By Mrs. Chana Rose, Educational Director of the Menachem Education Foundation
The fourth son of the Haggada is the silent son.
The “she’ayno yodei’a li’sh’ol” is the child who does not know enough to formulate a question. Or, he does not know that he is allowed to ask a question, or may be too timid to do so.
The Haggada teaches us, “at p’sach lo – you initiate for him.” Don’t wait for the child to ask, but reach out, engage him, and show that you are listening. The Haggada employs the feminine form for “you” – “at” – to teach us to use a soft and gentle approach for this child. We are warm and inviting, as a mother would be to her young.
I will always remember the interaction that led me to decide on a playgroup for my child. This three-year-old was perceived as “shy” – by friends, neighbors, and even family. I brought little Chaya Mushka with me to a school open house to meet a prospective Morah, Sarah Chuzhin.
After chatting with me for a few minutes, the Morah knelt down to make eye contact with my daughter.
“Do you want to play with one of the toys?” she asked her.
“Which toy in the classroom is your favorite?”
Their eyes were locked, but my daughter said nothing.
I was used to interjecting “oh, my daughter will warm up soon,” or “she can be shy when she meets someone new, but I think she really likes those magnatiles,” or something of the sort to compensate for the awkward silence. But I was here to see how this Morah would interact with a “shy” child, and how my sensitive daughter would interact with her.
Morah Sarah was not fazed, and she continued to smile at Chaya Mushka. “Do you want to point your finger – like this – to the toy you want to play with?”
Chaya Mushka slowly lifted a finger and pointed to a particular toy. With the teacher’s nod of encouragement, she ran off to play.
After two years of such patient, intentional interactions, my daughter graduated playgroup an expressive and confident child, Baruch Hashem. It has been a very long time since anybody called her shy.
There are silent children at every age and stage, but it is up to us to make the first move and to keep trying. The Haggada goes on to bring us a source for this approach, “shene’emar, v’higadta livincha bayom hahu.” Chinuch is proactive. We are obligated to teach and reach this child – and every child – whether or not she asks.
The Haggada introduces the passage of the four sons with “Baruch HaMakom,” blessing Hashem four times for each of the four kinds of people we are about to address. The name “HaMakom” tells us that the world is not Hashem’s place, but Hashem is the place of the world.
“Baruch Hamakom,” we read, “Baruch Hu.” Hashem contains every place, every thing, and every kind of person. “Baruch shenasan Torah l’amo Yisrael.” He gave us the Torah to transmit to every Jew. He has room for us all.
Elsewhere in Torah, Hashem is referred to as Elokei Haruchos. Rashi explains that when Moshe asks Hashem to choose a successor to lead the Jewish people, he asks Him as Elokei Haruchos, Who knows the inner spirit – ruach – of each individual, which is the quality needed to lead. Indeed, that can be the prayer of every parent for the teacher they hope their child will have.
In a letter, the Rebbe discusses “v’higad’ta livincha” as an ongoing obligation to be mechanech our children, and connects it with the directive in Gemara: “l’fi da’ato shel ben, aviv melamdo (a father should teach his son according to the son’s intellect).” The Rebbe explains that the educator “must ponder the temperament of the student, and to search for the methods that can draw him near.”
In his inimitable style, Rabbi Hodakov writes:
Just as a doctor must give appropriate and precise medication to the patient, so too must the melamed, “the doctor of the soul,” give the student the spiritual cure – chinuch – appropriate to his case, and in the right “dosage.” Otherwise, he betrays his trust, Heaven forbid, and is no better than a doctor who prescribes the wrong medication.
The teacher must be thinking constantly about the student – what to teach him, how to teach him, and all in accordance with the capacity of the student.
It is up to us to discover the pathways that will reach each student – perceptively and proactively. The Haggada teaches us about four sons: the wise son, who thirsts for knowledge and direction; the wicked son, who feels lonely and alienated; the average son, who needs us to impress him; and the one who does not even know how to ask, or where to begin.
None of these children is locked into his role. The wise needs our help to maintain his footing and advance further. The wicked is so close to actualizing his potential for better. The simple son is ripe for inspiration. In all of these cases, it is in our hands to look deeply at the child, assess his personal, learning and situational needs, and help him grow.
And the fourth son will be silent no more.
 שמות יג:ח
 במדבר כז:טז
 אגרות קודש חלק ב’ אגרת ר”י
 פסחים פ”י מ”ד
 In “The Educator’s Handbook”