The Four Questions

Last Tuesday marked the anniversary of the UK’s first Covid Lockdown. Shortly after that we celebrated our first Zoom Passover Seder with friends. Tonight that anniversary comes round again, too.

I’ve always thought Passover to be the quintessential Jewish festival as it is celebrated primarily in the home, with a nod to both ancient history and modern times reaching its zenith with the intonement of the ‘cris de coeur‘: “Next Year In Jerusalem”. How one understands this aspiration depends on ones’ disposition towards ritual and ceremony. The Jewish tradition, with its reference to Talmudic debate, is no stranger to a very broad diversity of consideration. Regardless of whether one is of the Chasidic or the Reform persuasion, the ambition at the centre of every Seder service, regardless of one’s orthodoxy, is to draw out meaning and guidance for our own lives from the ancient ways.

The Seder service follows an order (The Haggadah) which tells the story of the exit from Egypt of the Jewish people; an exit that required, among other things, a visitation of a Plague upon the Egyptians in order for them to persuade them to do the right thing. Therein possibly lies a lesson in itself? Moving on …. One of the key moments in the Seder is a questioning by the younger generations of their elders as to what the Passover is really all about and its meaning. Traditionally this takes the form of questions by 4 types of Son: the Wise One, the Wicked One, the Simple One and the One Who Does Not Know How To Ask. It’s an interesting formula; one that has stood the test of time. Tonight many Seders may ‘run the rule’ over how we are to look over the last year, possibly in the following way.

The Wise Son

The wise child asks, “What are the testimonies, statutes, and judgments we learn through the Passover story?” Discuss with that child the order and meaning of the Seder, and teach this child the rules of observing the holiday of Passover.

Wise Governments will understand that by explaining things in a straightforward and complete manner, Wise Citizens will not see the Covid rules as random and purposeless. Fundamental to this is that Wise Governments will recognise when the season is upon them and will act in a timely and responsive manner! In fact, preparation and expectation of the arrival of Passover is integral to the observance of the festival and a Wise Government will have prepared appropriately for the expected season.

The Wicked Son

The Wicked Child asks, “What does this service mean to you?” By using the word “you” and not “us,” the child is not including him or herself in the community. Because he takes himself out of the community and misses the point, say to this child: “This service helps  us remember and learn from our people’s journey to freedom.”

It is interesting that in many 21st century homes there is no ‘Wicked’ child and this 2nd child is referred to as the ‘Thoughtless’ one! In any case, this child is one who has a strong capacity for denial accompanied by a strong assertion to do whatever they please; a fact they will express in terms of the natural rights and fundamental societal purposes. The Wicked Government will assent and pander to such attitudes; often invoking an ascendancy of the importance of the enterprise over the whole; expressing this as for the wellbeing of the individual

The Simple Son
The 4th Son

The simple child asks, “What is this?” To this child, answer plainly: “This is the story of the ancient Jewish people’s journey to freedom.”What about the child who doesn’t know how to ask a question? Help this child by telling the story of when the Jews went forth from Egypt.

Though my Talmudic betters will know otherwise, for me there is no great chasm between the Simple Son and The One Who Doesn’t Know How To Ask. These are Citizens that need to be taken care of and it is a fundamental requirement of Government to exercise a duty of care on their behalf. In one of my early Ericle posts on The Pandemic, I suggested that this may one of our finest hours in that most countries have have sought to protect the older generations, who are the most vulnerable, despite other considerations that lead in other directions. The balance of decision making by most governments has been in this direction but most could undoubtedly done better. Interestingly, it will be the 3rd & 4th sons who will have the greatest difficulty understanding why, in a post-vaccinated world, the major rituals of the Pandemic season are passed over and why we have to accept Covid deaths as per other diseases that afflict the world.

One of the lessons of The Pandemic has surely been that, despite our 21st desire for the contrary, negative natural events will continue to plague the world. Passover, I suggest, has a great deal to commend itself as a Pandemic Paradigm both in terms of its seasonal inevitability and as a means to process how lessons are conveyed and learnt.


May we spend Next Year in Jerusalem or Anywhere Else We Wish!

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3 Responses to The Four Questions

  1. Hans Wernhart says:

    We had planned a trip to Jerusalem many years ago… hopefully the day will come.
    Love to read your Ericles

  2. Ericle says:

    [From: Pat]
    A very informative article. The cultural and religious practice of reminding the younger generations of their spiritual richness and inheritance through a family conversation embracing both ritual and choreography must be invaluable. I imagine the benefits are not always immediately obvious, though the longer term outcomes are likely to be worthwhile and lasting in nurturing sensitive responses to our common and shared predicaments, and challenges.

    Wishing you and yours a Happy Passover festival, Chag Pesach Sameach, Sláinte

  3. Dawn Temple says:

    Another thoughtful and thoroughly enjoyed Ericle.

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