And so we see, as the generations continue, that the chacham does indeed progress in his personal religious growth but then sets different goals for his own son. His experience taught him that classical yeshiva education is too narrow-minded for his own child, a child of the late 20th century.
“Seek a profession,” he advises his son. “Computers. Finance. Law. Medicine.” He encourages his son to study in one of the Ivy League schools, universities that only a generation earlier had restricted Jews but that now hold the best possibilities for networking and advancement.
The son diligently follows his father’s guidance and advice. Why then is the father surprised when, at spring break, his son returns home only to arrogantly challenge him: “What is the meaning of this service to you!”
The father is astonished. Confused. Frustrated.
Meanwhile, the rasha father cannot help but, at best, raise a tam. Such a son is the only logical result of an alienated and confusing secularized Jewish home. This father only begrudgingly attends the family Passover dinner. Sentimentality and faded memories of a caring and loving zaidie are not enough to overcome the fast moving, unethical and immoral secular world he occupies. How can such a man teach his son to embrace Yiddishkeit? The poor child doesn’t even have the tools to ask a question.
And if he could, what is there to ask? His great-grandfather, long gone, cannot bridge the distance created by his father and grandfather, lost in their own discomfort with “old fashioned” and “confusing” rituals.
As parents and educators, do we throw our hands up in frustration and surrender to this terrible situation, conceding that so very many Jewish children are simply lost to our tradition and laws? Of course not. But, as we should recognize from the Four Sons in our Haggadah, “teaching” demands that we teach to our students and not expect our students to conform to how we teach. We must pay heed to how we teach and whom we teach for that truly informs why we teach.
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Who does not love teaching a chacham? What a pleasure to have before us a mind and soul delighted and determined to grasp the beauty of God’s world and our traditions! But more and more, in yeshivas and observant homes, we are limiting ourselves to teaching only our chachamim. We do so at our peril. There are so very few chachamim.
Rabbi Yechezkel Mickelsohn once asked in jest, “Why doesn’t the Torah recommend the same solution and approach of hakeh et sheenav – blunting the teeth of the rasha – as does the Haggadah?” He reasoned that the Torah speaks of many reshaim, referring to them as “b’neichem” (plural form). To battle a multitude of reshaim is an epic and dangerous undertaking, and most likely one that would not result in success. The Ba’al Haggadah on the other hand, speaks of only one rasha, who perhaps could be dealt with.
How are we to make sure all four sons remain in the fold?
Before providing a response, we find in the Hagaddah a blessing in which we extol God for being in the place of our misery and bringing about our miraculous redemption. We then continue, “Blessed is He who gave the Torah to His people Israel, blessed is He.” God not only redeemed us from misery, He also gave us Torah.
All of us. Not just the fathers. Not just the teachers. Not just the chachamim. All of us. All the sons. All types. All backgrounds. Blessed is God who gave the Torah to His people Israel. Blessed is He. The Torah speaks about four children; one who is wise and one who is wicked; one who is simple and one who does not even know how to ask a question.