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Passover 2011

More important than knowing where someone is, is to know from where they come; this allows one to better gauge the person’s current position as a function of where he or she began and where he or she intends to go.

As Passover comes but once a year, I find it odd that people give divrei Torah about the Passover seder and say something like, “And this idea, which relates to ____, a highlight of the seder…” because nearly everything is a highlight of the seder. We say these things once a year and each paragraph can serve as a tremendous bundle of meaning, insight and life-lesson fodder.

With this in mind, I’d like to focus everyone’s attention on one of the highlights of the seder: the four sons. While much can be said (and much is) about the four sons, one of the more frequently asked questions relates to the necessary contrast between the chacham (wise son) and the rasha (hmm…let’s call him the off-the-derech son) — in essence, they are asking the same thing: “what are we doing here?” What then differentiates the wise son from the son who says something very similar yet is called “wicked” for it?

There are nearly as many answers given as the number of times this question is asked, and almost all of them try to reconcile the superficial similarities by focusing on the subtle distinctions, whether they be of grammar, vocabulary or something else.

A week ago, I heard an explanation quoted from the Gadol Shimusha that I had never heard before and that I thought was a welcome departure from the common type of explanations — it doesn’t attempt to respond to the question as much as it attempts to work around it.

There is a well known prayer that begins ein kelokeinu (“there is none like our God…”) and then transitions into the next stanza, mi chelokeinu (who is like our God?…”). If one were to ask such a question, and the answer is that “there is none like our God,” shouldn’t we begin by asking the question (however rhetorical it might be) and then follow by responding that there is none like Him? Why is it in reverse?

One can say that before one may ask questions, one must show that one is not coming to mock and to ridicule. One must approach without the appearance that one’s sole purpose is to express disdain — if that is the case, then no response will satisfy, because no response is really being sought. Before we respond to those asking questions, we must ascertain their objective — is it to show contempt for the subject of their questions, and are they not even really looking for an answer, or are they asking in earnest, trying to gain greater insight into that which bothers them? If one first says, “I recognize God” or at least, “I’m trying to recognize God,” we will allow them to ask, “Who is God, who is like God and what is this all about?”

It’s all in the attitude. If one comes to ask with sincere inquisitiveness, we allow them to explore nearly everything — even heretical issues. And so the wise son receives a real response because he asks with respect, rather than like the son we call ‘wicked’, who speaks with an inflammatory tone. If the one who wants to reconcile is sincere, whether it be the off-the-derech child, the wayward spouse or the estranged relative, conversation is at least an option, but if there is no sincerity and the return is merely meant to antagonize, little can be gained by re-engagement. And so the son is labeled a wicked son, and the response is not to him, for he’s not asking as much as he’s just challenging. We refer to him in the third person, because we are not talking to him but about him, and we reply in the plural, because we are talking to the other three sons, providing an ample offensive against his attempt to stir up trouble.

In writing divrei Torah for FrumSatire, I try to look at things in a way that few look at them and even fewer will admit to looking at them. I try to think about and write about what I think are interesting and important topics, and not accept things just because they’ve been accepted for so long by so many. I hope there are those of you out there who appreciate what I have to say and recognize that there will be some difficulties and necessary compromises with any approach — but see that I ask only with sincere inquisitiveness and tread through serious topics with delicate concern for detail and truth.

Thank you all for the support I’ve received so far and looking forward to more opportunities for discussion and debate.

Kol tuv (all the best)!

{ 16 comments… add one }
  • Joseph April 18, 2011, 7:56 AM

    Maror paste
    and lemon chyme
    brings me to the east side

    where crates of
    eclipse moonlit
    of wise women wishing
    for redemption

    pickles and bucketeers
    pots and pans
    mortar paste, fat bricks
    bind me no longer

    ilu lo hotzeeanu,
    hotzeeanu memetzraim
    the east side would be
    chinese, russian & hindu

  • Skeptic Jew April 18, 2011, 9:08 AM

    As an Orthodox Jew with Smichah to boot and a change of career leaving Rabbbinics behind due mostly to personal questions (yes, I am still “in the derech, within the fold, etc.), I greatly appreciate your fresh approach to the Divrei Torah!
    Your site provides me much-needed comic relief and a sense of not being alone in questioning and criticizing absurdity while at the same time staying within the realm of respect (except, perhaps, in the eyes of the most narrow-minded radicals who take any intellectual divergence as apostasy and who also have the sense of humour only seen by that monk in Umberto Eco’s “The Name of The Rose”)!
    Keep up the great work!
    A Kosher un Freilechen Pesach from a long-bearded, kappota-wearing skeptic!

    • DRosenbach April 18, 2011, 9:58 AM

      Thank you, (although I’m sure you realize that it’s not my site).

