For the week ending 31 March 2018 / 15 Nisan 5778


by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
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Responding to the Progressive Son

The Torah not only anticipated the innocent, wondering and inquiring children, but also the fourth son. Not only the children who would harmoniously stand side by side with their parents in devoted observance, but another son, the “wicked son,” who would no longer fulfill, much less celebrate, the mitzvot. This progressive son sits at, or passes by, the table with derisive mockery, and interjects his taunt: What does this service mean to you? Why do you trouble yourselves each year with these burdensome customs?

How do we respond to the progressive son, who views the loyal elder generation as backward? We do not directly respond. The Torah instructs us to respond to the other sons directly: Tell him, open up for him, but to the progressive son, we are instructed to “say,” not to “say to him.” For his progressiveness has made him immune to your teachings — he has “advanced” to the point of instructing his father! His mission — to move his narrow father beyond his stale views and into the freshness of modernity — will not be derailed by any instruction from that father, however loving, brilliant and complete.

Instead, say to yourself. Continue to devote your own life to Divine mitzvot. The sway over the progressive son may well have been lost; the key to his heart rests in G-d’s hand. Until the time that his disillusionment with his newly embraced set of ideals leads him back to the happiness of the ancient Truth, you have nothing to say to him. But, the less you say to him, the more you resolutely and clearly express what the mitzvot are to you.

You must pit your determination and conviction against their doubt and wavering. And you must say: It is a Pesach offering of devotion to G-d, Who passed over the dwellings of the children of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, and our homes He spared. This self-response reaffirms the historical foundation of our identity, and the commitment we displayed which merited our salvation. It affirms that real progress is achieved only by joyous fulfillment of His commandments — the first bonds of servitude were broken only with that obedience, and it is that obedience that separated Jew from Egyptian. With clear and resolute loyalty, you save yourself and the other sons from the progressive son’s derision, and ensure that the bond of commitment has a stronghold in future generations.

  • Sources: Collected Writings, Vol. 1, Nissan III, pp. 60-65

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