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The Systems of the Jewish Year

The Wicked Son’s Problem

By Rabbi Sender Haber

The wicked son wants to know “What is this work to you?”, because he removed himself from the Klal - the Jewish people - he has denied the main thing. We blunt his teeth and tell him “Hashem did this for me when I left Egypt”. If he were there he would not have been redeemed.

I’d like to try to understand the attitude of the Wicked son and our response.

The Torah tells us that when the final plague struck, it struck even the Egyptian slaves. Why? They were slaves and had no part in setting the policies of Egypt, enslaving the Jews or benefiting from their work. They just sat by millstones all day and milled. Why were they punished?

Rashi explains that it was because they heard about the enslavement of the Jews and they were happy with their misfortune.

This is odd. Pharaoh lived and many Egyptians survived, but these slaves did not because they were happy. They didn’t’ do anything wrong. They couldn’t. But they were happy.

The Maharal explains that the one thing that these slaves had in their control was their happiness. They heard the story of another people who were enslaved just like they were, and they sided with the oppressors. This was true evil, and for this they were punished.

On a more positive note, we know that Hashem rewards us for good things far more than he punishes for bad. If there is a punishment for being happy with someone’s misfortune, imagine the reward for being happy with someone’s happiness or sad in their mourning.

This is something we lose sometimes. Reb Simcha Zisel Broide was known to say that our generation has trouble being happy for others.

Many years ago my father was asked by a woman to help her nullify a vow. She had been in Auschwitz and almost starved to death. She vowed that when she left she would never throw out a crumb. Every crumb was a diamond. And she stuck to it. But now she was older and her grandchildren were leaving crumbs around the house. She couldn’t possibly save every crumb.
She continued to explain that she had a ‘pesach’ - a way out of the vow. The vow had been made under false pretenses, because when she was in Auschwitz she never dreamed that she would one be an old lady with grandchildren running around the house.

We live in amazing times. It used to be a celebration when one boy would go away to yeshiva and come back eager to sit in shul and learn and teach. Every new baby was a big deal and every wedding was huge. But we get used to it.

We need to remind ourselves that we are no less happy just because we are used to something. This is still a great moment for the community, for the parents, for the bride and for the groom. I always tell the undertakers at H.D. Oliver that I hope to meet them at happier occasions, but of course we won’t. They spend every day at a funeral. That shouldn’t make it any less sad and tragic.

This is part of the Mitzvah of V’ahavta L’reiacha Kamocha. We need to be happy and sad with others as if we ourselves are experiencing their joy or sorrow. In fact, we should be experiencing their joy and sorrow along with them.

The Baal Shem Tov famously stated that when someone sees something bad in their friend, this is a sign that he has a similar fault within himself. It is like looking in a mirror.

The Netziv once pointed out that this isn’t just a chassidic idea, it is a Tosefta in Shavuos. He quotes in the Hamek Davar on Parshas Vayikra (CH. 5) ‘ V’nefesh Ki secheta V’shama Kol Alah v’hu eid oh ra’ah oh yada”. The Tosefta observes: “Ein Adam Mischayeiv aleh im kein chata”. A person doesn’t become a witness to a sin unless he has a bit of that sin in him.

This was the problem with the Egyptian slaves. They saw the Egyptian slave masters and they agreed with them, they related to them. Our job is to be able to understand that everything that we see has a piece of us in it.

The great Kabbalist, Rav Moshe Cordevaro writes in his Tomer Devorah:
“All Jews are related one to the other, for their souls are united and in each soul there is a portion of all the others. ... When one Jew sins, he or she wrongs not only his or her own soul but the portion which all the others possess in him. ...And since all Jews are related to each other it is only right that a man desire his neighbor’s well-being, that he eye benevolently the good fortune of his neighbor and that his neighbor’s honor be as dear to him as his own; for he and his neighbor are one. This is why we are commanded to love our neighbor as ourself. It is proper that a man desire the well-being of his neighbor and that he speak no evil of him nor desire that evil befall him. Just as the Holy One, Blessed is He, desires neither our disgrace nor our suffering because we are His relatives [and carry a piece of G-dliness in our souls], so too, a man should not desire to witness evil befalling his neighbor nor see his neighbor suffer or disgraced. And these things should cause him the same pain as if he were the victim. The same applies to his neighbor’s good fortune.”

Unity is the recognition that all of our souls are connected and that if we look far enough you will see that we are actually all one big soul. Our physical beings act in ways that are annoying, wrong, and even bad at times. But the recognition needs to remain that deep inside - where it counts most - we are one.


