|This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, my uncle Reuven Nachum Ben Moshe & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein.
It should also be in Zechus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandfather Moshe Ben Breindel, and my grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-Amitai Dovid Ben Rivkah Shprintzeh
-Chaya Rochel Ettel Bas Shulamis
-Nechama Hinda Bas Tzirel Leah
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
פֶּסַח ● Pesach
A year ago, I saw this article circulating presented as a letter from the “Wicked Son” of the Haggadah. The article expressed some sentiments and attitudes which were, to be blunt, brazenly heretical and condescending toward traditional Judaism. I was bothered to see a number of Jews I know sharing and endorsing those sentiments and attitudes.
I will share the article below and let it speak for itself, but my request is that you do not read it unless you are prepared to also read my response letter immediately afterwards.
Happy Passover From the Wicked Son
Posted on 03/26/2018 by Moshe ****** ****** in Holidays
For the past 2000 years, my question on Seder night has been misunderstood.
And rather than answer me, you tell me that if I had been in Egypt I wouldn’t have been redeemed.
But you are missing the point.
See, I don’t believe that the Exodus story in the Bible is literal history. I don’t care if I hypothetically wouldn’t have been redeemed in a narrative that I know to be fiction.
But I could have been doing anything else tonight instead of coming to the Seder. I could have spent the night at a party, watching a movie, or on a weekend camping trip. But I decided to show up unlike the hordes of other absent sons that the Haggadah doesn’t mention.
Blunt my teeth and you can be assured that I will not attend the coming year.
So, why am I here?
Well, as the Wicked Son, I am skeptical regarding the inherent meaning of many of the Seder rituals. Just like my question in the Haggadah reflects, I want to ask the other Seder guests what this service means to them.
How is an ancient religious ritual, one based on a faulty history and out of date theology, meaningful for anyone in the modern world?
My question isn’t one rooted in mockery, rather curiosity. I am not purposely “excluding myself from the community”, rather I am interested in learning more about the community. If anything my presence tonight underscores that I want nothing more than to be a part of this community.
However, unlike the other sons in the Haggadah, I am not ignorant. For all the “wisdom” of the Wise Son, he doesn’t even seem to have any knowledge of the various laws surrounding the Passover offering, let alone any understanding of the world at large. Ditto, and even more so, for the last two.
My question doesn’t arise from a dearth of knowledge about what is going on tonight. I know all of the laws of the Passover offering. I know the verses about the Exodus and the germane rabbinic commentary inside out. I do not need to sit at the Seder and have these things explained to me in an overly simplified manner like my “haggadic” brothers.
What my question is about, and what I am interested in learning about, is the meaning that individuals find in their stories and communities. Clearly, there is something buried within the context of the Seder night, past all of the superficial, archaic and dull details of the Passover offering, that is captivating enough for Jews of all types around the world to gather round and discuss.
Perhaps, if my question is answered in a civil and thoughtful way, I will one day take the role of the parent, answering the next generation of Wicked Sons.
So please, without “blunting my teeth” and telling me that I “would not have been redeemed,” try to answer my question.
“What does this service mean to you?”
Response Letter to the Wicked Son
Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg
Thank you, Wicked Son, for coming to our Seder.
Before I begin, I must preface with the fact that while I care deeply about you and your questions, I do not intend to sugarcoat my response, nor will I be veiling any rebuke. If you hear a tone of any rebuke in my written voice, don’t take it as a hint. Take it as an explicit call-out.
In fact, because I care about you and your questions, I want to properly address you, “K’negdecha”—specifically and precisely as is befitting you, addressing both your question and your attitude—as the Haggadah brilliantly dictates I should.
Now, before I address your “questions” head-on, I must state that although you clearly feel like you are misunderstood, I think you are the one who is misunderstanding not just us, but the Biblical and Rabbinic texts which you claim to know inside out.
Don’t get us wrong, we do applaud you for coming, even if we have to set you straight in your faulty way of thinking and your lack of religious observance. But again, besides for obvious frustration, your letter reveals a lack of understanding of even the most superficial reading of the Haggadah which must be addressed, so I’m glad you came for the genuine purposes of being educated.
