The Haggadah brings to our attention the “Four Sons,” each of whom has a distinct nature that essentially represents the main types of Jews who cross our path.
The one we most admire is the “wise” son. He is the kind of young man every parent, prospective in-law and teacher dreams of having come into their life. He is intelligent, sincere and inquisitive and has a thirst for knowledge. He knows where he comes from and embraces his Yiddishkeit.
The second son is also bright, but has rejected his heritage and disassociated himself from Klal Yisrael. In today’s terms he would be called a self-hating Jew.
The third son is not as sharp as the other two; perhaps he is a baal-teshuva or did not have a yeshiva upbringing, yet he considers himself part of the klal and wants to learn more. He iscurious about the activity taking place around him and makes the effort to understand it by asking someone in the know, “What is this?”
The forth son seemingly is oblivious and indifferent to what is going on around him and doesn’t make the effort to find out about the change in the status quo. Of him it is said that he doesn’t know to ask.
At first glance, it would seem that of the four, the second son is the one who is the most problematic and the one to avoid, reject and shun. He is even referred to as the rasha, the “evil son.” He is the one viewed as being dangerous to the community’s well-being. He is chuzpadik and arrogant and has cut himself off from the klal, for he says,” What is this service to you,” blatantly excluding himself.
However, to me he is not the most worrisome of the bunch. As distressful as his attitude is, he is at least “involved’ enough to be aware that it is Chag HaPesach even though his comment is mocking and cynical. Even a negative connection is still a connection. Like all persons off thederech, there is still a chance of redemption; there is still an opportunity for teshuva. This “son” may one day see the error of his ways and repent.
However, I am convinced it is the fourth son who represents the real threat to the community. Though some depict him as being very young, I feel that he actually is a peer of the other three “sons”, because the very young, such as toddlers, are typically interested in the comings and goings around them. Of him, the Haggadah says, “sheh’eino yode’a lish’ol” – “he doesn’t know to ask.” The Haggadah does not say, “she’eino yode’a mah lishol – he doesn’t know WHAT to ask. The house is turned upside down and inside out, an elaborate seder has been prepared, yet this individual can’t bother to exert the energy to inquire as to what is going on. He is so removed from everything that he doesn’t even know to put on a good act and show some interest and connection with what is going on.
My take on this fellow is that he is totally self-absorbed. He is so self-centered that nothing else interests him. He’s the kind of person who doesn’t know to thank someone, like a spouse who prepared a good meal, because as far as he’s concerned, it’s coming to him, like a king who doesn’t think to thank a servant for helping him get dressed. Because of his all-encompassing kimt mir life-view, the fourth son isn’t even aware that his behavior is obnoxious. Thus when it comes to Pesach, he “doesn’t know how to ask” since he sees no reason to – there is nothing in it for him.
Though this kind of person is not evil in the traditional sense of the word, his apathy and blatant indifference is the antithesis of what Yiddishkeit is all about. This “son” does not care about any cause or any situation that might require his support. It’s not his problem. If there is a Jew who needs money or help to alleviate a serious situation; if there simply is a petition to sign, a rally to attend, a need for volunteers for achesed program – he doesn’t “know” to ask. He is deliberately oblivious as to what is going on – he works at having his head in the sand – because he only cares about himself. He is the center of the universe and nothing else exists.
The Rasha may have rejected his community – but rejection ironically is still a kind of connection -albeit a negative one. He is still aware it is Pesach and has approached his family and the community he says he no longer is a part of. Perhaps his being there is a subconscious call for help – otherwise why did he show up and ask, “What is this to you?” Maybe he wants to be talked out of his apikorsut.
As long as there is life there is the potential for the Rasha to do teshuva, to return. The narcissist is unlikely to see past the mirror he is constantly looking into to notice the world beyond his reflection. This Jew is unlikely to lift his finger to help anyone, to ever contribute to anyone’s well-being.
There is a saying in Yiddish – mach nish vissen – which means, “make it that you don’t know.” This describes the fourth son. Unlike the off the derech son he hasn’t rejected the community because of misguided ideology; rather in terms of what is happening in the Jewish world, he just doesn’t care.