Parshat Hachodesh: Thoughts
It shall be that when you come to the land that God will give you, as God has spoken, you shall observe this service (the Passover sacrifice). It shall be that when your children say to you, “What is this service to you?’ You shall say, ‘It is a Pesach feast offering to God, Who passed over the houses of the Children of Israel in Egypt when God smote the Egyptians.
Exodus 12:25 – 31
Why do the Rabbis describe the query “What is the meaning of this service to you?” as specifically the query posed by the wicked son (in the Haggadah)? Does not the fact that in that context the “wise” son refers to “our God signify only that the questioner sees in God the Creator, not necessarily the legislator who has the right to legislate to those who had not been part of that historic event?
Since the question is posed by the wicked son, surely he must be aware of what he is rejecting!…The objections raised by some members of later generations are based on the argument that commemoration of the Exodus is acceptable to them. What does not make sense to them is the requirement of the sacrifice (the Pesach feast offering). This they believe is an act of thanksgiving which applies only to the generation who had actually been redeemed at the time. The Torah instructs the parents to explain to their children that by saving their forefathers, “God saved our (now generation) houses also.”
Rabbi Moshe Alshich.
The text reads simply “You shall say,” not “You shall say to them.” The Word of God does not expect that a generation mired in materialistic alienation from God will mend its ways as the result of simple instruction. Such results can be expected only from personal examples of earnest, enthusiastic compliance with the Law. Do not heed the disdainful protests of a generation which, ossified in materialism, no longer understands the meaning and the spirit of God-ordained practices.
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch
The most plausible explanation of the difference (as to why this question is given to the wicked son) lies in an apparently insignificant phrase that the wicked son “shall say to you.” The wicked son does not ask a question and (thus) desires no reply. “Then when your children say to you” – their attitude is already fixed and predetermined. They do not want to hear a reply. They are therefore called wicked.
The question of the wise son is prefaced by the phrase, “when your son will ask you,” while this question is prefaced by, “and when your sons will tell you.” The wise son is asking. He is engaged in a sincere quest for knowledge. Not so the sons of the other verse. They are telling you. They have all the answers. Their question is purely rhetorical…
Rabbi Don Isaac Abravanel