Again, the one thing you mentioned that you are one hundred percent correct about is that you did come out here when you could have been anywhere else. That being the case, I have to ask: Are you really here as a curious spectator or are you here as an obnoxious skeptic? The question is only slightly rhetorical because I have a hunch as to which one is true. Honestly though, for whichever reason you are here, whether you like it or not, you are supposedly Jewish and you are awkwardly present at the Jewish service while apparently not engaging in the said service. It is, at the very least, insulting to what I and the others present at the Seder believe in.
Forgive me, but that’s why I feel that I must assume that your question is rooted in mockery—because, again, you stated it yourself; you didn’t have to be here. You didn’t have to express your curiosity in a provocative way at the Seder table during the service, and doing so at the expense of insulting the service and its observers.
Despite all of that, please also understand that no one intends to physically blunt your teeth. The meaning of teeth blunting, as it appears every so often in Rabbinic literature, is not meant literally. But of course, you already know that, considering your self-professed literacy and fluency in Rabbinic texts.
If you are willing to open one of these books, I can direct you to several other Rabbinic sources where the same language of “teeth blunting” is used, clearly intended metaphorically. (See two occurrences in Sotah 49A, Bava Kama 27B, and Mishnah Berurah to Orach Chaim 430:1:1. If you would like some other sources, I have plenty more for you upon request…)
So, if this “teeth blunting” is not meant literally, then what does this figure of speech actually mean? Blunting one’s teeth, in this context, simply means to silence the individual, properly taking teeth out of his or her argument even if doing so means being brutally honest and perhaps hitting a nerve in the process.
Your point would otherwise be well-taken. Indeed, as I will demonstrate shortly, although you claimed that you were never given a civil and thoughtful answer, on the very contrary, the Haggadah’s answer, understood properly, is not only civil, but ingenious. Realize that we are more than open to the polite, intellectual conversation which you are purportedly inviting us to. We invite you as well! What else is the Seder for?
With that said, although I will likely upset you and although my words may cause you to grit your teeth until they are dulled, I promise that I will neither physically harm you, nor reject you from this community as I proceed to figuratively “blunt your teeth.”
Now, since you do demonstrate somewhat of a vested interested, I must also ask you: Do you actually want nothing more than to be a part of this community? Do you actually wish to inspire the next generation? You stated that you do, but as per your arguments, I’m not convinced. If you do really want to be a part, then why are you not participating? Surely, your participation would immediately make you one in this community. But, since you refuse to participate, you don’t really want to be a part of this community. You just want to sit here comfortably without anyone calling you out or telling you off. And if you really don’t want to be a part of the community, which is what the rest of your words imply, although I would not send you off myself, you really shouldn’t be here at all. The Seder is not a show, at least not for outsiders. But, by being here at the service and yet refusing to participate, you have indeed “excluded yourself from the community” in the most fundamental sense of the term.
And if your theoretical participation and involvement in this community is really just dependent on this simple question of what’s meaningful, we have something else to talk about. But, make no mistake, your question as you asked it is still indeed rooted, if not in mockery—which I’m thoroughly convinced it is, then, in a fundamental flaw in your understanding of the Jewish religion.
You claim that it’s an innocent and honest question: “Why is this meaningful to you?” But in asking that question, you imply that I merely practice because, indeed, I find the practice meaningful. That is what your question assumes, and that is where your logic is flawed.
Why is this service meaningful to me? My answer: It doesn’t matter whether or not I find it meaningful! What if it isn’t meaningful to me? According to your logic, I should stop participating. But, that is the difference between me and you! I do not practice because it is simply “meaningful” to me, but, because, unlike you, I humbly submit to my tradition and I believe that my life depends on this service as my tradition teaches, “Ki Heim Chayeinu” [c.f. Devarim 32:47] and so forth. The bonus though is that all of that does make it pretty meaningful, doesn’t it?
But, enough about me; how about you? Why isn’t this service meaningful to you? Oh, so you claim that it is because you don’t see the legitimacy in the tradition. Why not? Is it because you have done research and have determined the tradition to be illegitimate? Is it because you are the arbiter of theology that you can claim this tradition’s depiction of theology “out of date”? If you claim to “know” the Biblical account to be fictional, I would certainly hope you have done that research. And if not, you have some homework to do before you start making bold, provocative and insulting claims which you present in the guise of polite curiosity and victimhood.
