Your mother and I are so glad that you’ll be with us for Seder again. I know that you don’t believe the same as we do and I know you don’t typically observe the way that we do, but every year you come home for Seder. I want you to know that Mommy and I notice that, and so do your brothers, and we’re all very grateful. We know that it takes a lot for you to be here, and that this whole service isn’t really your thing, but here you are every year and we appreciate it so much.
I don’t know if I ever told you this, son, but your voice is really a critical one at the Seder. Without you, our Pesach night would be incomplete! I can’t even imagine if your voice were missing from our conversation. I know that your questions sometimes come off a little sharp, but If I’m going to be honest, sometimes my responses are a little sharp too. But you manage to see the love I have for you, even within my critical retorts. And you deserve no less. I know that beneath your biting comments is love. (And if it’s not yet a love for Hashem or Torah or Jewish practice, it is at least love for your family.)
In the past you have come to Seder always ready to jump on the same question, “What is this work for you?” You know, in different years your questions have echoed different accusations. Sometimes I assumed that you meant that you found no meaning in our most cherished and holy traditions because you called it all just “work.” Sometimes, I figured that you meant that you didn’t feel yourself part of our faith community at all because you said, “for you,” and that means you were excluding yourself from your heritage. I’ve spent a lot of years and a lot of discussions with my rabbinic colleagues trying to understand what your problem is. But it’s possible I never took a chance to ask you directly. What do you mean? What’s bothering you?
The reason that I ask is because I realize now that none of my responses seem to have hit the mark. I admit that in the first years, I was really worried what impression your question would leave on your brothers. (Especially little Tom.) I was worried that your skepticism would infect them too. That’s why I felt the need to take the teeth out of your argument. I realize that I never really addressed your issues. Rather, I sidestepped them because I wanted to make sure that everyone else realized that the Jewish People as a Faith Community or as a Family or as an Existential Reality were all taken out and saved from Egypt, but that doesn’t mean that each of Jacob’s descendants were. Redemption meant connection to our Peoplehood, and those disconnected weren’t saved. And son, to be honest, I worry about that now too. Perhaps only Jewish people who feel connected to the rest of Jewish people in brotherhood will be saved on that Great and Awesome Day. That’s not the whole reason, or even the main reason, I’m glad you’ve stayed connected all these years. But it is a reason!
Son, what’s really bothering you? I want to know. I’m not asking because I want you to believe what I believe or practice the way the way that I do. (I wouldn’t mind obviously, but that’s not the reason.) I just want to know you better and I want to know what’s on your mind. If you feel comfortable talking about it with everyone, we certainly can discuss it at the Seder.
Because it’s been so many years that you have been asking the same question, and because I have so long worried that your question demonstrated a lack of faith, I feel like I have something I need to tell you. I would never talk about this with your brothers. I feel like they wouldn’t understand (but maybe for opposite reasons.) I also struggle with faith from time to time. I don’t know if that comes as a surprise or not. I know that I’m The Dad and I’m supposed to be the one with all the answers, but that’s not the way life is. Not really. Sometimes I have questions too. Look, you’re our son. You grew up in this house and you’re not an idiot, so you knew when things were rough, when money was super tight. You knew when terrible tragedy struck our friends. You were always the most sensitive soul in our care, and maybe you were affected the most by those hard times. When you’re in the middle of all of that it’s not easy to say, “it’s all for the good,” and even if you can say it, it’s hard to feel it, really. In those moments, I didn’t understand what the Creator wanted from us. It felt like the sun would never shine on us again. Like we would never be able to take a full breath of air without the weight of stress and sadness making it hard to inhale. In those moments I felt really disconnected. I worry that maybe my actions at those times have impacted your thinking today. Maybe we’ll never really know that.
Son, it’s so clear from your question that you don’t find joy in our traditions. I agree with your essential observation – if something feels like a giant burden, why bother doing it? I agree! There are plenty of things at work that I “just have to do” and I hate them and push them off to the last minute. They bring me no joy and no job satisfaction. I just do them because I have a boss and I like being employed. If you were experiencing joy and satisfaction in mitzvot then you never would have asked that question. You’re an adult so this is really your responsibility now, but like any parent, I wonder if we could have or should have done something different. Was our Shabbos table fun enough? Did Shabbos feel like something we do or did it feel like a list of things we don’t do? Was school a good fit? Did it feel like a place you enjoyed being with people who understood you? We can’t go back, obviously, but I want you to know we tried our best. We always loved you. We still do. Our greatest nachas is having all four of our boys at the Seder.
Probably in a few years, son, you’ll be married and raising a family of your own. Your mom and I talk about this a lot. I don’t think this is the time or place to have the whole conversation, but let me just say, I hope that you and your special someone and your family will always feel welcome at our Seder. But realize you have a role in that too.
Son, I want to end how I began. Mommy and I are so grateful that you will be at Seder. I just want to make sure you know that you are welcome home all the time. Come sit in our succah! Come for Shabbos dinner. (You always loved Mommy’s challah!) Come for a barbecue on Sunday. Whenever you want to come, we want to have you.
I want to make it clear that this is not about any of MY sons. Yes, I have 4 sons. But none of them are the Wicked Son of the Haggadah. My Chief Advisor and Most Trusted Editor thought I should clarify that. Because, the internet.
Chag Kasher V’Sameach.