Rabbi Shlomo Einhorn, Rav and Dean at Yeshivat Yavneh
This year at the seder, just like every other year, we conclude the reading of the haggadah with the jovial perennial – Echad mi Yodea – “Who Knows One?” The 7th stanza is “Who knows Seven?” Sadly, this year we can answer that we know seven; 7 are the children of Gabriel and Gayle Sassoon, who were killed in the house fire this past Shabbos.
Life for the Jewish people is seldom less than complex but as we go into Pesach 5775 the questions of the 4 sons are more conflicted than ever. The wise son asks “What are these laws that You, our G-d have commanded us?” The wise son is sharp and he probes with reason, “Why G-d, how can Your gift of Shabbos ever hurt us?” We answer him with Halacha, legally and logically. We do our best to speak his language. The wicked son, filled with disdain, asks “What is this service to you?” His body is in crisis. His sense of anger forces him to create a distance from his people. Maybe that is the only way for him to survive. We blunt his teeth. We grab him by the shoulders and tell him that regardless of his issues with G-d and Israel, his people need him now. The simple son lacks the ability to address a philosophically charged engagement like the wicked or the wise, instead he looks at the pictures in the news and reads the eulogy delivered by Mr. Sassoon and is dumbfounded. All he can muster is the simple words, “What is this?” “What the heck is this?”
Perhaps most tragic of all is the one who has experienced too much trauma, too much internal strife that he or she no longer knows how to ask the questions – Sheino yodea Lish’ol. We open him up. We convince him to sit down with a therapist. We help him gain the tools that he needs to ask the questions and articulate his pain.
Rav Riskin, in his commentary on the Haggadah points to a fascinating concept that I also heard in the name of Rav Shimon Shkop. The 4 children are really the 4 parts of our own persona. We all have a smart side, a rebellious side, an innocent side, and a clueless side. Perhaps they are even four archetypes that we play. In actuality, our children, for the most part, won’t be asking these difficult Job-esque questions. The Seder is too late at night, their minds are too young, and the temptations of innocence draw them away from such inquiry. But you can bet that we all will be asking ourselves these questions.
It is for this reason that the Halacha requires one having the Pesach Seder alone to ask themselves the 4 questions. Even two scholars sitting together in a meal must ask each other these questions. Why is that? No amount of study years can prepare any of us to cogently handle sadness at this level. There is no pithy response.
The Bobover Rebbe asks why we break the middle matzah before Maggid, telling the story of the evening. He answers that no one of us have the full story. We need each other. Each of us form the aggregate and together we have a better understanding. But I think there is an additional layer here. We break the matzah before telling the story because we must understand that there are fissures and fault lines in our lives and those spaces must animate the story of the Haggada, the battle that we wage. The whole evening is filled with the tension and drama of our triumphs and our tragedies.
We drink spirited wine to celebrate freedom but that wine ought to be red to remind us of blood. We crack jokes over this years’ sweet Choroses as we buckle under the weight of our Marror. We are all brilliant –Kulanu Chachamim, Kulanu Nevonim – but we are all depraved – Mitchilah Ovdei Avodah Zarah hayu Avoteinu. We have our people–Am Yisroel – but we seem to have lost Moshe, our teacher, somewhere in the Haggada. And so we sing – Baruch HaMakom, Baruch Hu – Blessed is The Place (a reference to G-d), Blessed is He. HaMakom is the appellation we use when consoling a mourner. But we also bless “the place” where these seven angels are laid to rest.
They will not be forgotten.
Pesach night we are asked to stay up studying until sleep overtakes us. Stay up longer with your children over the next few nights and learn until sleep must take them.
Pesach night we pray. The Hallel spontaneously cuts into our cerebral Seder. Take your children to a mincha or a maariv or help them daven on Shabbos morning. And most of all know that the Sassoon children will never be gone from G-d’s embrace: One is Hashem, One is Hashem, in the Heaven and the Earth.