My Father was one of four brothers.
He often felt like the black sheep of the family.
Whether this was actually true or not I’ll never know, but he had a habit of bringing it up every Passover when the topic of the four sons came up. For the unacquainted: The Passover story mentions four sons: one who is wise, one who is wicked, one who is simple and one that doesn’t even know how to ask a question.
‘Can you guess which one my family thought I was?’ My Father would ask each year with a wry grin.
This was usually followed with a bout of polite silence from dinner guests who didn’t want to answer the rhetorical question.
‘The Wicked one Papa’ one of us would say so as to break the tension.
‘That’s right.’ Then he’d flash a knowing glance across the table and continue reading.
It was a Deutsch family tradition.
I think for him it was a badge of honor. A way of feeling secure about what he saw as his place.
He was, after all not what people would necessarily define as ‘likable’. To be clear I liked him very much, but social graces were not his strong suit. More like an ill fitting one that he constantly struggled to wear.
The problem was that he was often vocally right about things that people were perfectly comfortable being wrong about. It was the engineer in him. He’d find the problem you didn’t ask to be fixed. Always well meaning and often ill received. The kind of man who would sit in the corner at a party waiting for something to break so he could brandish his Leatherman and go to work.
But back to the story of the 4 sons.
By labeling himself as ‘wicked’ my Father was affirming his position as an outsider. Something apart from the other three. This was how he felt and for him this was true.
My interpretation of the story however is quite different.
The way I see it, the interesting thing about this story is that even though the wicked son is contrary, he is never asked to leave the table.
He’s part of the Seder. Not only is he not excluded, he’s included. He serves an integral purpose.
So what then?
Go with me on this.
This story, like the others in the Haggadah is a metaphor. Here we have four sons with four different ways of looking at the same old tale. But lets imagine for a second that these four sons represent the 4 stages of development that we all go through in our own belief systems.
We all start off as infants. Unable to ask our own questions.
When we grow into childhood, we are like simple son. We believe the stories that we’re told. Whether its the tooth fairy or some sort of internalized belief system. We may wrestle with certain facts, but the deeper implications and nuances are often lost.
But its not until we become mature critical thinkers that we are able to question what has been put before us. It is in this fertile stage that we are able to reject certain illusions and falsehoods. Only through the skepticism that comes with ‘wickedness’ is it possible reach a stage of true wisdom and understanding.
But this brings me to the fifth character of this saga.
He is the man who sits at the table with his four quarreling sons and allows them each their own unique opinion while giving them firm boundaries.
This was the man my own Father actually was.
Somebody who gave me a framework that allowed for my own questioning, doubts and ultimate growth as human being.
That said, If he were to hear that today I don’t know that he’d agree.
I’m sure he’d be flattered, but I don’t know that he’d buy it.
After all, he was contrary.