions himself. [38]

In this light, we can understand the questions asked by the wise son. He knows the answers, and yet, he must ask, because that is the pattern of the Seder night.

The Torah has structured the pattern of questions and answers in four categories of sons, and it is apparent that the highest category among these is the wise son.

Thus his question "What are the statutes...?" represents the most elevated form of question. This is particularly true in light of the interpretation of the AriZal [39] that the four sons parallel the four realms of Atzilus, Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah. [40]

The wise son thus parallels the realm of Atzilus, and thus his questions must surely be the most elevated types of questions possible.

This surely reinforces the queries mentioned above and indeed, raises others: What is the wisdom and the depth of the wise son's question: "What are the statutes... which G-d our L-rd commanded you"? Seemingly, the same question could have been asked by someone who has far less Torah knowledge. How is the answer "One may not eat any dessert...." a reflection of the depth of understanding necessary to answer the wise son's questions?

Indeed, that answer is explicitly mentioned in the mishnah [41] - and it is stated, "at ten, one begins study of the Mishnah." [42]

As such, anyone who has studied the Mishnah, not only the wise son, knows this law.

A Commitment that Transcends All Distinctions

As mentioned previously, the wise son parallels the realm of Atzilus which is characterized by an all-encompassing sense of bittul, utter selflessness.

This is the influence of the attribute of Chochmah, koach mah, which is revealed in the realm of Atzilus. Thus a person who is characterized by bittul is called a chacham, "wise."

When a person has no self-consciousness and is totally given over to G-d, the observance of all the mitzvos is inspired by the same degree of commitment.

When a person is concerned with himself, then there is a difference between his approach to the various types of mitzvos.

When he understands the reasons motivating a mitzvah, he will observe them with more satisfaction than those mitzvos which must be observed because of kabbalas ol, the acceptance of G-d's yoke.

Such a person can appreciate the division of mitzvos into three categories:

  1. chukim, "statutes which I have ordained, decrees which I have issued," [43] which we keep even though we do not understand the motivating factors;
  2. eidus, mitzvos which possess a rationale that we can appreciate. Although we would not have instituted these mitzvos on our own initiative, once the Torah has commanded us with regard to them, we appreciate their significance; and
  3. mishpatim, mitzvos which our understanding mandates, as our Sages said: [44] "If - Heaven forbid - the Torah had not been given, we would have learned modesty from a cat, and [the prohibition against] theft from an ant."

When, however, a person's approach is characterized by the all- encompassing bittul which stems from Chochmah - the level of Atzilus - the distinctions between the mitzvos make no difference to him. He fulfills all the mitzvos because G-d commanded him to.

Moreover, he derives satisfaction from the observance of all the mitzvos, even from the observance from those mitzvos which he does not understand.

Indeed, it is those mitzvos which offer him the most complete satisfaction, for he knows that this is G-d's will, as the well- known adage goes, [45] "Even if we were commanded to hew wood...." For were we to have been commanded to do so, we would experience the same pleasure chopping wood as fulfilling a mitzvah like tefillin.

This is the core of the wise son's question:

"What are the testimonies, statutes, and laws...?" Why must the mitzvos be divided into different categories?

The utter bittul of chochmah does not appreciate such distinctions. For all of the mitzvos share a basic commonality; they are all the fulfillment of G-d's will.

Moreover, the wise son's question can be interpreted as querying not only why the eidus and the mishpatim are different from the chukim, but as referring to the chukim themselves as well. For the all encompassing bittul of chochmah goes beyond even the scope of the chukim.

With regard to the chukim, it is said: [43] "They are statutes which I have ordained, decrees which I have issued; you have no permission to question [their observance]."

This implies that the person feels a certain dimension of self- concern. Although he is forsworn not to question and to persevere with kabbalas ol, the very fact that he must be given such a directive indicates that his personal identity has not been sublimated entirely.

When, by contrast, a person is characterized by an all- encompassing sense of bittul, and nothing besides his Master is of concern, he need not be given such a warning.

Just as it is unnecessary to warn the Commander not to question His command, so too, such a subject will not question.

His approach is above that of chukim; kabbalas ol is below his level.

