Parshas V’Eschanan – What Makes the Wise Son Wise?

In this week’s parsha, Parshas V’Eschanan, we continue the final journey with Moshe Rabbeinu, days before his demise.  Moshe continues to exhort, urge, remind, direct, teach and love the people in this parsha.  The language is poetic and stirring, the messages he conveys are deep and profound, and the passion and emotion he transmits are oh-so-apparent in each and every verse.

Interestingly, toward the end of the parsha, we read the following: כִּי-יִשְׁאָלְךָ בִנְךָ מָחָר, לֵאמֹר: מָה הָעֵדֹת, וְהַחֻקִּים וְהַמִּשְׁפָּטִים, אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה׳ אלקינו, אֶתְכֶם – It will be when you son will ask you tomorrow, saying, What are the testimonies and the statutes and the ordinances that Hashem, our G-d, commanded you?  וְאָמַרְתָּ לְבִנְךָ, עֲבָדִים הָיִינוּ לְפַרְעֹה בְּמִצְרָיִם; וַיֹּצִיאֵנוּ ה׳ מִמִּצְרַיִם, בְּיָד חֲזָקָה – And you shall say to your son, We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and Hashem took us out of Egypt with a strong hand… And Hashem commanded us to perform all these laws, to fear Hashem our G-d, for our good, all the days, to give us life, as this very day… (Bamidbar 6:20-21,24).

Here we have the question of the wise son, the בן החכם.  And we answer his question with love and concern, with depth and meaning.  We were taken out of bondage in Egypt to be brought to the Promised Land (6:23), and we must keep the mitzvos. 

We all know of the Four Sons who grace our Seder table: The wise, the wicked, the simple, and the one who does not know how to ask.

What is so startling about the appearance of the Wise Son in our parsha, in the Book of Devarim, no less!, is that he has become the “odd man out.”

The questions of the other three sons are posed long ago, in the Book of Shemos, in the very parsha in which the great redemption unfolded – forty years earlier.

The wicked son: Parshas Bo, Shemos 12:26 –  וְהָיָה, כִּי-יֹאמְרוּ אֲלֵיכֶם בְּנֵיכֶם:  מָה הָעֲבֹדָה הַזֹּאת, לָכֶם – And it will be when your sons will say to you, What is this work to you?

The son who does not know how to ask: Parshas Bo, Shemos 13:8 – וְהִגַּדְתָּ לְבִנְךָ, בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא לֵאמֹר:  בַּעֲבוּר זֶה, עָשָׂה ה׳ לִי, בְּצֵאתִי, מִמִּצְרָיִם – And you shall tell your son on that day saying, because of this, Hashem did for me when I left Egypt.

The simple son: Parshas Bo, Shemos 13:14 – וְהָיָה כִּי-יִשְׁאָלְךָ בִנְךָ, מָחָר–לֵאמֹר מַה-זֹּאת:  וְאָמַרְתָּ אֵלָיו–בְּחֹזֶק יָד הוֹצִיאָנוּ ה׳ מִמִּצְרַיִם, מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים – And it will be when you son will ask you tomorrow, What is this?  And you shall say to him, With a strong hand Hashem took us out from Egypt, from the house of slavery.

We would expect that the question of the Wise Son would appear along with the questions of the other three sons, in Parshas Bo, as the redemption occurred!  Why wait till Devarim to tell us that one day (there is tomorrow which is after some time, notes Rashi) the wise son will ask…!? 

How seemingly strange and out of place is the question of the Wise Son.

And yet, nothing in the Torah is misplaced.  What, then, is the Torah telling us?

Perhaps the Torah is teaching us that to be wise means to take time to contemplate, to watch and observe, to listen and absorb, to think and ponder… And then, if after forty years (or after some time), you still don’t understand, then you ask. 

While the shy person does not learn (Avos 2:6), neither does the rash, hurried or harried person. 

It takes time to learn, time to understand, time to think, and time to apply.

And if, after some time, יֵשׁ מָחָר שֶׁהוּא אַחַר זְמָן (Rashi to Devarim 6:20), you still do not understand, then you ask.

While on a practical level, we must ask and be sure we understand, in order to do; on a hashkafic level, the Torah here offers us a profound insight. 

We should not be too rash to judge, too quick to answer, too hasty to assume, or too rushed to question… 

The Wise Son is the only one whose question appears after quite some time, distinguishing him from the other Sons. 

And so, when your son will ask you…

We spend our entire lives learning and growing, always striving to come closer to Hashem, while we are yet of this finite world: וְאַתֶּם, הַדְּבֵקִים, בה׳ אלקיכם–חַיִּים כֻּלְּכֶם, הַיּוֹם – And you who cling to Hashem your G-d – you are all alive today (Devarim 4:4). 

The Wise Son teaches us that wisdom is not only knowing what, how and whom to ask, but also, when to ask.

בברכת מנחם אב ובשורות טובות,


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