Anyone who has spent a morning toting a toddler on errands or navigated a strained chat with a teen about technology overuse, has undoubtedly experienced the range of personality traits found among the Four Sons in the Passover haggadah: the Wise, the Wicked, the Indifferent and the Unaware. Passover is a time of deep introspection and reflection, about the world, our people and ourselves. Along with the seder rituals, the haggada songs, the dipping of the karpas, the crunch of matzah and the sting of maror, the story of the Four Sons offers a lesson about human spirit; we are invited to explore the qualities of wonder, wisdom and wicked that are as much part of the world as they are a part of each one of us, and most importantly, what message should be gleaned from this.
Through encouraging our children to ask questions, the most important feature of the seder night, we are teaching them that we can always understand more, discover more and become more. This reality empowers us to improve and grow, releasing us from a “fixed mindset” about our potential. The Four Sons narrative brings to the fore an important message that allows each of us to live life as fully actualized human beings: we are not defined by our environment or even our temperament. Our actions and the choices that we make are what reveal our true selves. Questioning, including questioning our daily practices, our basic beliefs and even ourselves, is the antidote to complacency and the tool to a self improvement that knows no bounds.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes about the importance of teaching our children to question: “Just as the Israelites are about to leave Egypt and begin their life as a free people under the sovereignty of G-d…hand on the memory of this moment to your children, says Moses. But do not do so in an authoritarian way. Encourage your children to ask, question, probe, investigate, analyze, explore. Liberty means freedom of the mind, not just of the body…It is only those who lack confidence, who have secret and suppressed doubts, who are afraid.”
The Seder is an experiential intergenerational Jewish learning experience that offers deep insight into what is expected of us as Jews and human beings: despite the devastating effects of human oppression that we experienced in Egypt, we have uncanny ability to garner the strength to overcome incredible obstacles, always looking forward towards self improvement and discovery. The story of the Four Sons is a reminder that the complexity of our character requires constant self reflection. Complacency is the greatest roadblock to personal development; questioning is the key to everlasting spiritual growth.
Tammy Keces M.A. is the principal of Irvine Hebrew Day School and a lead Certified Positive Discipline Trainer.