Four Questions, Four People Asking


The four questions of the מה נשתנה correspond to the four categories of people mentioned in the answer to the questions in the passage of עבדים היינו, we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, which are חכמים, נבונים, זקנים, ויודעים את התורה, wise, understanding, experienced, and well versed in the Torah. The first question is, why on all nights of the year do we eat chametz and matzah and tonight we only eat matzah? It is well known why we eat only matzah at the Seder, as matzah symbolizes the bread of affliction and the matzah that our forefathers ate upon being liberated from Egypt. This question corresponds to the wise son, as the Mishnah (Avos 4:1) states, who is wise? He who learns from every person. By asking this question, the wise son is demonstrating that he is willing to hear a new approach to why we only eat matzah on this night. The second question is, why on all nights of the year do we eat all types of vegetables and on this night we only eat מרור, the bitter herbs? This question is predicated on the fact that we have already eaten the כרפס, the vegetable dipped in water. When we recite the blessing of בורא פרי האדמה on the כרפס, we have in mind to cover the מרור that we will eat much later in the meal. The understanding person thus already demonstrates that he understands the deeper significance of our actions, as we have not yet eaten the מרור, but he knows that we will be eating it later on in the meal. The third question is, on all other nights of the year we are not required to dip food even once, and tonight we are required to dip twice. This question reflects the experienced one, who knows from past years that tonight we will dip twice, and he poses this question so that the children will be curious and remain awake. The fourth question is, why on all other nights do we eat either sitting or reclining, and tonight we eat only while reclining? This question corresponds to one who is well versed in Torah, and the word יודע also means one who has a close relationship with someone. This person has a close relationship with the Torah, and the Mishnah (Avos 6:2) states that the true free person is one who toils in Torah study. For this reason, this person queries regarding the laws of reclining, as the requirement to recline by the Seder is based on the idea that we conduct ourselves like aristocracy who would recline while dining. In conclusion, we see how the passage of עבדים היינו is directly related to the four questions that precede it.

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