One Wise and One Wicked
With the approach of Pesach, it is appropriate to review the Hagadah. One of the more familiar portions of the narrative reads: “The Torah spoke of four sons, one wise, one wicked, one simple, and one who does not even know how to ask a question.”
At first glance, this excerpt appears to be quite straightforward. Still, the sequence in which the four sons are listed in the Haggadah raises some puzzling questions. They could have been listed in the order of “son,” “son who is incapable of asking,” and finally, “wise son.” Alternatively, the sons could have been listed according to their esteem: wise, simple, the one who cannot ask, and finally, wicked. What is the underlying reason for a sequence which elevates the wicked son and places him next to the wise son?
The rabbis of the Talmud emphasized, with respect to an individual Jew, “Though he may sin, he is still a Yisroel.” Their choice of words is highly significant, since the term Yisroel means more than just “Jew.” It is an acronym for the Hebrew phrase “Yesh Shishim Ribuy Osios Latorah—there are six hundred thousand letters in the Torah.” Furthermore, there were six hundred thousand Jews present at the revelation of the Torah. Thus, each individual Jew is considered as representing one letter of Torah.
Should any letter of a Sefer Torah be missing, the sanctity of all the letters is impaired. A Sefer Torah which is incomplete, even to the extent of a single letter, cannot be used for Torah reading in the synagogue until it is repaired and made whole again. Similarly, if any individual Jew is missing from his people, the people are considered incomplete until that individual is “repaired” and made whole again.
The sanctity of the entire Jewish people depends upon each individual. Even the “wicked or “rebellious” son represents a letter of the Torah and is essential to its sanctity. He is placed next to the wise son in the Hagadah to emphasize our responsibility to every individual. We have a duty to improve his character and to expose his Jewish “core.” Our responsibility to the rebellious sons of our people is not one with less than our duty toward our simple sons, our ignorant sons, or our wise sons.
The Jewish “core” in every individual is indestructible. As the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe once explained, “It is significant that the Hagadah narrative about the four sons repeats the word ‘one’ in every case — ‘The Torah spoke of four sons; one wise, one wicked...’ In every son of our people, be he wise or wicked, there is a portion of The One G-d, the Hashem Echod, the spark of G-dliness.”
Israel may be compared to a building consisting of different stories. Each story corresponds to different levels of individuals. During repair, the contractor might wish to elevate the building. If he raises only the upper floors, he will only affect the upper floors. If he uses his machinery and levers to elevate the middle floors, he will raise the middle and upper stories. But in order to raise the entire building, he must start by elevating the bottom floor. Only by starting with the lowest levels of our people can we elevate the entire structure.
Wishing you and your family a Happy and Kosher Pesach!
Rabbi Sholom Galperin