Haggadah Shel Pesach: The Fifth Son

  • 80 minutes (Can be split into two sessions)
  • Grades: 9-12
  • Lesson Plan

Students delve into their Jewish identity and their relationship to the land of Israel through the study of the Haggadah.


This lesson is based on a lecture by Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks. While the discussion centers mainly on whether Jews should drink four or five cups of wine on seder night, the purpose of the lesson is to discuss Jewish identity and our relationship with the land of Israel.

This lesson is designed for more advanced students, but it can also be taught to beginners, with some basic knowledge of the Haggadah shel Pesach.


Lesson objectives

Students will be able to describe:

1. The five expressions of redemption as written in Shemot 6:6-8.
2. The fifth question of the Mah Nishtana.
3. The purpose of Eliyahu Hanavi’s cup.


Students will be able to:

  1. Examine and analyze basic medieval halakhic texts.
  2. Understand the reasoning behind instituting the drinking of four cups of wine.
  3. Finding sources in different texts.
  4. Compare different manuscripts of the Talmud.


Students will:

  1. Appreciate and examine their Jewish identity.
  2. Understand the relationship of the Jewish people to the land of Israel.
  3. Recognize how the exile has influenced halakha.

Resources & Equipment needed

Copies of the source sheets and worksheets for each student.


Hand out worksheets to all students (see appendix).

Work through the worksheets together, citing from the text wherever possible.

Question 1

The students may find this simple statement confusing as their text clearly says: “fourth”. The teacher needs to explain that until the Vilna shas (Talmud) was printed and became the predominant text, Talmudic students learned from hand-written manuscripts. Many of these were lost and destroyed over time (particularly by the Nazis). Despite this, there are still numerous different editions of the Talmud in existence. While the content of all the different manuscripts are generally identical, there are many variant readings.

Some variant readings (as this lesson will show) have even affected the halakhic approach of different rabbis. It is clear that many poskim (experts in Jewish law) had different editions of the Talmud than we have today.

You may want to point that this is why the Vilna edition often puts words in brackets. When words appear in round brackets ( ) it indicates that other manuscripts have omitted them and when they appear in square brackets [ ], it indicates that other editions have those words while the manuscript that the Vilna edition was based on, does not.

a) From the fact that Tosaphot makes a ruling determining the correct reading, it is clear that the commentator was aware of a manuscript(s) that read: “Hallel Hagadol is said on the fifth (cup of wine)…” Therefore, he states that this reading is wrong.
b) Tosaphot presumably also had a manuscript that said: “fourth.” He then compared it to contemporary practice. Since, we only have four cups of wine, the scribes who wrote: “fifth” must have erred.

Question 2

a) Rambam disagrees with Tosaphot’s opinion that the manuscripts that write: “fifth” are incorrect. He rules that “fifth” is the correct reading. Nevertheless, he rules that fifth cup should be poured but it is not obligatory to drink it.
b) Some students may realize by now that we actually follow the Rambam’s opinion. We pour a fifth cup of wine, but we do not drink it (at least not everybody at the table drinks it). We call this cup: “Eliyahu HaNavi’s cup”.

We need to explain the origins of this cup, how it attained this name and why we do not drink it.

Question 3

It would be best if this exercise were done using the Hebrew text. The Hebrew word: “etchem” (you) appears after each expression.

6 Say to the children of Israel: I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm, and with great judgments;

7 and I will take you to Me for a people, and I will be to you a God; and you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.

8 And I will bring you in to the land, concerning which I lifted up My hand to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for a heritage: I am the LORD.’”

Question 4
  • I will bring you out
  •  I will deliver you from
  • I will redeem you
  • I will take you
  • I will bring you in unto
Question 5

The first four expressions refer to the Exodus from Egypt (the imminent redemption). The fifth expression refers to the completion of the process when God brings the nation of Israel to its land. This was separate from the redemption from Egypt and only actually occurred forty years later.

Question 6

Since Hazal instituted the drinking of the cups of wine to parallel the expressions of redemption that God used, it seems logical to have instituted five cups not four. However, it is possible that since the redemption of the fifth expression was reversed (i.e. the Jewish people were exiled from their land), the fifth cup was set aside, only to be drunk when Eliyahu HaNavi arrives, to herald the redemption and the return to the Land of Israel. The pouring, but not the drinking, of the fifth cup acts as a “zekher l’hurban” (in remembrance of the destruction of the Temple)– that our redemption is not complete, and that we also wait for immediate redemption.