For kabbalas ol implies that one is subjugating one's nature on the basis of a higher commitment.

In this instance, the person need not subjugate his nature. On the contrary, his commitment reflects his nature, for he is totally given over to his Master.

On this basis, we can understand the passage beginning: "The wise [son]: What does he say..." The soul of every Jew is essentially pure, on the level of Atzilus. [46] Nevertheless, it has descended through the spiritual realms of Beriah, Yetzirah, and Assiyah until it has become enclothed in a physical body in this world.

The level of the soul which is "pure," [its attribute of chochmah,] asks: "What are the testimonies, statutes, and laws...?" Why must the mitzvos be divided into different categories?

And the question continues "which G-d our L-rd commanded you," i.e., the question is directed towards the created beings of the realms of Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah which are themselves characterized by division and diversity.

In its source, the soul appreciates the observance of the mitzvos on a higher plane, they are all expressions of this all- encompassing bittul.

(On a deeper level, the word mah can be understood as part of the wise son's question.

For Atzilus seeks to rise above its own level, and on the planes above Atzilus even the all-encompassing bittul of mah is inappropriate.

For the expression bittul, self-nullification, implies the existence of an entity which must be nullified, and above Atzilus, the level to which the wise son aspires, there is no conception of individual existence whatsoever. And therefore, even the level of mah is questioned by the wise son, for he wishes to rise above that level as well.)

Where Limitation and Transcendence Meet

The wise son's striving is satisfied by the reply: "One may not eat any dessert after the Paschal sacrifice."

Pesach, the Hebrew term for the Paschal sacrifice, means "leap," jumping from one level to another rather than proceeding in an ordered sequence.

This pattern was reflected in the revelation of G-dliness at the time of the exodus: "the King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, was revealed to them" [47] "in His glory, by Himself." [48]

This is a level above all four spiritual realms.

(These four realms are alluded to in the four expressions: [50] "I and not an angel,... I and not a seraph,... I and not an agent,... I and no other."

Moreover, this revelation was expressed in Egypt, "the nakedness of the land," [49] a city "full of idols." [50] This is a level which is much lower than the realm of Atzilus, the wise son's level; indeed, it is lower than the level of Asiyah, the wicked son's level.

(The wicked son is Jewish, and any Jew, even an utterly wicked man, possesses a soul which rests upon him, at least in an encompassing manner, [51] and his body stems from kelipas nogah.

In contrast, the Egyptians stem from the three utterly impure kelipos. More specifically, we are speaking about idol worship, a sin which is equivalent to the entire Torah. [52]

Obviously, drawing down G-d's essence into a place which is "full of idols" is certainly a leap which surpasses any sequence of ordered progression.

One might think that since a leap is necessary, there is no need for any order whatsoever, for order is the direct opposite of leaping.

For that reason, the Haggadah mentions "the laws of Pesach," indicating that even the Paschal sacrifice which is associated with a leap that exceeds all ordered progression, has its laws, i.e., its pattern of progress.

In this context we can apply our Sages' statement, [53] "Do not read halichos, 'paths,' but rather halachos, 'laws.' For the laws reflect patterns o f progress from above downward, and from below upward. And thus there are many laws regarding the Paschal sacrifice: that it be set aside on the tenth of Nissan, [54] how it must be slaughtered, and how it must be offered and eaten. For G-d's desire is that even those qualities which transcend limitation will be expressed in an ordered manner.

This constitutes the answer to the wise son.

He is taught that it is necessary for the different categories of eidus, chukim, and mishpatim to exist even when one's Divine service is motivated by the essence of the soul which transcends all concepts of division.

For G-d's intent is that this essential level will be expressed in an ordered pattern of service that recognizes the distinctions between eidus, chukim, and mishpatim.

The following reason is given for the law: "One may not eat any dessert after the Paschal sacrifice."

The Paschal sacrifice must be eaten at the conclusion of the meal when satisfied, for this sacrifice must be eaten in an important and pleasing manner. [55] After eating the Paschal sacrifice, no other food should be eaten so that its taste will linger in our mouths.

This combines two seemingly contradictory aspects.

On one hand, one should not partake of the Paschal sacrifice to satisfy one's hunger. Nevertheless, one must enjoy and derive satisfaction from partaking of it.

