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July 25, 2014 / 27 Tammuz, 5774
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Beware The Fourth Son

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Shortly after we begin reciting the story of Pesach at the Seder as written in the Haggadah, we are introduced to the “Four Sons.” These individuals represent four very different types of Jews. First showcased is the wise son – he is the child every parent and teacher prays to be blessed with. He is smart, respectful, has a thirst for knowledge and has stayed on the derech of his people. He is curious and asks questions in order to satisfy his quest for knowledge of his heritage. He is called the “good” son.

The second son mentioned happens to also be intelligent, but he is off the derech, and has distanced himself from his family and religious traditions. His arrogant, chutzpadik tone highlights the deep distain he has for the rituals and mores of the Jewish people – a nation that he has deliberately disconnected from. He asks, “What is all this to you?” – his language indicating that he does not include himself. He is referred to as the rasha – the evil one.

The third son gives the impression of being good-natured but is either very young or simple-minded. He is curious about his current environment – the myriad of Pesach preparations – and is curious and asks about it. The Torah states that one should teach each child according to his level, and so the answer to his question is likewise simple and easy to understand. Though he does not necessarily absorb the greater picture and the nuances of Yiddishkeit, he accepts it and identifies with it. He is known as the “simple” son.

The fourth child seems to be oblivious to his surroundings and is described in the Haggadah as not even knowing how to ask. I find that depiction of him rather hard to accept at face value. How is it possible that a person of seemingly normal intelligence (nowhere does it say he is simple) not have the ability to ask a question- to not react and enquire as to the why of the hustle and bustle around him?

I think this “inability” to ask –“she’aino yodea lishol” has nothing to do with intellect and everything to do with extreme narcissism.

There is something very disturbing and peculiar about his total lack of awareness, or what I feel is his all-encompassing aloofness. How is it that he shows zero interest in his surroundings – a complete unmindfulness to the point that he can’t stir himself to even say, “What’s up?” He is pathologically self-absorbed and detached from what is happening.

This behavior is not so uncommon. For example, an elderly, very frail woman is standing on a crowded bus barely able to maintain her balance and not fall. A young, healthy man sits comfortably in front of her. But he does not “know” how to ask, “Excuse me, Ma’am, would you like to sit down?” because he is egocentric and uncaring. The lady is practically in his face – he can’t miss seeing her and her precarious predicament, but he is oblivious and unconcerned.

As I see it, this apathetic, detached individual is much more problematic and disconcerting than his “off the derech” brother. One can reach out to the lost son and possibly bring him back to the fold. With the patience and perseverance of caring individuals, many kids who have fallen off the path have changed their ways and done teshuvah.

The rebellious, disenfranchised child is still emotionally connected – albeit in a negative way. His question may be derogatory in nature, but it is still dialogue. But the fourth son is what I call totally parve – he has no association, no involvement, no relationship with his surroundings.

I imagine the only person this narcissist is interested in is himself. Any activity or event that does not revolve around him does not concern him in the least. That includes Pesach. Despite the tumult that is part and parcel of the holiday, he expresses no curiosity in what is going on. The house has been turned upside-down and inside-out; an elaborate Seder has been prepared with special foods served in an atypical manner, and he doesn’t make the effort to inquire about any of it. He does not know to ask - she’aino yodea lishol – because he is emotionally not there, nor does he care to be, since the holiday is not about him. If the Seder was a celebration of him – if he were the honoree – I am quite confident that he would ask a lot of questions and be on top of every detail.

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