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“And it shall be when your son shall ask you at some future time, ‘What is this?’” (13:14)

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In the Haggadah, this question is attributed to the ben tam, simple son. How does the author of the Haggadah know this? Indeed, who says this question is the result of a curious, sincere and innocent mind; perhaps he is asking this mockingly, in an attempt to ridicule the mitzvos. Interestingly, regarding the simple son, the Torah says, “And it shall be when your son shall ask you at some future time,” while regarding the ben rasha, wicked son, the Torah says, “And it shall be when your children say to you, What is this service to you?” (12:26). It seems as if they are both asking the same question; just the timing is different: The rasha does not wait, he asks immediately, while the tam asks at some future time. Is there a rationale for this?

In responding to these questions, the Kli Yakar first focuses on the simple son’s question, “What is this?” What does he see that prompts this query? Indeed, this chapter does not even address the concepts of matzoh or marror. It is about Pidyon B’chor, redeeming the first-born. Evidently, the tam is not questioning the mitzvos of Pesach, but rather, the mitzvah of Pidyon B’chor. What is there about this mitzvah that provokes his curiosity?

Apparently, such is the nature of the simple son. When he is told to eat matzah and marror, he does not ask questions. He is told to perform a mitzvah; he listens and acts upon the request. After all, why not? It does not hurt to act properly. Questions? He will ask those later. The rasha, on the other hand, cannot tolerate even a “convenient” mitzvah. If an act even alludes to tradition or Torah in any way, he must fight it. He is so pugnacious, he must immediately question the source, the rationale, the authority for this mitzvah. Heaven forbid that he be influenced into performing a “mitzvah”!

When the tam is asked to reach into his wallet to redeem the firstborn, then he has questions. One might err and compare the tam to the rasha, since they both question the mitzvah prior to accepting it. The Torah “explains” that there is a distinction between the two. The rasha asks immediately, he will do nothing if it in any way alludes to Torah. The tam, in contrast, readily accepts the mitzvah that does not impose itself too heavily on his time, his person, his wallet. The difference is clear: The tam acts, then questions. The rasha seeks every reason not to act. The questions are just his way of justifying his arrogance and inaction.

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