The explanation of this phenomenon is that the Paschal sacrifice is not to fulfill a lack, but to provide one with an experience of wealth, an affluence that transcends what is required by one's existence, and which is above one's powers. And from this, one should derive pleasure and satisfaction, i.e., one's pleasure and satisfaction should be from an entity which transcends one's existence entirely.

To explain this in terms of the concepts mentioned previously:

The connection between the essence of the soul and the essence of G-d which transcends the conscious powers of the soul, must be drawn down within those powers as well, beginning with the power of intellect.

For that reason, the mitzvos which one observes must include, not only eidus and chukim, but also mishpatim, mitzvos which can be comprehended by mortal intellect.

For the transcendent bond with G-d must be drawn down into the realm of intellect, providing a person with pleasure and satisfaction.

For this reason, one of the fundament services associated with the Paschal sacrifice is eating, [56] i.e., internalizing the drastic spiritual leap achieved though the Paschal sacrifice until it becomes part of one's actual flesh and blood. Moreover, it must provide one with satisfaction, and its flavor should linger in one's mouth.

The Paschal sacrifice which involves a spiritual service which transcends intellectual comprehension must be eaten with pleasure and satisfaction.

Similarly, in the present age, the afikoman which takes the place of the Paschal sacrifice, is matzah, "the bread of faith," [34] a transcendent potential. It must be eaten and internalized within our beings.

(Adapted from Sichos Leil Sheni Shel Chag HaPesach, 5721)


  1. (Back to text) See Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 21, the commentary of the Minchas Chinuch and Haggadas Shevach Pesach. See also the Responsa of the Rosh, Responsum 24, sec. 2, and the maamar entitled Matzah Zu, 5704.

  2. (Back to text) Shulchan Aruch Harav. 473:40.

  3. (Back to text) Pri Eitz Chayim, Shaar 21, ch. 7; Siddur HaArizal.

  4. (Back to text) More particularly, the order is the wise son - Atzilus, the wicked son - Asiyah, the simple son - Beriah, and the son who does not how to ask, Yetzirah. See the discussion of this subject in the sichah for Chag HaPesach, Likkutei Sichos, Vol. I.

  5. (Back to text) Pesachim 119b. Note the comment of Sanhedrin 6b, "When one errs regarding an explicit mishnah, the ruling is nullified," for a law explicitly stated in the Mishnah is expected to be known by all.

  6. (Back to text) Avos, the conclusion of ch. 5. See also the discussion of this matter in Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Hilchos Talmud Torah 1:1,6.

  7. (Back to text) Bamidbar Rabbah, Chukas, 19:8; Rambam, Mishnah Torah, the conclusion of Hilchos Mikvaos. See the sichah to Parshas Mishpatim in this series where this subject is discussed.

  8. (Back to text) Eruvin 100b. See the sichah to Parshas Yisro in this series.

  9. (Back to text) Likkutei Torah, Bamidbar 40a.

  10. (Back to text) See Likkutei Torah, Devarim 28c, Shir HaShirim 8c.

  11. (Back to text) The text of the Haggadah.

  12. (Back to text) "In His glory" refers to the level of Malchus d'Ein Sof, and "by Himself" to Atzmus d'Ein Sof as they exist before the tzimtzum (the writings of the Rebbe Rashab, quoted in Haggadah im Likkutei Minhagim ViTaamim, p. 25).

  13. (Back to text) Bereishis 42:9, Koheles Rabbah 1:4.

  14. (Back to text) Rashi, Shmos 9:29; see Shmos Rabbah 12:7.

  15. (Back to text) See Tanya, ch. 11.

  16. (Back to text) Kiddushin 40a.

  17. (Back to text) Megillah 28b, Niddah 73a. It is known that when our Sages state "Do not read... but...," their intent is not to nullify the simple meaning of the verse, but rather to expand upon it. (See the maamar entitled Mi Ha'ir, 5703, and the sources mentioned there.)

  18. (Back to text) This refers to the Paschal sacrifice offered in Egypt.

  19. (Back to text) Rashi, Pesachim 70a.

  20. (Back to text) Mishnah, Pesachim 76b.
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