“You will speak to your son on that day saying, for the sake of this did the Lord do this for me in my going out from Egypt.”  (Exodus 13:8)

            In this week we read about the exodus from Egypt.  We receive the laws of the Passover Seder, the sacred meal eaten on the evening of Passover.   We learn the laws of the matza and the bitter herbs, as well as the Passover offering.  We also learn the law that one should tell the story to one’s children.

            Three times in this portion the Torah mentions telling the story to one’s children.  The verse above has the father opening up to the son (the Torah tends to use male language).  Today we would say the parent presents the story to the child.  The portion also teaches, “If your child says what is this, you will say, with the strength of His hand did the Lord take us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage’ (Exodus 13:14).   Finally, the portion says that if your son asks, “what is this worship to you?” (Exodus 12:26), you should tell him the story.

            The idea of telling your child the story is repeated a fourth time in the book of Deuteronomy.  “When, in time to come, your children ask you, ‘What mean the decrees, laws, and rules that our Lord God has enjoined upon you?’”  (Deuteronomy 6:20).  Why does the Torah repeat four times the same law that we should tell our children about the exodus from Egypt?  The answer is the classic teaching of the four sons (today we would say, the four children.)   In reverse order from the way I quoted the four verses above, there is the wise child, the rebellious child, the simple child, and the child who is too young to ask.  This is a classic passage recited at the Passover Seder.

            There is a profound lesson in this.  We say regarding these four children, lefi dato aviv m’lamdo, “according to the child’s mind, the parent teaches the story.”  Every child is different.  We tell the story of the exodus in a way that each child will learn.  The Passover Seder is teaching us that there is no generic way to teach a child.  As each child is different, each child must be taught differently.  As the book of Proverbs says, “teach a son according to his way, and when he is an adult he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).  Each child has his or her own way of learning.

            I have met bar/bat mitzvah tutors who have told students, your older brother/sister did it this way, so you can do it this way.  It is a mistake.  Every child is different.  Every child must be trained in their own way.  It is vital that a teacher see the uniqueness of each child and teach according to the needs of that child.  That is why professional educators speak of various methods of learning such as video, auditory, and kinesthetic.  There is no generic way to teach a child, as there is no generic child.

            Not only is every child unique, but every human being is also unique.  Even identical twins, who share a genetic code, are different from one another.  This is best taught in one of the most important passages in Rabbinic literature.  The Mishnah says that God is different from a human coin maker.  A human uses one stamp to make coins, and every coin is exactly the same as every other coin.  God uses one stamp to make human beings, but every one is different from every other one.  (See Sanhedrin 4:5).  Therefore, every individual should say, “The world was created for me.”

            Jews who participate in a Passover Seder are certainly familiar with the story of the four children.  I remember the Hagaddah I used as a child, with illustrations of a wise son, a wicked son, a simple son, and a very young son.  Someone created a lovely modern version of the passage sung to the tune of “My Darling Clementine.”   We enjoy the passage, but we often do not realize the deeper meaning.  Every child is unique, as every human being is unique.  Each of us is irreplaceable.  It is a discussion worthy of adding to our Seder evening.