Sunday, April 13, 2008
An alternative answer to the wicked son
I feel like when you say what does this service mean to you, you are purposefully excluding yourself from us, here. Our tradition has this funny answer that I am supposed to say to you that I know that you are trying to distance yourself from us and that "had you been in Egypt you would not have been redeemed." The implication of course is that because you are somehow wanting in faith or feelings of inclusion, that God would have left you in Egypt. It may be, at least in part, because you wouldn't have wanted to be part of us, anyway.
But that always makes me think-- where would that leave me? Would I leave without my son, a son that I love even though at times you are contentious and you drive me crazy. My answer is unequivocally that I would not leave you. How could I? I would wave to my departing neighbors, watch them get smaller in the distant sand, and stick around and help clean up the mess of the plagues-- sweeping up the dead frogs, helping to fix broken things bumped into in the darkness, burying other people's children. I would stay in Egypt as long as I had to, as hard as it would be for me to be there in servitude, because in addition to doing all these rituals with matzah, cleaning and all the things that probably make you think that I am a crazy old man-- Judaism teaches me that I need to love my family and raise my children.
I know that sometimes Judaism doesn’t make sense. Sometimes it seems to ask us to do things that are problematic, not the least of which is suggesting that I embarrass my son in public at my seder. And sometimes it is an inconvenience, when you want to be playing baseball or off with a novel instead of sitting here with us, I know. Or if you want to be eating bacon because it smells so good or shell fish because its the best thing to mix with that delicious cocktail sauce. I want you to know that it is not these ritual inconveniences that keep us together, as some would suggest. I don’t think so. And ultimately, if you decide that you want to play baseball on Shabbas or eat pork, I will still love you and I will still count you as part of my community. I have to, because ultimately you are my son-- without a preceding adjective of wicked, wise, simple, or unable to ask. And, of course, whenever you want to come back and do these kinds of things, we can still do things together like make charoset, or build the sukkah, or I’ll tell you the stories of the gemarrah.
Truth be told, we should also talk more about the novels we are reading and go to more baseball games (as long as they're not on Shabbas).
So all of this-- what does it mean to me? It means that I have a place in a tradition that values freedom and kindness. Even freedom to distance oneself a bit from the community or parts of the community that are maddening. And it's a tradition that values kindness, even to the so called wicked son.
Most important to me today is that I want you to know that this is not an answer that is pushing away Judaism-- an answer that is outside of Judaism because it pushes away the script that the haggadah suggests. It is a Jewish answer because it's one I learned from doing all these rituals and all these seders, all these years.
image from Kolel.org (Istvan Zador, Budabest, 1924)