Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Some thoughts on the שאינו יודע לשאול

Finally, we reach the last of the Four Sons, the one who does not know how to ask:

It seems to me that there are two ways of reading this. This is being derived from Shemot 13:8:
ז  מַצּוֹת, יֵאָכֵל, אֵת, שִׁבְעַת הַיָּמִים; וְלֹא-יֵרָאֶה לְךָ חָמֵץ, וְלֹא-יֵרָאֶה לְךָ שְׂאֹר--בְּכָל-גְּבֻלֶךָ.7 Unleavened bread shall be eaten throughout the seven days; and there shall no leavened bread be seen with thee, neither shall there be leaven seen with thee, in all thy borders.
ח  וְהִגַּדְתָּ לְבִנְךָ, בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא לֵאמֹר:  בַּעֲבוּר זֶה, עָשָׂה יְהוָה לִי, בְּצֵאתִי, מִמִּצְרָיִם.8 And thou shalt tell thy son in that day, saying: It is because of that which the LORD did for me when I came forth out of Egypt.
ט  וְהָיָה לְךָ לְאוֹת עַל-יָדְךָ, וּלְזִכָּרוֹן בֵּין עֵינֶיךָ, לְמַעַן תִּהְיֶה תּוֹרַת יְהוָה, בְּפִיךָ:  כִּי בְּיָד חֲזָקָה, הוֹצִאֲךָ יְהוָה מִמִּצְרָיִם.9 And it shall be for a sign unto thee upon thy hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes, that the law of the LORD may be in thy mouth; for with a strong hand hath the LORD brought thee out of Egypt.

One way of reading this is that there are scattered pesukim in which the son asks, and then the father responds. Yet here the son does not ask. And so, את פתח לו, that you start by telling him about the meaning of the day, and the offering, or the matza. The derasha is thus on the והגדת without any preceding question.

Another way of reading it is that the derivation is on baavur zeh, where zeh is something present at the table. For example, the matza. The father is calling attention to some detail of the order of the night. These two are not mutually exclusive.

This might all tie in to different ways we could interpret Mah Nishtana. As the Yerushalmi Pesachim writes:
בן שאינו יודע לשאול את פתח לו תחילה
א"ר יוסה מתניתא אמרה כן אם אין דעת בבן אביו מלמדו

Thus, את פתח לו תחילה is equivalent to the Mishna's instruction that if there is no daat in the son, the father teaches him. The Mishna in Yerushalmi has it as:
מזגו לו כוס שני וכאן הבן שואל אם אין דעת בבן לשאול.  אביו מלמדו מה נשתנה הלילה הזה מכל הלילות שבכל הלילות אנו מטבילין פעם אחת והלילה הזה שתי פעמים שבכל הלילות אנו אוכלין חמץ ומצה והלילה הזה כולו מצה שבכל הלילות אוכלין בשר צלי שלוק ומבושל והלילה הזה כולו צלי ולפי דעתיה של בן אביו מלמדו

though Rabbi Yasa does not have the word lishol. And in Bavli we don't have lishol either. How does Mah Nishtana bind? Is it to the earlier vekhan haben shoel? Or to the later aviv melamdo. If the former, this is a formulaic question or series of questions for the son to ask. If the former, then this is no question at all, but rather the content of what the father instructs him -- just how this night is different. This fits in to the two interpretations of the instruction to the שאינו יודע לשאול.

That we cite the same pasuk which is a response to the Rasha is irrelevant. This does not mean that the son who does not know how to ask is going to become a Rasha. Rather, this is the nature of derash, as I discussed earlier. In one derasha, we can highlight one part of the text -- namely, lachem -- while in another, we can focus on the baavur zeh or the vehigadta, or the lack of preceding question. We do not require consistency here.

Also, את פתח לו does not mean that the father is becoming the mother, answering in a gentle, feminine way. Otherwise, why use the word פתח? Rather, את is standard Aramaic, as well as standard Middle Hebrew II for saying "you", that is, the masculine second person singular pronoun -- what we usually pronounce as ata.

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