The Four Sons

Four SonsWho is the BEST of the four sons? Which of the sons is the one we’re meant to emulate? One of the people looking for information on aliyah to Ariel introduced himself to me via email as “the simple son”. It seemed to me that he did so in an attempt to downplay the significance of his straight-forward questions. Well, I must say – of the four sons “the simple son” is by far my favorite.

Sure- the wise son is wise. He’s got a head on his shoulders. When it comes time to ask the fancy question that his parents paid a heavy tuition for him to come up with he’s ready to go.

The wicked son – well that’s easy. He’s removed himself from the Jewish people. Anyone who is detached from his people is not worth emulating – especially when his people is The Jewish People.

What about the son who doesn’t know how to ask? Is it his fault? No one ever taught him to really ask questions. He was trained to think like the rest of society, to do what everyone else is doing – to go with the flow. Well – I’m afraid I can’t pull together all that much respect for someone who lives his life according to the accepted norm.

Well – what’s so great about the simple son? True – he’s not refined. True – he doesn’t necessarily conform to the accepted standards of scholarship. And yet – and yet in his “simplicity” he is not afraid to challenge – he is not afraid to ask. His question is clear and straightforward: “Mah Zot?” – literally translated as “What’s this?”. In today’s vernacular we would translate his question as “What in the world is going on here?”.

Is there any better question? Is there anything more REAL? “What’s going on?”” Everyone is sitting around the seder table, talking about redemption.

“What’s going on?” What are you sitting around for? What redemption are you waiting for?

“What’s going on?” Didn’t you hear about airplanes? Didn’t you hear about the Ministry of Absorption?

“What’s going on?” Why don’t we drink from the 5th cup – the cup of “Vehayvayti” (“And I shall bring you to the land”). Is that because we refuse to comply?  

“What’s going on?” What’s all this lip service about? What’s this “next year in Jerusalem” talk all about? Are we going out of our way to limit the purpose of the Exodus? Are we trying to ignore the engathering of the exiles?

My friends- the question of the simple son is the most powerful of all. It holds within it the audacity to challenge the lives that we’ve built for ourselves. It does not limit itself to the borders – to the “Meyzarim”/”Mitzrayim”/Egypt that we’ve built for ourselves. It challenges us to break out of our self imposed bondage – to realize the true meaning of Redemption.

The “simple” son is only one translation of the term “Tam”. The other definitions include “genuine”, “perfect” and “complete’.  

May we be blessed with the strength to be genuine, complete and simple. May we continue to challenge ourselves, ask the basic questions, and succeed in making our lives worthwhile.


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