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Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei

03/11/2021 04:58:19 PM


Rabbi Hearshen

When going through the Hagaddah each year, we tend to develop our own traditions and rituals that become sacred to us. One place that often becomes ritualized is the handling of the four sons. Many times, people will draw attention to the sons and chose a different person at the table to represent each one of them. People will laugh and make light of who is chosen to be “wicked” and who is chosen to be “simple.” The four sons come from a rabbinic source that identified that, in the Torah, there are four occasions with the command to tell the story of the exodus to your children. However, there are only three times that prompt when your children ask. That is why the fourth child is there as “the one who does not know how to ask.”
Over the years, artists have attempted to capture the four sons in a variety of ways. It’s fascinating to examine the different artistry that goes into the way each son is seen. Many times we learn a great deal about the words: wise, wicked, simple, and the one who does not know how to ask. The pictures depict each of them in ways the artist sees as wisdom or wickedness and so forth and so on. The wicked son is often maligned and made to be the “other.” In many graphical representations of him, he is brandishing a weapon and pointing at the others from his outcast position. 
The act of branding other people, let alone children, is a damaging one. We love to try to categorize and identify people, but in the end all we do is project our feelings onto them. This is not a way to see the world, nor is it a way to see others. Many times when examining the pictures of the four sons, we find the artist has embedded some depth into their image. They’ve managed to show us something much deeper and that is there’s no such thing as a wise, wicked, or simple person or one who does not know how to ask, but that rather these are four parts of one person. A whole person has elements of themselves that are wise, wicked, and simple, and everyone at times is unable to ask questions.
The concept of the four sons thus becomes not one of typecasting others, but rather of deep introspection into who we are and how complex we are. The real issue in the four sons is not about the child so much as it's about the parent, and how they parent each child, not as they want them to be, but as they actually are in that moment. We adjust the ways we interact and relate to people based on their personalities and perspectives. At the same time, we can learn a lot more about ourselves if we would look deeper inside and see we are much more complex than any single word could ever describe. This allows us the freedom to end our quest to be identified as any singular thing rather than truly being seen as our own complete selves.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Hearshen

Mon, April 19 2021 7 Iyyar 5781