In a few hours the sun will set and we will begin to retell, that Tradition of close to 4 Millennia. Answer 4 Questions, talk about the 4 Sons or Children…
Today I wandered into Olam Qatan, the spiritual bookstore run by my good friend Yaqub Ibn Yusuf. We began to discuss the 4 sons and his perspective from Sufism and Kabbalah. Suddenly I felt a flash “insight”. How many other “fours” do we discuss in other aspects of life, especially the difficult ones?
We know of 4 (some now say 5) Stages of Grief Denial, Anger, Bargaining, and Acceptance … for any loss, relationships or even life itself!
Judaism is rampant with bittersweet personal occasions and holidays. The classic Passover tale recalls freedom from slavery and oppression. Yet both the oppressors (Ancient Egypt) and the victims (Israelites) had parallel narratives each undergoing their own versions of these 4 stages. The Israelites first denied and later resisted with anger, bargained over and ultimately accepted Moses’ and their appointed purpose and trajectory. Likewise Pharaoh himself denied, resisted with anger, bargained and ultimately accepted that he would be Egypt’s only firstborn to survive the plagues and Red Sea crossing, to live and bear witness to the world about G-d’s miracles that he encountered. Some archeologists and scholars theorize the Pharaoh of the Exodus to be Amenhotep IV “ Iknaton”, the first Pharaoh to attempt to bring the belief in a single G-d, Monotheism, to Egypt!
Even Moses himself underwent these stages in his relationship with G-d (with his stages of anger and bargaining continuing 40 years until he accepted his own death at Mt. Nebo.
Let’s step out of our traditional comfort zone and look at the 4 Sons (or children) in the same way, the Wise, Wicked, Simple and the One Who Does Not Know How to Ask. Maybe the Wise One is not the most mature after all. The Wise child is proud of his great book knowledge from long study. His question is (like the Wicked) directed at what does this all mean to you? – not himself since he already confidently knows the answer, denying he may be missing something important. The Wicked is actually more mature, aware of his knowledge being challenged and so lashes out at his detractors using his knowledge as a defense. The Simple child matures to the first trace a genuine modesty, realizing he does not know the answers, and retains the confidence to ask the right questions.
But the ultimate growth and humility must come from the Child Who Does Not Know How to Ask. This child is unsure of even the questions that really matter. Our Yom Kippur liturgy refers to a Broken Vessel That Gets Repaired by G-d. This child IS that broken vessel, with the humility to be repairable. This child is our Yom Kippur on Passover, our Hope for the Future, through personal Humility and Modesty.
A few hours ago, we finished preparing our home for Passover. I was amazed how much easier and earlier we did this. The first time we were ready for our Search for Hametz already in the afternoon. Thanks to my wonderful kids – You have grown up so much, confident of yourselves … and taught me humility and modesty as your father!
In a few precious hours, all over the world, we will begin telling the story. Like the story of the Baal Shem Tov in the Forest who knew the Fire, Place and Prayer, to the simpler humble Rabbi Israel of Rizhyn who humbly could only tell the story to plead to G-d to intercede.
Modesty and humility is not something we start with. We acquire it, take a Kinyan for it as we navigate the stages in the Seder of our Lives. The Matzo itself is a thin, humble “Poor Person’s” Bread (Lechem Oni).
At this Passover season may we humbly shed our presumption of knowledge. Let us at one with not even knowing … and then … humbly … searching for … the Questions that Really Matter … in the Seder (Order) of Our Lives!
Happy Festival of Spring, Freedom, and Humility to All!