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The Fourth Son

As we recite the Haggadah during the seder, we are introduced to the “Four Sons.” These represent four types of people. There is the wise son – the kind every parent and teacher prays to have. He is smart, respectful and has stayed on the derech of his people. He is curious and asks questions in order to satisfy his quest for knowledge. The second son is also smart, but he is off the derech, and has distanced himself from his family and his heritage. The third son is a good-natured boy but is either very young or simple. He is curious about his current environment – the pre-Pesach cleaning and the seder – and asks about it. The Torah states that one should teach each child according to his level, and so the answers to his questions are likewise simple and easy to understand.


The fourth child – the one who seemingly is oblivious to his surroundings and does not even know to ask about the hustle and bustle around him – is the most problematic of the bunch. He is so self-absorbed and so detached from what is happening he may very likely have a personality disorder that can negatively affect those around him.


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


You can be sure the fourth son was not among those caring individuals. The only person this narcissist is interested in is himself. His needs and wants are paramount. Any activity or event that does not revolve around him is of no interest at all to him. That includes Pesach. With all the tumult that is part and parcel of the holiday – the cleaning, the cooking, the sitting down at the seder – he expresses no curiosity in what is going on. The house has been turned upside-down – inside-out, an elaborate seder prepared with foods served in an atypical manner, and he doesn’t make the effort to inquire about it all. 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 abouthim. If the seder was a celebration of him – if he were the honoree – you could be sure that he would ask a lot of questions and be on top of every detail.


Unfortunately many of these self-declared “masters of the universe” have families. But since they are so self-absorbed they take – rarely give. Their attitude is that the world revolves around them and “kimt mir alles” (everything is coming to me). They are the husbands who enjoy laundered clothes and delicious meals – but do not thank their wives or offer tokens of appreciation. But if anything isn’t perfect, they are quick to criticize and insult. They are the parents, who can’t be bothered asking their children how their day in school was – they come home, eat supper and either watch TV, read, or attend to their hobbies. They are the people who monopolize the precious time or finances of their siblings, co-workers, friends, parents, etc. constantly asking for favors – but they never reciprocate.


Sadly, as a community we are at risk of exhibiting self-absorbed behavior and detachment from issues that don’t affect us personally. It is imperative that we collectively not fall in the tragic category of one ” who does not know to ask” – where we are witness to extraordinary events and situations befalling less fortunate members of the community – be they the poor, agunot, older singles, Israeli citizens victimized by misguided government policies – but remain ignorant or uninvolved, unable to even ask – as the simple son does – mah zeh – what is this?


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