Once we understand this idea laterally, we need to understand it historically as well. We are connected not only to the people around us, but to the people before us. Our collective souls were freed from Egypt. If our neighbor is happy then we are happy and if our great-great-grandmother was freed from slavery, then we were freed from slavery.

This is the MItzvah of Pesach. We need to hear about the miracles that happened to our forefathers and see ourselves as if we personally left Egypt. We are all part of one nation, both historically and currently. If we can hook into that Simcha, we can be a part of all of the Mitzvos and the miracles of the night. We are a great nation we are all in this together

The wicked son wants to know “What is this work to you”, and because he removed himself from the Klal he has denied the main thing. He doesn’t see himself as connected at all to the Jewish Nation with its joys, it’s sorrows, and it’s obligations. In separating himself he denies everything.  We blunt this teeth and tell him “ Hashem did this for me when I left Egypt. If he were there he would not have been redeemed.

The idea of blunting teeth is found as a curse in the book of Yirmiyahu (30:29). “כל האדם האכל בוסר תקהינה שיניו” - The one who eat unripe grapes with have weakened teeth.

I found a similar language in the fourth chapter of Negaim. The Sages said that a certain type of Tzaraas would be impure, but “Rav Yuhoshua Keha” - Rav Yehoshua was blunted. Obviously, Rav Yehoshua was not a Rasha. Why was he blunted? The Rambam explains that Rav Yehoshua was unclear of his position. The Chachamim said that the Nega was impure and he was unsure.

Our goal here is to weaken the position of the Rasha. We say, maybe you are right - this is all work to you and it is meaningless - but then you are on your own. If you can look at the happiness of a our nation and not include yourself, you are just hurting yourself.

In this case he was Kofer B’ikar - he denied a basic tenet of Judaism. That is a scary thought. Part of keeping the Torah is being a part of the Klal.

This brings us to my final point, and that is the MItzvah we have at the seder to teach our children.

Last week, I had an opportunity to spend time with Rav Yiizchak Ezrachi and he shared the following concept.

There is a special bracha to be made when passing a spot where a miracle happened to a person or to his forefathers. The Betzel Hachochma is of the opinion that this bracha should be said by holocaust survivors and their children when visiting concentration camps, but it can be said for any sort of miracle.

Very few people get to make this blessing, but on Pesach we all invoke Hashem’s name and thank Him for Redeeming us and our forefathers from Egypt.

The only reason we are allowed to praise Hashem in first person is because we are a part of the salvation that we received as a nation. Our connection the the miracle works because we tell this story every year - father to son. We inherit the miracle and the joy that comes with it. Every time a father tells his son the story he is joining that group of people who were redeemed and by extension the son is as well.

Rav Ezrachi told a story of a boy who was invited to his Rosh Yeshiva for the Seder. SInce he knew that he was more knowledgeable than his father and less knowledgeable than his Rosh Yeshiva, so he figured he would gain more from the Rosh Yeshiva.

Rav Ezrachi disagreed: If the father has an obligation to include his son in the story, it is guaranteed that Hashem will give him the tools needed to tell the story. It doesn’t matter if the father is otherwise ignorant or less versed in Torah than his son. This is the ongoing formation of the Jewish people and there is a guarantee from heaven that the father will be able to teach his son and inspire him to be a part of the Klal who is celebrating tonight.

In Sefer Shoftim we find that Gido’n was visited by an angel and became the leader of the Jewish people after his seder with his father. His father was a documented ignoramus, but he was able to get the message across. The next day, an inspired Gid’on saw an angel, became a prophet and went on to lead the Jewish people.


The Chortkover Rebbi was once about to make Kiddush when he saw someone desecrating Shabbos. He couldn’t make Kiddush, until he realized that his was exactly what he was missing - Kiddush.

This is the opportunity of Pesach. We are given the opportunity to be the catalyst for Kaddesh - to bring holiness and a connection to ourselves and everyone around us.

Let’s go into Pesach by realizing that we are part of a greater nation. That applies to the generations before us and to the people around us. And we aren’t just part, we are one. Everything that we see should speak to our essence. Their happiness should make us happy and their sadness should make us sad. When they succeed we can have nachas and when they fail we can wonder how we can improve.

If we can’t do that, we are moving into Rasha territory. But if we can do it, we are given Siyata Dishmaya in which every parent has the ability to not only feel the happiness of being included but also to have the tools to include the next generation.

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