The Haggadah’s four architypes of “sons” uncannily correspond to models of political engagement with Israel today. One is wise, one is wicked, one is simple, and one does not even know how to become part of the conversation…
The Mechilta midrash as adapted into the Passover Haggadah teaches that the Torah speaks in several educational voices to people of varying dispositions. It speaks, as it were, to four different “sons.” One is wise, one is wicked, one is simple, and one does not even know how to become part of the conversation.
These four architypes uncannily correspond to four models of political engagement with Israel today.
The heart and mind of the wise son is filled with pride about Israel. He (and she) knows that at 70, Israel is a strong, prosperous and admirable country, with moral backbone and myriad achievements. He understands why polls indicate that Israeli society is the 11th happiest on the globe, and he is overwhelmingly optimistic about Israel’s future.
He asks, all the time, how he can contribute to the country, and make it grow even stronger diplomatically, economically and militarily. He feels privileged to be part of Israel’s meta-historic resurgence; to serve in the army; even to pay taxes. He revels in the biblical landscapes of Israel and in the hi-tech skylines of Herzliya. He is also determined to fix various ills and fault lines in our society, because he knows that we can.
He sits at the Pesach seder with a sense of gratitude, and with expectations of even greater things to come. He expresses a sense of solidarity with all Israelis and Jews everywhere, and invites them to join, next year, in rebuilt and united Jerusalem!
The wicked son, however, thinks that Israel is a borderline evil country, where racism, apartheid and dictatorship have taken root, and he supports boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel. He thinks that the “occupation” is corrupting the soul of Israel, and that the legitimacy of the Zionist enterprise remains tenuous. He uses his perch (at a university or a so-called human rights NGO and the like), along with his (usually weak) Jewish bona fides, as a battering ram to weaken and isolate Israel.
He dismisses Israel’s accomplishments, and ignores Israel’s many contributions to regional and global security, to health, science and the arts, and to the moral imagination of the Western world. He is oblivious to the beauty of Israel’s unique blend of modernity, tradition, nationalism and family values. He knows only how to attack.
He asks: “What is this Zionist service to you, and he excludes himself from the community and denies the foundations of our faith.”
Our response? “Blunt his teeth.” Reject his vile approach, without hesitation. He is not part of our journey of redemption. Alas, he is like the many Jews who assimilated in Egypt, stayed behind at the Exodus, and were rubbed-out of Jewish history.
The simple son is a confused soul, who obsessively insists on seeing two equal sides to every equation, including the Arab-Israeli conflict. Both parties are evenly to blame he feels, and both sides need to compromise (with the overwhelming onus to pay for peace falling on powerful Israel).
His ultra-liberal affinities make him uncomfortable with solid avowals of historical rights, inelastic theological claims, or firm strategic assertions. He gives Israel some benefit of the doubt, he is himself consumed with doubts.
Consequently, he is ill at ease with US President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, even through the return of Jewish sovereignty to Jerusalem has been a Jewish dream for 2,000 years and a fixed Israeli diplomatic goal since the dawn of modern Zionism. Similarly, he is embarrassed by Vice President Mike Pence’s crystal clear spiritual-national speech to the Knesset, which recognized Jewish tie to the Land of Israel as unassailable and paramount.
He frets about reactions on the Palestinian street to Trump’s corrective diplomacy. Instead of helping to knock some realism into Mideast politics, he naively devotes himself to raising funds for the poor Palestinians who live under Hamas’ thumb in Gaza.
And thus you shall say to him: “With a strong hand the Lord took us out of Egypt, from the house of bondage.” There is no reason to waver in our commitments to the Jewish national project. It comes before other liberal commitments. There is no reason to be embarrassed by Israel’s strong hand.
As for the son who “does not know how to ask,” the challenge is to find ways of getting him to care. “You must initiate him.”
This “son” apparently knows little about Judaism or Israel; and is not sure he needs to. He is the “American Jew” referred to in the recent Pew poll who is Jewishly illiterate and poorly prepared to defend Israel, or even to care about it and other keystones of identity.
He need to be drawn onto a Birthright trip, into a NCSY seminar, or to a Young Judea summer camp. He needs to be exposed to Israel’s dynamic music scene, rich academic world, global humanitarian efforts, wise security architecture, responsible and impressive youth.
He needs to taught Jewish self-esteem and nationalist self-assurance – which are key components of the modern Jewish/Israeli identity, alongside basic knowledge of Jewish religious creed.
Then, and only then, might he also “receive the blessings of the Lord from Zion, and see the good of Jerusalem, all his life.”