An Israeli family attending a Passover seder. (Nati Shohat/Flash90) (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
passover seder

The Jewish people don’t have to agree with one another. But they must come together at the Passover Seder and hear each other out.

A highlight of the Passover Haggadah is the passage of the “Four Sons.” There is the wise son, the evil son, the simple son, and the son who does not even know how to ask a question. Let us focus on the evil son.

We read, “What does the evil son say? What is the purpose of this service to YOU? [i.e. to YOU, not to HIM] … Because he excludes himself from the community, he denies basic principles. Therefore, you should strike his teeth… If he had been there [a slave in Egypt], he would not have been redeemed.”

Why is the evil son so bad? Why are his questions so taboo? When are we ever told to punch someone in the face when we don’t like the questions they ask?

Our forefather Jacob was the father of 12 sons, the 12 tribes of Israel. His favorite son was Joseph, who was disliked by his other brothers due to the favoritism their father showed him as well as to his recurring dreams that he would one day rule over the family. Jacob saw the rift between the brothers and did what he could in order to keep them united.

One day, Jacob sent Joseph to check on his brothers who were tending their sheep in the area of Shechem. He told Joseph, “Check on the peace of your brothers and check on the peace of the sheep.”

Why did Jacob word the errand in this manner? Why could he have not simply stated, “Check on the peace of your brothers and their sheep?”

‘Peace’ Can Mean Two Different Things

It is explained that Jacob was alluding to something deeper than merely checking on how everyone was doing. The term “peace” can mean two differing things: One meaning of “peace” is that there is no war. The other meaning is unity, where people care about one another and look out for each other.

An example of the former type of peace can be seen in sheep. Sheep don’t care for one another. They don’t share the food they are given. But the sheep live peacefully together. An example of the latter type of peace, however, can be seen in the example of Joseph’s brothers. They took care of one another. One man’s catch was every man’s dinner.

Joseph, however, separated himself from this brotherly unit and was, at best, a “sheep.”

Jacob wanted this to change. He wanted Joseph to be part of the “club.” Most important, he wanted Joseph to realize that it was important for him to be in the club and the value of brotherly unity. As such, with his carefully worded instructions, Jacob was essentially telling Joseph to take a look at the peace among the sheep and to compare it to the peace experienced by the brothers. Jacob wanted Joseph to realize what he was missing. But it was too late. The brothers sold Joseph to Egyptians, and the rest is history.

Back to the Evil Son

It is precisely because unity is so important that the evil son is labeled “evil,” “heretical” and a “denier of basic principles.” He wants to separate himself from the rest us. You can ask anything. You can argue. You can disagree. But if you even entertain the idea of separating…you’re outta here!

And why are we told to punch the evil son in the teeth? It is because teeth symbolize the unity of the nation. The more teeth a person has, the more valuable he or she is. Little can be done with one tooth. A mouthful of teeth is a healthy and strong mouth. So, too, a united nation is a healthy and strong nation.

The Jewish people don’t have to agree with one another. But they must come together at the Passover Seder and hear each other out.

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

Send Passover Food Packages to Needy Israeli Soldiers

We are honored to thank the young men and women of the IDF who risk their lives to protect the citizens of Israel. Join us in sending Passover food packages (and personal notes) to needy Israeli soldiers and their families.

Bring Passover joy and blessing to the heroes of Israel who defend our freedom every day! Many soldiers spend the Passover holiday with needy families back home. The soldiers greatly appreciate your love and concern.

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