The Fifth Son
Many of us are aware that there is a detailed discussion amongst the
commentators to the Seder night Hagadah regarding the possibility of a fifth
cup of wine as part of the Seder service. Some are of the opinion that the
cup of wine that is designated as the Cup of Eliyahu serves as this fifth
cup. Be that as it may, I wish to discuss another foursome that in our time
may have developed into a fivesome.
We are taught in the Hagadah that there are four categories of children in
the Jewish world. They are: the wise son, the wicked son, the naïve and
simple son and the son who knows nothing and cannot even begin to ask
We are all acquainted with the wise son. He has had a thorough Jewish
education and is intelligently loyal to the Torah and its values system and
traditional way of life. We unfortunately are able to clearly identify the
evil child amongst us – the apostate, the self-hater, the one who is
addicted to anti-Jewish ideologies and practices.
The simple son is also known to us. He has no real animus towards God and
Torah though he certainly may be repelled by the behavior and statements of
those of us who arrogantly claim to represent Him and His Torah. He only
asks: “What is this all about?” It is a legitimate if somewhat depressing
question. After all, after 3500 years of Jewish life and history, that son
should, by now, have an inkling of what it is all about. Nevertheless there
is still hope for this son – life and its events and the non-Jewish world
will eventually help explain the matter to him.
And finally the son who knows nothing, not even what to ask can also be
salvaged by education, warmth, direction, role models and proper mentoring.
Even the evil son can be corrected and redeemed but apparently not without
pain and discomfort. After all it was Stalin that basically cured the Jewish
communists of their malignant Marxist disease and made them Jews once again.
But there is a fifth child that sits at the Jewish Seder table in our time.
He has no qualms about marrying a non-Jew, he is probably liberally
pro-Palestinian, he has never visited Israel, though he knows it to be a
racist and apartheid place, he considers himself to be part of the
intellectual elite, he has no real knowledge of Torah or Judaism and yet
considers himself an expert on these matters.
He knows the best policy for Jews and Israel to follow and he is so
convinced of his rectitude and astuteness that he is willing, nay even
demanding, to use all types of force to coerce the Jewish people and its
small national state to adopt his will. He is out to fix the world and is
willing to sacrifice Israel, Judaism and Jews in the process. He sits on
boards of Jewish organizations, he chooses rabbis and proclaims himself to
be a faithful Jew. Yet he will contribute generously to general non-Jewish
charities but gives only a pittance towards Jewish educational projects. He
is not an evil son nor is he a wise one.
He certainly will deny that he is somehow simple or naïve and he certainly
claims that he knows what questions to pose. Yet he my be the most tragic of
all of the sons, for though he is able to pose the questions he is unwilling
to hear the answers. In the words of the prophet Isaiah "the heart of the
people is overladen with fat and their ears are stopped up."
It is this hedonistic, intelligent, but very deaf son that troubles us so
deeply. For we have developed no plan or method to deal with him – either to
exclude him from the Jewish society completely or to somehow redeem him and
bring him closer to Jewish reality and positive participation in Jewish
life. It is certainly not clear to us how to accomplish this second option.
So perhaps we will have to rely on the inspiration represented by the fifth
cup of wine – on the miraculous powers of the prophet Eliyahu and on his
unfailing faith in the restoration of Jews and the Jewish people generally.
Pesach teaches us never to say never. It is the holiday of rebirth and
constant renewal. So will it be for all of our different children all of
whom we gather and embrace around our Pesach Seder table.
Chag kasher v’sameach,
Rabbi Berel Wein