Chaim Ingram
Chaim Ingram

The fifth generation. A New Essay for Pesach

Why the Israeli Supreme Court cannot change the course of Jewish destiny: A New Essay by Rabbi Chaim Ingram OAM

 The Fifth Child

In recent years, it has been customary to speak at the Pesach Seder of a “fifth child” in addition to the four – wise, wayward, simple and silent – which the Hagada depicts. This fifth child is usually identified as the one who isn’t there because s/he has opted out of the Jewish community and/or Jewish life. But there may be other reasons why s/he isn’t there.  S/he may be unwell, incapacitated, hospitalised.  Or – as I say at my seder often – s/he may be an unsung hero of our people on emergency patrol duty for the IDF or on nursing roster in the ICU ward at Sha’are Zedek or a senior Mossad agent engaged in a life-or-death operation that nobody knows about. These “fifth children” deserve our acknowledgement, our prayers, our acclaim.

Are All Four Prototypes Within Each Of Us?

But of course “the Torah speaks concerning four children” (Pesach Hagada). Fascinatingly the Hebrew word for “concerning” used here is k’neged.  This word can also mean “against”.  I have explained this usage as support for the notion, advanced by R’ Chaim Shmuelevitz ztl (1902-1979) and others, that we should speak “against” the idea of the four sons being distinct and separate. Rather they are one. As extra back-up for this idea, the words, ekhad chacham, ekhad rasha, etc. can be understood to mean “wise, wayward, simple and silent attributes can all be found within the same single individual at different times”.  Even gematriya takes the witness stand in this interpretation’s defence!  The word אחד (one) has a numerical-value of 13. Multiplied by four, we arrive at 52 which is the gematria of בן , “son” (in the singular!).  All four prototypes are found within each and every one of us, albeit in different measures.

Four Generations

Where the number five enters the scene in a big way is when we consider yet another interpretation of the four children, namely that they represent four generations.  This explanation is advanced by, among others, the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Yosef Yitschak Schneersohn ztl (1880-1950).

R’ Schneersohn points to four generations of American Jewry.  The chacham, the Wise Child, represents the European roots, the generation that came to America wearing peyot (earlocks) and steeped in piety and Torah learning.  Sadly, as R’ Moshe Feinstein ztl  (1895-1986) famously suggests, this generation was able to convey only the oy and not the joy of Yidddishkeit  to its children who, consequently, became the generational rasha, throwing off their parents’ Orthodox way of life.  The third generation, the tam, sees only an utterly watered-down, simplistic pale imitation of Torah Judaism in a reform temple. The child of the fourth generation, the she’eino yode’a lish’ol, is the most tragic of all. He never knew his great-grandfather, the chacham. He only knew his assimilated grandfather (rasha), and his spiritually confused father (tam). He doesn’t even know what questions to ask!

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, reflecting upon all this, opines that there is yet a fifth generation to come – one so far removed from Judaism that it is unaware even of the existence of Pesach!

I do not share Rabbi Riskin’s pessimism and despair. When a whole generation forgets about Pesach, Judaism has perished. And G-D has pledged us His covenant for eternity! 

However I do agree with him that there is a fifth generation. The reason I do is that the Hagada itself, subtly, hints to us that there is.  And it reveals the nature of that fifth generation if we will but read between its lines!

 The Fifth Generation

The passage of the Four Sons in the Hagada is neatly divided into four paragraphs. Each paragraph cites one of the four questions the Torah predicts our children will ask in future generations (Deut 6:20; Exodus 12:26; 13:14; 13:8). Is there a fifth question?

Not in the Written Torah. However in the Oral Torah which achieved its ultimate flowering in the complex discussions of our Talmudic sages, there are countless myriads of amazing questions, including notably the one which the Hagada asks in the passage immediately following the Four Sons based on an halachic midrash in the Mekhilta (Masechta dePiskha) on Exodus 13:8:-

Yakhol mei-rosh chodesh ……One might have thought  that the obligation to discuss the Exodus begins with the first day of the month [two weeks before Pesach when Moses first taught about the mitsvot of the festival]. Therefore the Torah teaches “You shall tell your son on that day  [when we commemorate the Exodus on Pesach]”. But the expression “on that day” could be taken to mean during the daytime! Therefore the Torah says “ba’avur zeh, because of this which G-D did for me when I came out of Egypt”  [The word zeh implies something to which one can point]  That cannot be said except at a time  when matsa and maror are on the table in front of you!”

 I would suggest that this is the prototype of the question of the fifth generation.

As I say, it immediately follows the passage of the Four Sons, but will not be nearly as familiar to most of us.  Having doubtless spent much time at our Seder on the Four Sons, we want to hurry along a bit and therefore we tend to almost skip over yakhol mei-rosh chodesh.  That is a big mistake! Because in this passage lies the story of eternal Jewish survival.

After the fourth generation, symbolised by the “one who does not know how to ask”, appears to be taking Judaism on the road to oblivion, the fifth generation miraculously returns. It is the generation of the baalei teshuva, the returnees to Judaism. They raise Torah from the ashes, make their way to some of the most advanced yeshivas and ask yeshivishe, scholarly questions like yakhol mei-rosh chodesh.   This is the miracle of Jewish continuity,

The Supreme Irrelevance of the Israeli Supreme Court

A year or so back, Israeli Education Minister Rafi Perez likened intermarriage and assimilation in US Jewry to “a second Holocaust”. It was an undiplomatic remark to be sure, but it was not “ill-informed” as some critics maintained.  In a startling recent JPPI (Jewish People Policy Institute) finding, it was revealed that only 15% of American Jewry are both (a) married to Jewish partners and (b) currently raising Jewish children. If this trend continues, American Jewry outside the Orthodox community (which is maintaining healthy growth) will be reduced by one-third-plus within a generation.