  • rationalist frummie April 18, 2011, 10:31 AM

    Yasher koach drosenbach. You always have a refreshingly innovative and fascinating approach to judaism and torah. However, it seems that in the last few weeks, in your weekly divrei torah, instead of asking questions and coming up with interesting (and controversial to some) answers, you have been forced to continually defend your views on science and torah and arguing with those who see you as being heretical. These arguments are interesting but unfortunately fruitless. I am merely suggesting that perhaps ignore those who attack your approach and continue to ask scintillating questions and on the occasion, offer to us brilliant chiddushim. Thanks you for all that you have brought to the wider frumsatire community. Chag pesach sameach!

    • DRosenbach April 18, 2011, 2:05 PM

      That was nice, and you even used the word scintillating. 🙂

      • rationalist frummie April 18, 2011, 2:49 PM

        yes scintilliating, without the scotoma! however, I was making a serious point. On the occasion, you seem to devote a lot of time to arguing with your critics instead of the usual dvar torah. Perhaps, if you choose to ignore those who call apikorsus on whatever you say, than you can begin again to write your divrei torah par excellence without getting caught up in arguing.

        • DRosenbach April 18, 2011, 2:57 PM

          I don’t want my silence to be misinterpreted as agreement, and if one cannot defend his position, there might not be any value in one endorsing one.

          • rationalist frummie April 20, 2011, 9:31 PM

            Prima facia, silence is interpreted as being unable to defend one’s position. However, this is not always true. Many people choose not to argue about sensitive issues merely because they know it’s controversial and will start a fight.

            • DRosenbach April 20, 2011, 9:38 PM

              Controversy is nothing more than revealing what some would rather remain concealed, and the one’s who are doing the fighting are the one’s who’d like it to remain concealed.

              And I think fighting is a good thing — for some reason, ‘being argumentative’ has taken on a really bad connotation.

              • ???: find answers April 21, 2011, 10:32 AM

                fighting *is* good, but only if it leads to something productive, which this may not due to the circumstances of arguing with people you don’t know and can’t make assumptions about.

                • DRosenbach April 21, 2011, 2:02 PM

                  I like to think that I argue with premises, not people.

                  And it’s not like we’re breaking any noses, and the intellectual disagreement may be positive as a stand alone, even if no resolution is achieved.

                  • rationalist frummie April 21, 2011, 6:41 PM

                    very true. im convinced, yasher koach : ) however, although intellectual disagreement is certainly positive, when people start throwing around words like “apikores,” and strings of other curse words, than it stops being intellectual and becomes childish name calling. this is what I fear sometimes happens in these arguments.

                    • DRosenbach April 22, 2011, 3:40 AM

                      I agree to some extent, but it has its place.

                      Calling someone an apikorus is like calling someone an idiot. If the debaters are weak, these terms take on nothing more than superlative placeholders: “You’re so stupid,” is replied to with, “well, you’re an idiot,” to which the first guy might say, “well, at least I’m not a @#*!$^ moron like you!”

                      But there is a time to call someone an idiot, and there is also a time to call someone an apikorus. If the debate goes nowhere, and can go nowhere, because the argument is being held on two levels, the debater on the higher plane might never be able to get his or her point across because the inferior debater doesn’t accept the premises of the superior, or vice versa. It’s like trying to argue with someone who who perceives that the ordering of the integers is such that all odd integers follow immediately after zero, and only then do the even integers line up — if this person accepts this premise as his given starting point, there is hardly anything to be discussed with this guy; endless debates will begin regarding recipe ingredient measurements, historical continuity of battles across the globe and in reference to who has been married the longest. Sure it’s a ridiculous example, but to conclude such a scenario, the only thing to say to the guy might be, “I’m terribly sorry, but we just can’t argue anymore because you’re an idiot.”

                      So if people find my position untenable, my opinions outlandish and my line of reasoning incoherent, they might be mistaken. But if they truly feel that they are not, they might then come to the conclusion that no debate that can ever be held effectively, for my propositions stem from a given premise that fundamentally conflicts with their given premise — and that fault line between our starting premises might just be, from their perspective anyway, a result of my denial of their sacred and treasured religious values that form the underpinnings of all that they say, do, think and feel.

  • Frozen Chosen April 18, 2011, 12:03 PM

    Very nice work. You may like a piece in the Akeidas Yitzchok (Parshas Bo, Shaar Shemoneh UShloshim), he writes something similar. Chag kasher v’sameach!

  • OfftheDwannaB April 20, 2011, 7:29 PM

    I think you’d like R treibitz’s answer to this question on hashkafacircle.com. (Not that this one was bad). He explains the structure of the haggada and the limudim in the pesukim in the parshios that direct chazal to their conclusions.

    If you’re interested, he has 4 fascinating shiurim on his site under “haggadah”.

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