Ra’anana Community Kollel
A Night to Inspire
Rabbi Dovid Horwitz
Which one are you?
Corresponding to four sons does the Torah speak, says the author of the Hagaddah. The wise son, the wicked son, the simple son and the son who does not know how to ask.
Those of us who were raised in Chutz La’aretz on day school and Torah Sunday school probably have an image etched in our minds of the son who does not know how to ask posing as either a dunce or as a small child who is too immature to ask questions. Because of this, we therefore never view our own selves within this category, for we are neither stupid nor immature! We probably don’t look at ourselves as being like the simple son either, as his two word question seems way below our sharp intellect. We must therefore conclude that we are either in the category of the wise son or the wicked son. As no emotionally healthy person would view himself or herself as wicked, it is safe to conclude that most of us view ourselves as being in the upper class together with the wise son.
The liturgy that we recite on Pesach night is called the Hagadah. Its full official title is Hagadah Shel Pesach. What inspired the author to refer to his liturgy as a hagadah? The answer is that one of the four verses in the Torah that correspond to the four sons contains the word hagadah in it. “V’higadatah labincha bayom hahu…And you shall tell your son on that day that it is because of this that Hashem took our forebearers out of Egypt.” Interestingly, this verse is the only one among the four verses that is not prefaced by the son’s question, thereby implying that this verse relates to the son who does not know how to ask.
Isn’t it strange that the author chose his title from the verse relating to the child who doesn’t know how to ask, if most of us bear no resemblance to that child. If a title defines the book’s essence and we are all wise, the author should have chosen a word relating to the wise son.
Perhaps the author is hinting to us in a very subtle way that we are not as wise as we think we are. Indeed, maybe the vast majority of Jews, religious and non-religious alike, fall within the category of the son who doesn’t know how to ask. If this is a correct deduction, then we must readjust our definition of this son. The great Mussar masters explain that this son, who is referred to in Hebrew as the “eino yoday’a lish’ol” is not a person who is incapable of asking, as if to say that he is intellectually limited. Rather it is a person who does not know how to ask. This person may be intellectually bright and mature, but uninspired by the things that are going on around him or her. He or she sees the parents cleaning, shopping, cooking and truly toiling in preparation for Pesach. It does not move the child. The child sees his family gather around the table, a Seder plate, matzah. But it does not move the child. This child asks no questions because this child has no questions. A person will only ask about a subject that is pertinent to him or her. Something that is of little or no value does not warrant any effort. And therefore there are no questions. This person may be an Orthodox practicing Jew, but he or she has no questions. The person takes everything at face value and is not interested in probing deeper. Why? Because it means very little to him or her. This individual practices Judaism as an outgrowth of one’s upbringing. He or she is religious because it is the only life he or she knows.
In this light, the vast majority of Jews in the world, parent and child alike, belong to this category. We make think that we are wise, but if we fail to be inspired by Judaism, if we practice it in a dull and listless way, then we are not wise at all. We are like the son who does not know how to ask!
To such a person the author of the Hagadah responds, “You shall open the child (his heart) up by relaying the story of the Exodus from Egypt.” But please, don’t tell it in a way that it is clear to the child that your thoughts are on the roast beef and gravy more so than on the story of Egypt.
The Hagadah was written in a masterful way, designed to ignite and inspire the coldest of hearts. Take time to inspire yourself as an adult before you attempt to inspire your children. If we don’t break out of the mold of the son who doesn’t know how to ask, then what can we expect from our own children? A child must receive love of Judaism from the parents. No one else can fill that role and provide the child with his or her spiritual needs. Neither the school nor the Rabbi can do it. The Torah states four times that it is up to us as parents to inspire our children. Use the imagery that the author so vividly describes. Feel what it must have been like to be enslaved in Egypt. Imagine witnessing the redemption of your people as Hashem showed might through the ten plagues and the splitting of the sea. Recognize everything that Hashem has done for us and continues to do for us and appreciate it. Appreciate G-d!! If we, as parents and adults, can grow to truly appreciate Hashem, then we possess a tremendous force to give to our children to ensure that they too grow up to be dedicated Jews who are not loathe to ask questions.
May we all merit to rise to the occasion and become, at least on Seder night,
the Knights of the Wise People!