Now it seems the (arch-secular) Israeli Supreme Court is hell-bent upon importing this spiritual virus from America to the Holy Land. Despite the fact that Reform and allied movements have had no historical foothold nor significant presence (127 synagogues out of Israel’s estimated 15,000) nor growth nor relevance nor raison d’etre in Israel, the Supreme Court ruled (by a majority of 8 to 1) that Gentiles undergoing any non-Orthodox conversion in Israel – which is halachically meaningless – must be recognised as Jews by the government authorities.  At present, there is no civil marriage in Israel but any marriage contracted by Israelis overseas is recognised and a trip to Cyprus is short and inexpensive. Thus intermarriage, which up to now has been a negligible issue in Israel (as most Jews do not marry Arabs) now threatens to soar as many non-Jewish Israeli residents will undergo a quick, easy and superficial non-Orthodox “conversion” which will forge a path to citizenship for them under the Law of Return.  Sadly it will not make them halachic Jews.

So should we be concerned?  Yes. Should we panic? Not at all!  It is merely a threatened symptom of the pattern that has prevailed throughout Jewish history ever since – so says the Midrash – only one-fifth of the Hebrew population of Egypt crossed the sea to become the people of G-D, the rest having assimilated.  After 80 per cent of the generations of Levi son of Jacob, Kehat, Amram and Moses perished in the plague of darkness (Tankhuma 1), the fifth generation left Egypt with a high hand and stood at Mount Sinai to commit to receiving the Torah!

Cyclic Generational Patterns – Again and Again!

Examples of cyclic generational patterns abound. Moses himself was undoubtedly the chacham of his generation. However (due largely perhaps to the lack of his leader-father’s direct influence) his son Gershom did not inherit his qualities.   Gershom’s son, Jonathan, the third generation (tam) did not know any better than to serve a priest to the graven image of Micah. Jonathan’s sons did not even know what questions to ask and they continued in this idolatrous service (she’eino yode’a lish’ol) (Judges 18:30; Baba Batra 109b). However we are told that “the sons of Rehavia (grandson of Moses through his younger son Eliezer) multiplied greatly” (I Chron 23:17). In other words Moses’ great-grandchildren had many descendants.  Malbim (1809-1879) avers that they attained exceptional spiritual heights as they were guardians of the vast wealth of the Temple treasuries (I Chron 26:26), a fortune entrusted only to men of the highest calibre. This was the fifth generation!   

Solomon, the greatest chacham of all time, sired Rehoboam, arguably the most arrogant and narcissistic of all the Jewish kings. Rehoboam’s son, Aviya, did some good but also some bad things (possibly out of ignorance). His reign was short whereupon Asa his son led a return to G-D and Torah, destroying the idols but was criticised by our Rabbis for certain other misguided actions. Maybe he did not know exactly what and whom to ask!  But Yehoshafat, Asa’s son, “when seeing a Torah scholar, would hug and kiss him and call him ‘my teacher and my master’” (Ketuvot 103b). Again the fifth generation!

Of course, it doesn’t need to take five generations. Hezekiah the righteous king was succeeded by his supremely wicked son, Manasseh (who repented in his last years when it was too late to reverse his heinous actions), and he by his son, Amon, who was if anything, more sinful (and did not repent).  But miraculously Amon’s son, Josiah, who did not see a Sefer Torah until he was eighteen, spearheaded a massive wave of return to G-D and Torah such that Scripture can declare that like him there was no king before or after who returned to G-D with all his heart and soul (II Kings 23:25).

“A generation departs and another arrives” (Kohelet 1:4). Never do things stand still. Children will charter their own path.  A grandfather may be wise, his son wayward, his granddaughter confused.  Some will intermarry or assimilate or join a Reform temple.  But as the saying goes – and I have yet to have it disproven – there is no such being as a fourth-generation Reform Jew. By then the family will probably have intermarried to the extent that he or she will no longer even be halachically Jewish. But then – wonder of wonders – a fifth-generation child will grow up, discover his or her Jewish ancestry, anguish over what has been lost, resolve to convert or ratify his or her status halachically and end up in a yeshiva or seminary in Yerushalayim Ir HaKodesh!

Am Yisrael Chai.  Our people live eternally!

On That Day G-D Will Be One – And Am Yisrael Will Be One!

We mentioned earlier that, according to one interpretation, the characteristics of each of the four types of child are found in each of us.

Three times a day, in Aleinu, the believing Jew passionately longs for the day “when G-D will be One and His name One” (Zech. 14:9)

“G-D is your shadow” says King David (Psalms 121:5).  The way we perceive G-D mirrors the way we behave towards G-D.

When G-D will appear to all of us in all His majesty, splendour, graciousness, compassion, benevolence and truth as One, it will only be because we all will have integrated every facet of our personality quintessentially – quite literally (quint = five) – by discovering the “fifth child” within us, the child that declares yakhol mei-rosh chodesh, the child who, in the immortal words of Shlomo Carlebach, returns to the land of his or her soul.

On that day we shall all drink a blissful fifth cup of the finest wine and toast Eliahu and Mashiakh Tsidkeinu!

About the Author
Rabbi Chaim Ingram is the author of four books on Judaism and honorary rabbi of Sydney Jewish Centre on Ageing.