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והיה כי יאמרו אליכם בניכם מה העבודה הזאת לכם

It shall be when your children say to you, “What is this service to you?” (12:26)

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The first question which was cited in our parsha is that of the rasha, wicked son. The second question which is to be found in Sefer Devarim is that of the chacham, wise son. On the surface, they appear to be asking the same question. The difference lay in the subtle changes in their relative vernacular. The wicked son does not ask; he states. His question, if anything, is rhetorical, since he has all the answers. He refuses to acknowledge that the service is Divinely mandated, and, since mitzvos are “man-made,” they are not binding on him. Conversely, the wise son asks, mentions G-d, and includes himself in the congregation. Interestingly, the Torah, in recording the wicked son’s question, uses lashon rabim, plural, b’neichem, “your sons/children,” while when referring to the wise son (and also the single son and the son who knows not what to ask) writes bincha, “your son,” in the singular. Why is this?

Horav Yosef Nechemiah Kornitzer, zl, applies the well-known adage, “An epidemic spreads, while health is not contagious.” This means that when one person becomes ill, the chances are that his germs will quickly spread to others and cause an epidemic. Health, on the other hand, does not spread. A similar idea applies with regard to spirituality. One sinner carries with him spiritual germs which can and will infect the innocent and unsuspecting.  The wise, righteous man usually remains alone, since no one is lining up to receive his inspiration.

Hashem responded to this divergence (rasha/chacham) with two words. Hashem introduces the Aseres HaDibros, Ten Commandments, with Anochi (Hashem Elokecha); “I (Hashem, your G-d) Who took you out of Egypt.” When Hashem created the world, however, the place which would be inhabited by humans, which would require relationships, the Torah writes, Bereishis, “In the beginning.” With regard to spirituality, it is Anochi with an aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, with a numerical equivalent of one. The Torah addresses the realm of physicality and materialism with Bereishis, whose first letter is bais, two. By their very nature, friendships and relationships are implemented only via a group setting. A loner in a community remains alone. In order for the physical world created by Hashem to succeed, a sense of community, of interaction, organizations and groups must exist. If the community in which one makes his home is on a collision course with the spiritual dimension he seeks for himself and his family, then it is best that he remove himself from this community.

The Torah instructs us to carry out the mitzvah of Korban Pesach in a chaburah, group, setting. It provides, however, one stipulation: it must be shcheino ha’karov eilav b’michsas nefashos, which is translated as, “his neighbor who is near to his house shall take according to the number of people” (Shemos 12:4). Based upon the above distinction, Rav Kornitzer renders the pasuk with a homiletic twist, focusing in on the Torah’s use of the words nefashos, souls, as opposed to anashim people/men/shecheinim/ neighbors. One must seek to share his Korban Pesach, to include in his group individuals who are like-minded in the area of nefashos, who are in spiritual agreement with him and his way of life. It is important to reach out as long as the reciprocal influence is not negative to one’s personal spiritual journey.

Thus, when we see that it is b’neicham, a cadre of children (in the plural), a movement has taken root. When the questions are coming from a movement, he may suspect that its leanings are not positive. These children are not here to build and strengthen Torah. They are here to do the opposite, and, as such, must be stopped. As long as they refuse to listen, because they have all the answers, we have no discussion with them. They do not come to learn. They come with contempt, to ridicule and destroy. Such an attitude does not become or beget a “good neighbor.”

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