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Our Children, Ourselves

Our Children, Ourselves

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The youngest child at the table clears his throat and begins: "Mah Nishtana Halayla Hazeh Mikol Haleilot." It's been repeated in homes across the country, in homes across the sea, and in homes across time.

Four sons. There is the popular take on them: We consider the Wise Son the one who turned out right: the nachas. The Wicked One? Well... enough said. The Simple One? Alright, not every hamentasch turns out the way you want. The One Who Doesn't Know to Ask? Oy, nebach!

Let's revisit them. We judged the family too early, too harshly, and too simplistically.

Chacham — the Wise Son. What is wisdom? The ability to differentiate. A wise scientist knows the different chemicals and their different natures. Our Wise Son in the Haggadah asks "What are these testimonies, statutes and judgments?" He pinpoints the details of each mitzvah; he grasps the distinct attributes of each one.

Let's revisit the Four Sons. We judged them too harshly and too simplisticallyTam, the Simple Son's question is "What is this?" "This." He doesn't specify, he doesn't differentiate. If someone misses a complexity, he is simplistic. But this is not necessarily the tam. Our forefather Jacob was called "ish tam," a "simple" man. The opposite of simple is not difficult - it is complex. A wise man grasps complexities; a tam seeks the unifying factor. "I know the differentiations between the mitzvot," asks the tam, "but 'What's this?' How do they all tie together?"

The Simple Son has gone far beyond the Wise Son. A journey of the mind can take you only so far — as far as the mind goes. True, the human mind is the greatest tool ever created. It can build cities, cure disease, and possibly send men to Mars. And all this is done, say the experts, using only five percent of our brain juices! Still, even if we put the whole load to work, we would never understand that which is beyond reason. Our entire intellect fits into a Size 7 Stetson. How can it begin to fathom an Infinite Creator?

And so the last son, who has long graduated from Wise to Simple, now embarks on a new journey in Judaism. He no longer questions, for he is — on this certain level — beyond both the questions and the answers. He is awestruck by the magnitude of what he sees. In the face of this, one cannot question or comment, the only response is silence. Silence that allows him to take it all in.

And then there is another son. No, not the Wicked Son. One we haven't mentioned because he is not here. So many Jews, quite possibly a majority of Jews, were not at a Seder at all last year! They don't come, they don't leave, they don't ask. The Haggadah tells us how to speak to each kid. But what if they don't come? What if we have no effective communication at all? The answer is in the beginning of the Haggadah:

"All who are hungry come and eat. All who need, come and make Pesach."

They were never really invited, they don't know there is a place waiting for them at the table, that without them, our table —your table — is lacking and empty. They need an invitation from the heart; we must feel the emptiness of their not being there. And surely, one at a time — just like the Haggadah addresses every child individually — they will respond in kind.

Rabbi Shimon Posner is the director of Chabad of Rancho Mirage, California.
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