Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Alma and the Four Sons of the Passover Seder

The Passover Seder /ˈseɪdər/ (Hebrew: סֵדֶר [ˈsedeʁ] 'order, arrangement'; Yiddish: סדר‎ seyder) is a Jewish ritual feast that marks the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Passover.  One of the rituals of the seder is that of the account of the four types of sons.

The Four Sons

The Passover Haggadah speaks of "four sons"—one who is wise, one who is wicked, one who is simple, and one who does not know to ask. Each of these sons phrases his question about the seder in a different way. The Haggadah recommends answering each son according to his question, using one of the three verses in the Torah that refer to this exchange.

The wise son asks "What are the statutes, the testimonies, and the laws that God has commanded you to do?" (Deut. 6:20) One explanation for why this very detailed-oriented question is categorized as wise, is that the wise son is trying to learn how to carry out the seder, rather than asking for someone else's understanding of its meaning. He is answered fully: "You should reply to him with [all] the laws of pesach: one may not eat any dessert after the paschal sacrifice."

The wicked son, who asks, "What is this service to you?" (Ex. 12:26), is characterized by the Haggadah as isolating himself from the Jewish people, standing by objectively and watching their behavior rather than participating. Therefore, he is rebuked by the explanation that "It is because God acted for my sake when I left Egypt." (Ex. 13:8) (This implies that the Seder is not for the wicked son because the wicked son would not have deserved to be freed from Egyptian slavery.) Where the four sons are illustrated in the Haggadah, this son has frequently been depicted as carrying weapons or wearing stylish contemporary fashions.

The simple son, who asks, "What is this?" (Ex. 13:14) is answered with "With a strong hand the Almighty led us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage." (Ex. 13:14)

And the one who does not know to ask is told, "It is because of what the Almighty did for me when I left Egypt." (Ex. 13:8).

Alma’s Admonition to his Three Sons

This corresponds closely to Alma’s admonition to his three sons.  We read in Alma:

16 Therefore, he caused that his sons should be gathered together, that he might give unto them every one his charge, separately, concerning the things pertaining unto righteousness. And we have an account of his commandments, which he gave unto them according to his own record.
(Alma 35:16)

As we continue to read Alma’s admonitions, it appears evident that the occasion for which Alma “caused that his sons should be gathered together” was that of a Passover Seder. 

Alma’s admonition to Helaman (Alma 36-37) corresponds to the that of the wise son.  In fact the word “wisdom” appears eight times in Alma’s admonition to Helaman.  Alama begins his admonition to Helaman saying:

1 My son, give ear to my words; for I swear unto you, that inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land.
2 I would that ye should do as I have done, in remembering the captivity of our fathers; for they were in bondage, and none could deliver them except it was the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he surely did deliver them in their afflictions.
3 And now, O my son Helaman, behold, thou art in thy youth, and therefore, I beseech of thee that thou wilt hear my words and learn of me; for I do know that whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day.
(Alma 36:1-3)

Alma’s admonition to Corianton (39-42) corresponds to that of the wicked, indifferent son.  Alma opens this admonition saying:

1 And now, my son, I have somewhat more to say unto thee than what I said unto thy brother; for behold, have ye not observed the steadiness of thy brother, his faithfulness, and his diligence in keeping the commandments of God? Behold, has he not set a good example for thee?…
8 But behold, ye cannot hide your crimes from God; and except ye repent they will stand as a testimony against you at the last day.
(Alma 39:1,8)

Finally Alma’s admonition to Shiblon (Alma 38) corresponds to that of the simple son.  Alma tells Shiblon:

1 My son, give ear to my words, for I say unto you, even as I said unto Helaman, that inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land; and inasmuch as ye will not keep the commandments of God ye shall be cut off from his presence….
5 And now my son, Shiblon, I would that ye should remember, that as much as ye shall put your trust in God even so much ye shall be delivered out of your trials, and your troubles, and your afflictions, and ye shall be lifted up at the last day.
(Alma 38:1,5)

Passover is a wonderful time for Book of Mormon believers to review Alma’s admonition to his three sons.  Those who hold a seder may want to incorporate this material into their seder as part of the account of the four types of sons.  And let us all choose to be like Heleman, the wise son. 

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