Question 7

Note: This question should not be attempted with students who are not familiar with the Haggadah.

As part of the seder night Haggadah service, we read a selection of commentaries on verses in Devarim chapter 26. The Mishna quoted instructs us to do so because we want to “begin with the bad points and end with the good.”

Question 8
  1. The parasha ends at verse 11.
    Note: You may need to explain that parasha here means until the natural break in the Torah and not the weekly Torah portion. Use a Koren Bible to illustrate this point.
  2. We do not analyze the verses “until the end of the parasha.”.We stop at the end of verse 8.
  3. Verse 10 and 11 refer to the mitzvah of Bikkurim, which relate to the holiday of Shavuot and are therefore not relevant here. There is no need for us “to say derashot” on these verses. However, verse 9 that states: “… and He brought us to this place, and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey”. No derashot are made on this fifth verse. It has been mysteriously omitted.
Question 9

This Mishna is very famous, although only a few students will actually know that is a Mishna. Most students will recognize it in Hebrew.

Note: This Mishna does not exactly fit in with the pattern of the lesson because there were always four questions in the Haggadah, and never five. Although there were no changes regarding the number of questions, there were changes in the content of the questions. One question was replaced over time. This Mishna has a number of variant readings.

The Haggadah version states: “…we do not dip even once…”, while the Talmudic version (Vilna edition) of the Mishna, with its words in brackets is confusing.

  1. “On all other nights we eat roasted, fried cooked and boiled meat, on this night we only eat roasted meat? “
  2. This question is referring to the Pesach sacrifice which was to be roasted whole. The Pesach sacrifice cannot be eaten outside of Israel. Hence, the exile caused the cessation of this question.
Question 10

1. We have no texts which indicate that there ever was a fifth son. This question is merely a way in which to begin a discussion about Jewish identity. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in his book Traditional Alternatives discusses this theme. There are (at least!!) four possibilities of the fifth son’s identity. You may want to bring a modern day example of each son:

    • The son who does not even turn up at the seder. The rasha (wicked) son is rebellious, but at least he turns up and shows his commitment to the Jewish people, even though he mocks its traditions. The she’eino yode’ah lishol (who does not know how to ask) is ignorant of his tradition, but nevertheless is still committed to his people and comes to the seder. However, this fifth son, is so cut off from his people (perhaps caused by the exile) that he is either unaware that it is seder night or he has no interest in it. He is an assimilated Jew.
    • The son who refuses to turn up to the seder. He is the self-hating Jew who is embarrassed by his traditions and people. He does not hesitate to criticize his nation and to hold hands with our enemies. You may want to discuss a Rashi that is related to this theme. Shemot 13:18 states: “…the children of Israel left Egypt khmushim.” Rashi explains that ‘khmushim’ means “armed” with weapons of war. He also offers an additional interpretation: only one fifth of the children of Israel left Egypt. He derives this from the root of the word ‘khmushim’ which is khamesh, or five. At the time of the Exodus there were Jews who did not want to be part of the Jewish people. They stayed in Egypt and perished together with Israel’s enemies.
    • The son who got tired of paying lip service to the term: “Next Year in Jerusalem.” He has actually packed up his bags and has gone to Jerusalem. He is not making an seder in exile, but a truly free seder in his homeland (perhaps he will drink five cups!).
    • The son who has returned to his tradition. His parents never made a seder, but nevertheless he has come back and wants to be a part of his heritage. Use this question to initiate a discussion about Jewish identity.You can then:
      • ask the students which son they think they are
      • ask the students for other possible identities for the fifth son.

2.  This is a halakhic issue. Rabbi Zolty, a previous chief rabbi of Jerusalem, suggests that Jews in Israel should drink the fifth cup (Rambam says one may, but it is not obligatory). It is generally agreed that the re-establishment of the State of Israel is not the complete redemption. Only time will tell whether its existence is a mere blip in Jewish history or whether it will develop and become what Jews have been praying for since the Second Temple’s destruction.