As for me, my tradition has been passed down from 3,000,000 eyewitnesses through the generations until it reached me. That’s the very first step of my homework which I continue to engage in daily.
And if you can claim that you have done all the necessary research to make you reasonably skeptical against 3,000,000 eyewitnesses (something George Washington’s Presidency did not have or ever claimed to have, but was yet confirmed), show me your documented proof that the Exodus did not take place. Let’s be honest here. You have no real counter-proofs to this historical reality, while I have, at the very least, what’s referred to as “Minhag Avoseinu B’Yadeinu,” a vibrant tradition from my forefathers.
But since you apparently cannot accept the Minhag and you’re too stubborn to even entertain the possibility that your understanding of the world at large is incorrect, you assume, perforce, that I must find something else appealing about the services. The religious individual’s unwavering faith in the truth of the tradition is not an answer you can accept. That’s what makes you a Kofer B’Ikur and, again, why I assume that your question is rooted in mockery.
As much as one ought to rightfully feel insulted by your attitude, I personally feel for you. And although I will not send you away, recognize that you are stubborn and insatiable, and therefore don’t actually belong here by virtue of your own “principles,” at least, not at the present moment.
Of course, you are not necessarily beyond help. You have a chance like anyone else does, but you would have to grant yourself some room to receive, to be educated. But, like everything in life, that is ultimately up to you. You can continue to be conceited and see where it gets you, or you can include yourself in a communal service that will bring you eternal life. And I hope you make the correct decision, because the same Rasha who was not redeemed at the time of the Exodus will have a slim chance in the redemption to come, something else our tradition believes.
Please don’t be mistaken. Understand that I have no intentions of “defeating” you personally. This is not a “retort” to you as much as it is plea that someone or something would come and help you, or really, that you would just help yourself. Indeed, I’m not even pleading to you, but for you. In the same vein, the Haggadah’s words of condemnation against you was not direct retort to you. That is exactly why the text of the Haggadah which you misread speaks not to you in the second person, but to everyone else, about you, in the third person (“Li V’Lo Lo”-“‘For me’ and not ‘for him’”)! In other words, the Rasha is not told directly in anyone’s anger that he would not have been redeemed. This observation is stated about the Rasha, purely matter-of-factly, for the benefit and welfare of the actual Seder participants.
(Several brilliant commentators made this simple observation. Had you done your due diligence by properly reading the simple Haggadah text with intellectual honesty instead of yelling at it, you might have figured that out on your own! But, I digress…)
Now, why doesn’t the Haggadah address the Rasha in the second person? The Haggadah does not instruct me, the “father,” to answer you, the Wicked Son, directly because the astute Sages who compiled the Haggadah understood that I cannot, nor can anyone, do anything to change you, whether we present you the best argument or whether someone would physically strike you in the mouth (which no one intended to do in the first place). Nothing “meaningful” about the service will inspire you to engage in the demanding service, and you knew this when you sat down at the Seder table.
Yet, instead of being somewhere else, you chose to be here to rile up the crowd and attempt to pull the rug out from the believers because you’re clearly so bothered by (and perhaps jealous of?) the faith and inspiration that everyone else here has, keeping them engaged in the service. That is what makes you a Rasha. That is why your attitude, more than your question, needs to be addressed. But, of course we mistook your question which was really asked in the name of Curious and Victimized Son, right?
Thus, I turn, not to you, but to anyone else who is actually willing to listen and learn… To that audience—to whom I truly address this piece—I say that the choice is yours and yours alone. For those who are evidently not looking to change, all I can do is plead—to the G-d Whom I proudly believe redeemed me—that all of the sons make the right choice, come around, and ultimately realize that “Ba’avur Zeh Asah Hashem Li B’Tzeisi MiMitzrayim”-“it was for the sake of this (service) that Hashem acted for me when He took me forth from Egypt.”
Chag Kasher V’Samei’ach!
A Concerned Father