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Thursday
Apr182019

DE-MONSTERING THE DEFIANT SON

As the 80% were dying and being buried, 20% were plotting a map to vast treasures they would plunder. If a slave has the chance to amass a fortune and be led out of captivity by G-d Himself, why would anyone not want to be a part of it? * At least the Defiant Son is at the table. In some respect, he wants to be convinced…

By Rabbi Boruch Merkur

When it comes to the Defiant Son, the Hagada is clear as to how to deal with him: “Blunt his teeth.”

No, don’t knock them out altogether, just “blunt” them. Remove the fangs from his argument. Demonstrate you care. Reach out to him by de-monstering him and listen to what he’s really trying to say, to ask. Hear the pain that drove him so far away. After all, he is your son and he’s with you at the Seder. (It’s Yom Tov, so there are no phones to distract us. We are forced to listen.)

First off, what is he saying? Lachem v’lo lo” – what is this service “to you, but not to himself”? Why does he exclude himself from the Seder, from his family, from celebrating the redemption of the Jewish people? It is arguably the most epic moment in our history, the mother of all redemptions, leading up to and empowering the final, eternal redemption.

The exodus is the defining moment of the birth of our nation, when G-d reaches out to His beloved child, whom He delivers from “the nakedness of the land” and takes us to Mount Sinai. There G-d gives us His precious Torah to educate us and raises us to be a “mamleches kohanim v’goy kadosh – a kingdom of princes and a holy nation.”

The Defiant Son excludes himself from this noble heritage. He isn’t part of it. He isn’t part of us. Somehow he lost touch with his family…

And he’s not alone. If you count the Fifth Son, the one who never made it to the Seder, the Defiant Son is one of five sons, one-fifth. That is the flipside of the exodus, when four-fifths of our people died and were buried during the Plague of Darkness. Are those the people he identifies with, the 80%, the vast majority who did not make it out of Egypt?

Rashi says on the words, “The Jewish people left Eretz Mitzrayim chamushim” (Shemos 13:18): “Only one in five (chamisha) left Egypt; four parts of the people died during the three days of darkness.” And on the words, “there was darkness of gloom” (Shmos 1:22), Rashi says:

There were wicked people among the Jews of that generation who had no desire to leave Egypt. They died during the three days of darkness so the Egyptians would not witness their annihilation and say, “They too have been stricken as we have.” A further reason is that [during the darkness] the Jewish people searched the homes of the Egyptians and located their jewels [to take with them at the time of redemption].

As the 80% were dying and being buried, 20% were plotting a map to vast treasures they would plunder. The dying Jews should have done t’shuva and joined in the campaign of gutting Mitzrayim of its wealth. (See Parshas Noach, where we learn that the flood started as “gishmei bracha – waters that bring blessings,” had they returned to G-d.) If a slave has the chance to amass a fortune and be led out of captivity by G-d Himself, why would anyone not want to be a part of it?

Only a fifth of the Jewish people merited redemption, the ones who were not “kofer b’ikar.” That is, they were defiant and denied themselves redemption, having no willingness to be a part of it. These Jews felt alienated, not part of the klal. “Redemption is for good Jews, holy Jews,” says this defiant soul. “I’m still sifting through much lower sparks in Mitzrayim. I’m not ready to leave!”

Clearly the 80% thought they had the real treasure, even as they drowned in the filth of the Forty-Nine Gates of Impurity. They saw what they embraced as something more compelling and did not want to leave it, instead taking their worthless treasure chest with them to the grave – “and to dust shall you return.”

These were very sick, troubled souls, stricken with addiction to the point that they no longer identified with the longstanding promise of redemption passed on from generation to generation, originating from the covenant between G-d and Avrohom Avinu. Only 20% remembered what G-d means to us, enough to identify real treasure when they see it, resources dedicated towards building G-d’s home and palace in the world, the holy Mikdash.

What do we say to the Defiant Son in response to his pain? How do we help our child through his addiction? We reach out to him and tell him that redemption is a process. True, he would not have been redeemed in Egypt. He did not want to be a part of it. He wasn’t ready. But that was the beginning of a process, the mother of all redemptions. Each day is part of the “days of our going out from Egypt,” until we achieve the true and complete redemption. G-d will take him too, by the hand in the final redemption and he will play an important role in the process.

***

Notwithstanding his cynicism, the Defiant Son is present. He attends the Seder.

When I first moved to Toronto, the young Misnagdim tried to get under my skin about Moshiach. I turned to their ringleader: “Look,” I said, pointing to an older Chassid with a snow-white beard and distinguished appearance. “There’s Rabbi Aronow. Why don’t you ask him about Moshiach?”

The ringleader lowered his head: “Because he might convince me…”

At least the Defiant Son is at the table. In some respect, he wants to be convinced. This son vocalizes his isolation, the enslavement to his addictions, to get our attention. He wants our advice to schlep him out of the mire of exile.

On the first day of Pesach 5732, the Rebbe addressed a group of Jewish children around the time when many Jews had just left Russia:

Just a few months ago this person was behind the Iron Curtain. There he saw that for every Jew there are five times more Gentiles, who deter him from living a Jewish life, and living as a Jew is “our life and length of days.” Everything Jewish requires mesiras nefesh (self-sacrifice).

Even now when we say, “everyone reclines” … how can he relax knowing his friends remain there, behind the Iron Curtain, and they cannot fulfill Torah and Mitzvos without mesiras nefesh?! Moreover, he is told there will be a complete redemption and everything will be revealed – “Ma nishtana?” How can that possibly be? …

[In response we tell him] “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt” … But “G-d our L-rd took us out from there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm.” When G-d wills it, He takes them out of Mitzrayim. So it will be for us in the future redemption … very soon.

[The following day, the Rebbe continued with this thought] Just like the exodus from Egypt, although there was “b’damayich chayi – in [the spilling of a drop of] your blood there is life,” nevertheless, the beginning and the main factor comes about through the initiative from On High.

There is no reason to be anxious about the redemption – the Rebbe tells children – because G-d has the power to take all Jews out of exile. May we all immediately see that with the true and complete redemption through Moshiach Tzidkeinu. ■

 

 

Reader Comments (2)

Beautiful, Amen!
Apr 17, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterYosef V.
Thanks for your well-written article
Apr 24, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterZakes

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