The Wicked Son

At the Pesach seder, we read the story of the "Four Sons" - the wise one, the wicked one, the simple one, and the one who does not know to ask. The wicked son, who asks defiantly, "What does this service mean to you?!" in my opinion is unfairly labeled. I cannot see how he is all that wicked. After all, he at least shows up to his family's seder.

Rather, the so-called "wicked son" may be see as an unhappy underachiever with a lousy self-image. He is a miserable person who gains a measure of satisfaction by making others miserable. He could well be suffering from a personality disorder-- envious of his brothers, demanding special attention from his parents, showing arrogance at the seder, magnifying real or imagined slights, and lacking empathy for others.

The father armed with the above psychobabble could have sought to appease his son. After all, with only four sons at his table, could he afford to alienate him? Is it not the duty of a parent to keep everybody happy, even if it means disrupting the seder and the best interests of the rest of the family?

No. The father instead rebukes his own son in no uncertain terms. The Hebrew text in fact uses forceful language, "He smashes his teeth." I doubt the Rabbis of the Haggadah actually advocated such physical action, but their determination is clear.

The story of the "wicked son" contains lessons for all of us, whether at home, at the synagogue, at work, or in local, national, or international politics. Appeasement does not work. Catering to narcissists does not work. What does work? Adherence to principles, a willingness to impart them, and a desire to have a well-functioning, loving group.

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