Why is a “Foolish” Son Turned into a “Wicked” Son?

Why is a “Foolish” Son Turned into a “Wicked” Son?

Rabbi Michael Graetz

In the midrash of the four sons the opposite of the “wise” son is call the “wicked” son using the Hebrew word “rasha” which usually refers to a person who commits evil or wicked acts. The rabbis who arranged the sources of the Haggada into a whole changed the designation of the son in the original source of this midrash. There he is called “foolish” which is more properly the opposite of “wise”. Why did they change the designation? It is because they wanted to emphasize the act which is wicked which this son seems to be committing. That is the act of opting out of active participation in the struggle of the Jewish nation for its national and political freedom. Indeed, in the Haggadah this action is accounted as tantamount to being an atheist, at the very least of denying loyalty to God and God’s promise to Israel to redeem them from bondage and to bring them to the land which God had promised them, the land of Israel. If a person removes himself from those Jews who are struggling and fighting to make that promise a reality, it is as if that person has denied God.

In the last few months, the State of Israel has been attacked and called a rasha or wicked.  The words haven’t come from any modern enemy but from Haredi politicians in the Knesset and leading ultra-Orthodox rabbis.

Why this outcry?  In March, the Knesset passed a bill to require ultra-orthodox yeshiva students to be drafted into the Israeli Army.

In 1948, during the War of Independence, every type of Jew – secular, traditional, modern Orthdox and ultra Orthodox went out to defend the newborn state.  There were no exceptions.  There was also no choice – no one could have afforded to stay at home or to be studying in the yeshiva because it was a question of life and death. There was no real justification for ‘opting out’ of the national struggle for independence.

Has the existential situation in Israel changed since then?  It would be fair to say that, yes, it has in many ways.  However, is there absolutely no danger for the existence of the State of Israel today which would allow the exemption of so many young Israelis from the army?  The heads of the army are the ones answering this question for us and their answer is a clear no.  We still need everyone to be drafted.

The Haggadah explains to us that the “wicked” act of the son is excluding himself from the struggle. The wicked child asks what is this to you?  Not what is this to us? “I am not part of this, this doesn’t relate to me.” He says. The Haggadah answers him “if you would have been there you would not have been redeemed”. Meaning If you were part of Am Yisrael this is what you do to gain your freedom but if you exclude yourself you cannot gain freedom this way.

Furthermore, the Haggadah is interpreting this excluding oneself as a form of rejection of God and God’s promise to Israel. How ironic is it that a group who exhorts in the name of God, seems to be, according to the Haggadah, actually denying God by their actions?

Questions for Discussion:

What do you think about the question of drafting the Ultra Orthodox? Is this a situation that justifies calling someone “wicked”?  Do you agree with the answer given by the Haggadah which is suggested here?