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April 17, 1987 - Image 35

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-04-17

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7

How Does One Respond
To The 'Wicked' Son?

RABBI MORTON F. YOLKUT

Special to The Jewish News

T

The central feature of
the seder on Passover
is the question. The
entire seder ritual is ar-
ranged in such a manner as
to stimulate questions from
the youngsters and answers
from the adults.
In this sense, Passover is a
uniquely Jewish festival. We
are the people of the ques-
tion. Our entire existence has
been one long question mark.
Our future has, throughout
the ages, been a subject for
interrogation. Today, when
the bonds of tradition are less
confining to many and when
the lure of pluralism is more

Shabbat Chol
Hamoed Pesach:
Exodus
33:12-34:26,
Numbers
28:19-25,
Ezekiel 37:1-14

enticing, even the question of
our very essence has arisen:
Mi Hu Yehudi? — Who is a
Jew?
The author of the Hag-
gadah, basing the thought
upon scriptural sources, con-
ceives of four types of ques-
tioners at the seder table: the
wise son, the wicked, the
simple and the son who
knows not how to ask.
The most intriguing of the
questioners is the rasha, the
so-called wicked son. Now the
wicked son is really not all
that bad. He has committed
no crime. He comes to the
seder, he asks questions, he
is interested and concerned.
He sits at the table drinking
his four cups, eating the mat-
zah and maror; but he is
troubled and confused. His
thoughts do not synthesize
with the philosophy of tradi-
tional Judaism. He is intel-
lectually in rebellion. What is
his question? What really is
bothering him?
The Jerusalem Talmud
(Pesachim 10:4) has inter-
preted the question of the
wicked son in an almost con-
temporary vein: "Why do you
burden us with these trouble-
some rituals every year?"
Why all this ritual, the de-
tailed and taxing practices?
Let us have the ideals of reli-
gion, the ethics of Judaism,
the faith in God, the love of
man. But why be bothered by

Morton F. Yolkut is rabbi at
Cong. B'nai David.

MDi

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itOUNS: floit:; Tues.;

these demanding, archaic
rituals — tallit and tefillin,
Shabbat and kashrut, matzah
and maror — these are sim-
ply relics.
Of course, we could refute
his premise easily, but it is a
disturbing question to many
contemporary Jews. It is par-
ticularly pressing on
Passover. Is it really neces-
sary to work one's fingers to
the bone — scrubbing, clean-
ing, changing dishes, search-
ing for and burning the
chametz — in order to com-
memorate a great struggle
for freedom? And what if one
does not eat matzah at the
seder? Is he less of a Jew be-
cause of it? Does his
avoidance of maror mean
that he does not value liberty
and Jewish peoplehood?
The answer to the second
son need not be a harsh one,
it can be given with under-
standing and tolerance. "For
the sake of this" our people
were redeemed. Redemption
does not come without prep-
aration. Judaism is not a
religion of the spirit; it is a
system of law. The soul of
Judaism does not lie in its
ideals but in its practices.
The language of Judaism is
not expressed in abstract
ethics but in concrete mitzvot.
The Haggadah places the
wicked son next to the wise
son; he is not rejected or dis-
missed. He is to be treated
with understanding and sym-
pathy. "Blunt his teeth," the
Haggadah tells us. Argue
with him, debate with him,
teach him, educate him. He
may be wicked but he is a
wicked son, one of ours, no
less than the wise or the
saintly, and we are responsi-
ble for him.
Perhaps our approach to
the wicked son can best be
summarized in an answer
once given by the Ba'al Shem
Tov, the founder of
Chasidism. A man whose son
had rebelled against the
teachings and practices of
Judaism came to the Rabbi
with tears in his eyes to com-
plain of his bitter lot. "Rabbi,
I have done everything in my
power to keep him righteous
and observant. What more
can I do now?"
The Ba'al Shem answered
in three words — three words
that deserve to become the
foundation of Judaism's
orientation in the modern
world. He answered, "Love
him more."
That is the key to the prob-
lem of the wicked son. Not
denunciation, but education.
Not contempt, but sympathy.
And more than sympathy and
understanding, and certainly
more than mere tolerance —
love him more.

wed., Sat. 10 5:30

-

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