Thursday, March 21, 2013

(Not so) Simple Guy

Not too smart, but he's a nice guy! The seder table includes four characters, one of whom sounds like he's well-suited to that non-compliment. 
The wise son, ah, now there's a bundle of nachas. He's the bright, articulate kid with a probing mind who has his Yiddishe mama convinced he is headed for Fortune 500 or a Nobel prize. Sure, he can be precocious at times, but that's just him expressing his creative side. Jewish parents all wish for such children and are generally convinced that their brood or all of above-average IQ. 
Of course, nobody wants to have a son labelled "the wicked one". He may be "going through a stage", but bubbeleh is not, G-d forbid, going to land up a delinquent. Just as much as Jewish parents wouldn't want their children to turn out "wicked", we usually balk at the thought of any of our kids being labelled "simple".
At the Seder, the "simple" son asks "What's this all about?". You get the sense that he asks the same question annually. He's the embarrassingly socially inept child who keeps banging on at the same silly issues (from "why do we dip a vegetable into salt water" to "who makes the holes in the matzos?"). After all these years, you'd hope he'd come up with a fresh conversation starter, but there he is again with his perennial "tell it to me slowly" routine all over again.
Or maybe we've misunderstood the "simple son". Perhaps his apparently superficial question hides an honesty and humility that we could do well to learn from.
The wise son knows all the facts, nuances and insights (what nachas!), but that is his Achilles Heel. He's so learned that he starts to imagine he knows, he's the authority, he understands. Actually, he's cast his opinions in stone and has no plans to shift them.
Real growth happens when you can look at the same Seder table you have seen yearly since you were a tot and ask "what's this?". Imagine being open enough to say, "I know I learned all about this last year, but are last year's insights all there is to the story? Perhaps I've gotten comfortable with thinking I know what Pesach and its message of personal growth is all about- and maybe that's exactly how I could miss its true message. Last year's Pesach message may have been relevant to last years challenges, but this year has brought new challenges, which means I'll need new insights."
So, let's start again- what is this all about? 

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