Teachers are often faced with a dilemma when multiple children are clamoring for their attention: which child’s needs to address first? With limited time and resources, educators are forced to prioritize their responses based on the most urgent and pressing needs. The Rebbe addresses this dilemma with a question on the Haggadah, teaching us a valuable lesson in education.
The Pesach Seder is structured around Hashem’s commandment of Vihigadita LiBincha, that we should tell over the story of Yetziyas Mitzrayim to the next generation. The Haggadah describes four sons, the wise one, the wicked one, the simple one, and the one who does not know how to ask.
Rashi, in his commentary on the Torah, places the four sons into a specific order that differs from both the order in which the Torah introduces the four sons and the order specified in the Hagaddah. The Rebbe explains that Rashi’s order- simple, wicked, does not know how to ask, wise- is based on an important teaching in educational philosophy.
The wicked son asks, “What is this service of yours?!” excluding himself from the community. His need is critical, as he is in a vulnerable state in which he may leave the Seder altogether. Seemingly, he should be responded to first. However, Rashi warns us that prioritizing the wicked son, whose vulnerability is due to his own negative behavior and personal choices, would send a dangerous message that bad choices are rewarded.
Instead, Rashi advises us to first focus our attention on the simple son. His question “What is this celebration about?” is not as urgent as the wicked son’s, but is also pressing, as it suggests that he lacks a fundamental understanding of the Seder proceedings and he needs our guidance. After answering the simple son, the teacher can then continue in the order of urgency by addressing the wicked son, followed by the one who does not know how to ask, who would have no Seder without our intervention. The wise son’s question is left for the end because he was never at any risk, and would remain at the Seder in pursuit of knowledge, regardless of the teacher’s response.
The Rebbe uses Rashi’s order of the four sons to teach us a critical lesson in education: the children who need our guidance – the unengaged, and the inquisitively challenged, and the ones who are at risk – the rebellious ones. These are the children to whom we must cater our schools, the children who would not be successful without a solid education. Quoting his father-in-law, the Previous Rebbe, the Rebbe stressed that, “… a good teacher is one who is successful with those who are most at the risk and vulnerable among us.” It is on these students that we must expend our energy and resources.
Here at the Menachem Education Foundation, we work every day towards building a strong Jewish education that leaves no child behind. With the Torah’s guidance, we strive for a time when every single student, no matter his or her personal challenges, can thrive to his or her full potential.
May you be blessed with a Kosher and Happy Pesach!
Rabbi Zalman Shneur