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April 17, 1992 - Image 7

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1992-04-17

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The Fifth Question



Tonight, as we
turn our atten-
tion to the Four
Questions, we
should think
about our re-
sponse to a Fifth
Question, uni-
que to our generation: why be
Our ability to provide a
meaningful answer could de-
termine whether Judaism
will survive in 21st-century
One of the great strengths
of American Jewry is its
observance of the Passover
seder. More than with any
other ritual, Jews gather
together to be with family
and close friends to take part
in the traditional meal and,
to varying degrees, recite
the Haggadah and its power-
ful tale of the Exodus from
Yet one of the great
weaknesses of American
Jewry is the growing rate of
assimilation and intermar-
riage, a dismal lack of Jew-
ish education, and the in-
creasingly difficult task we
have in transmitting the
importance of maintaining
Jewish tradition to a
younger generation grown
comfortable in our society.
Perhaps the seder itself
can serve as a guide in re-
sponding to their unasked
but implicit question of why

As we sit down at the seder; will we
continue to ignore the problem that has
plagued American Jewry for 40 years?

it is necessary to continue
the traditions.
The Four Sons of the Hag-
gadah are instructive. From
their story we learn that
there is no one response in
Judaism that applies to
everyone. We see from the
Haggadah's example that
each child should be dealt
with on his own level of
understanding and com-
The sons, of course, are
well known: the wise son,
who asks a searching ques-
tion; the wicked son, who ex-
cludes himself from the
rituals; the simple son, who
asks "what is this?"; and the
son who does not know how
to ask, so we begin for him.
The previous Lubavitcher
Rebbe compared the Four
Sons to the American Jewish
experience. The wise son
represents the generation of
our great-grandparents who
came from Europe, and he
was well versed in Torah
study and tradition.
The wicked son was the
next generation who rejected
his parents' religiosity and
embraced the American
melting pot, distancing
himself from Judaism.
The simple son represents
the succeeding generation,

confused by the conflict bet-
ween his observant zayde
and his cynical father.
The son who does not know
who to ask a question is,
regrettably, a product of our
generation. He never knew
his pious great-grandparents
and for him Judaism is his-
tory rather than a living
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin adds

The response to
the Four Questions
is not the Four
Answers, but
rather the telling of
the story.

to this interpretation, noting
that the fifth generation,
only hinted at in the Hag-
gadah, does not even know it
is Passover. While even the
wicked and simple sons at
least attended the seder, the
next generation of American
Jews, the progeny of such a
high degree of assimilation
and intermarriage, may be
far removed from the tradi-
How can we prevent this
from happening? First, by

participating in the seder
ourselves. That's the best
way to show our children
that we place real value in
the experience. Second, by
extending the message of the
seder to Jewish life in gen-
If we do indeed believe, as
the Haggadah instructs,
that we are part of a people
and a heritage that began
with the Exodus from Egypt
thousands of years ago,
when God intervened in his-
tory and made a group of
slaves into a free nation,
then we owe it to ourselves
and our children to explore
that unique heritage.
The reason why the seder
has survived and remained
fresh over thousands of
years of Jewish history is
that it is not only read as a
story but is reenacted as an
We do not satisfy ourselves
with recounting how our
ancestors lived as slaves in
Egypt; we are commanded to
taste the bitter maror. We do
not simply read of how the
Jews were saved, but we
taste the sweet wine of
Judaism understands that
one does not incorporate an
experience until one has liv-

ed it. And the saga of the
Jewish people in Egypt, be-
ing lifted from slavery to
redemption through God's
miracles, is re-lived each
year at the seder table.
If the technique of the
seder is to combine the
historical and the experien-
tial, the theme of the seder is
simply to spark interest
among children. Why, in-
deed, is this night different
from all other nights?
Every aspect of the seder,
from the order of the service
to the way we recline in our
seats, is geared toward
sparking curiosity among
even the youngest at the
table. We learn best when
we are motivated and when
we are inquisitive.
The seder suggests that
more important than finding
the answers is to be engaged
in asking the questions.
Consider: the response to the
Four Questions is not the
Four Answers, but rather
the telling of the story. "And
the more one elaborates
upon the story of the depar-
ture from Egypt," the Hag-
gadah says, "the more he is
to be praised."
In that way, we not only
keep the tradition alive,
fostering children who know
how to ask the proper ques-
tions, but we hasten the day
when Elijah will, in the
words of the prophet,
"restore the hearts of the
children to the parents and
the hearts of the parents to
the children."



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