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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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Question 5.10:
Are the Four Questions asked on Pesach in the Torah?

Answer:

All four are found within the 5 books of Moses.

  1. The wise son's question is from Deut 6.

  2. The wicked son's quesiton is in Exodus 12.

  3. The simple son's question comes from Exodus 13.

  4. The answer we offer the unasked question of the one who doesn't know to ask is provided in Exod 13 as well.

Much ink has been spent on why the answers given the wise and wicked sons in the Torah are not the ones used in the Passover Haggadah. The Torah answers the wise son, "We were slaves to Pharoah in Egypt', a text used earlier in the Passover Haggadah. The Haggadah, here continues that answer from the theoretical to the pragmatic, and therefore has you telling the son all the laws of the evening. The Torah's wicked son differs from the Haggadah. The wicked son asks, "What is this work for you?" The Torah states that this son is of a generation who grew "old in the land", whose parents go through the routine, but really see it as work. The harsh answer of the Haggadah is therefore not given the Torah's version of the question—its child is not fully accountable for its attitude.

Note that in Pesachim 116a we find four questions more suited for when the Temple is standing: one about matzah, maror, roasted lamb (the qorban pesach) and abut dipping twice. Today, without the qorban, that question became moot. However, reclining is out of place; it's both no longer in style, and not the norm for a people still struggling to return. Therefore asking about it was a logical replacement. And, the Vilna Gaon writes, this preserves the parallel in number to the four cups of wine and four foremothers. The Rambam (Hilchos Chameitz uMatzah 8:2-3), on the other hand, writes that there were originally five questions. The one about roasting was dropped, not replaced. In the Yerushalmi's version of the mishnah and the one found printed with the Rif's and Rosh's commentaries in the back of the Vilna edition of the Talmud, there are only three questions: dipping, matzah and roasted meat. R' Menachem Kasher (Haggadah Sheleimah) cites 9 manuscripts of the mishnah, of which 8 only had these three questions. In all probability, this was because the maror was one of the items dipped. It was not felt to warrant a second question once the one about dipping was raised. While on the subject of Pesachim 116a, it's interesting to note that the rest of the "Maggid" portion of the haggadah appears to be a fulfilment of the mitzvah according to each of three different opinions. Rav has us focussing on the spiritual redemption ("Originally we were idolaters...") Shemu'el, on the physical one ("We were slaves to Pharoah...") Rabban Gamli'el, on the mitzvos of the night ("Anyone who did not discuss these three things...")


The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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