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Which of the Four Sons are you? Denverites reply

Two of the four sons, as depicted in the Arthur Szyk Haggadah (Wikimedia Commons)

Two of the four sons, as depicted in the Arthur Szyk Haggadah (Wikimedia Commons)

Of the four sons mentioned in the Haggadah — the wicked son, the simple son, the wise son and the son who doesn’t know enough to ask — which do you consider yourself to be, and why?

Granted, it’s a tough, maybe even tricky, question, and a substantial majority of those contacted by the Intermountain Jewish News last week didn’t want to touch it with a 10-foot pole.

But a stalwart handful of Denver Jews were not intimidated by the potential implications of likening themselves to one or more of the four heirs of the proverbial seder household.

The exchange is an integral part of the seder, essentially an instructional tool by which the lessons and import of the Passover story can effectively be transmitted to future generations. Through the answers offered by the four sons, those participating in the seder are offered various perspectives on the Jewish experience.

There are implications as to which approaches are right or wrong, but the Haggadah passage also presents opportunities for serious introspection and stimulating debate

It was in precisely that spirit that those who responded to the IJN’s request for comment chose to react. We thank and salute them for their insightful and intrepid words and for contributing to a greater understanding of and appreciation for the holiday about to commence.

Rabbi Benjamin “Jamie” Arnold, spiritual leader of Beth Evergreen, chose to comment in a universal context and a poetic form, and a gender neutral one at that, noting that the “sons” of the Haggadah might just as well be daughters.

“Which one am I?” the rabbi asks.

“All four.

“When expectations rest as a dove on an olive branch or a raven hovering on thermal winds, wonder swells from the deep, breaking on the shores of my lips into syllables of wonder.

“I am a child of simplicity, being human, ben Noach, wholeheartedly tam [perfect or pure] the simple one.

“Then longing arises with 1,000 questions, and I try to remember that while knowledge has answers, wisdom discerns which question to ask. Through disciplined attention to detail arises the power to harness the passion to know and be known into the service of a tam and I become a ben Avraham, chacham, the wise one.

“Mostly though, I am afraid — of loss, rejection, dependence. It’s safer to love from a distance, see self as source (not steward) of blessing and curse, playing judge, prophet saddled to an ass, ben Bilaam, so quick to blame and beat one of his own. I slip into the wicked skin of rasha, concealing collective divinity with toxic shame.

“Now, I know nothing. I truly don’t know what, who, how or why to ask.

Aini yodea’ lish’ol

“As tam, am I silenced by Mystery? As chacham, have I lost sight of the question, so focused on answers?

“Or perhaps I am hushed by grief, afraid to ask for help, companionship, love.

“Here waiting for you to sit beside me at seder and say, ‘Here I am, my son, daughter, child. I don’t know either.’”

Jonas C. is the nom de plume of a professional who is active in Denver’s Jewish community, particularly the synagogue and educational sectors. He prefers to have his reply attributed to that moniker, as opposed to his real name.

“I have to disagree with the premise of the question,” Jonas C. begins.

“The ‘son’ that I relate to depends upon my state of mind at a given time. I relate to being the son who doesn’t know enough to ask, when I was young and didn’t know any better, or when just starting out in a new career.

“After getting the basics nailed down, I can relate to the simple son, as I ask simple questions to further my understanding.

“As my understanding grows complex, I relate to the wise son, who struggles to understand the complexities and nuances of our rich religious practice.

“In the darker moments of life, when cruel reality does not conform to my expectations, I relate to the wicked son’s rebellion and denial.

“And then, something else will happen and I glimpse that there is a purpose even in the pain that life causes. I realize that my understanding was lacking. My entire perspective changes. I was asking all the wrong questions. I stop. I need to start all over, and I realize, I’m not even sure where to begin.

“Once again, I relate to the son who does not know enough to ask.”

David Japha is an attorney and former resident of Denver although he still practices in Colorado while living in Israel

“I think of myself as the one who knows not what to ask,” Japha says. “You have to open his mouth, as it says and you shall tell your son on that day, saying, on account of this, Hashem took me out of  Egypt, or the narrow straights — on account of this?

“What, a piece of parsley dipped in saltwater and jellied fruits (usually from the original Exodus) is why we left Egypt? I sure hope not!

“There must be a better reason — and, of course, there is: as we say in Dayyenu, to give us the Torah and bring us to the land of Israel, among many other things!”

Chag Kasher ve-Sameach from Yerushalayim Ir ha-Kodesh.”

Jay Strear — make that Rabbi Jay Strear — is president and CEO of JEWISHcolorado. His rabbinical credentials and experience might shed some light on his reply.

“It’s a good thing the question is phrased, ‘which do [I] consider [myself] to be and why?’ If the question was phrased ‘which do others consider you to be,’ well, that would be interesting.

“To the question . . . in short, I do not consider myself to be the wise son, but I aspire to be, based on a teaching by Rabbi Dr. Dovid Gottlieb. Rabbi Gottlieb writes, ‘Who is wise? He who learns from every person (Pirkei Avot 4:1)’ . . . In order to learn from others, one needs two crucial insights. First, ‘I am lacking. There is much that I do not know.’ And second, ‘Others possess the knowledge which I need.’

“Every day I am reminded anew how much I still must learn. I am also humbled by the thoughtfulness and insights of so many around me and appreciative of each new opportunity to learn from these friends and mentors.”

Andrea Hyatt is a respected and energetic leader in the Denver Jewish community. She is known for her activist orientation, a trait that takes center stage in her reply to the Passover question.

“Of the four sons I liken myself to the wise one as I strongly identify as a Jew and have for many years engaged in Torah study, learning and service to my community. Each facet has enriched and enhanced my Jewish experience and attributed to my becoming a more informed, active and proud Jew.

“I am deeply concerned by today’s rise of anti-Semitism and believe it is incumbent upon each of us to summon our voices in order to speak out wisely against the endless barrage of hateful accusations, libels and lies that roll all too easily off the tongues of those who relish the idea of a world without the Jewish people and the state of Israel.

“We cannot afford to be silent while the atmosphere of hostility and loathing continues to spread and gain momentum. Silence is not an option.

“At this time of freedom and redemption we ought to find more common ground with each other so our voices are stronger and together we can form a more united front in pursuit of the survival of our people . . . our Israel . . . our future.”

Debby Kasztl is a compliance administrator for Denver-based Pivotal Utility Management. She is also an avid and serious student of Torah.

Unfortunately, and perhaps a bit ironically, the press of Passover preparations precluded her responding to a Passover question about the four sons.

“Thanks so much for asking,” she emailed. “Unfortunately, I’m too busy preparing for Pesach to do this . . . probably means I’m not the wicked son because I’m trying to follow the ways of the Torah; probably means I’m not the wise son because, if I were, I would have figured out how to have more time; so I must be one of the other two — the simple son or the son who doesn’t know enough to ask.”

Chris Leppek may be reached at IJNEWS@aol.com

Copyright © 2019 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Chris Leppek

IJN Assistant Editor | ijnews@aol.com

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