The Wise Son Revisited

How many times throughout history, did we fail to heed the message to come home?

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Levi Chazen,

Levi Chazen
Levi Chazen
The wide-eyed wise son looks at his father and asks: How could this be, father? What is the nature of the beast? When the Jews first came to Egypt they were welcomed with open arms, given the choicest of lands, accepted as first-class citizens, even had people in the highest positions in government - and now, some two hundred years later, the very same Jews are beaten, abused, placed into slavery, their children killed daily by the thousands by the very same Egyptians - a holocaust, to say the least, but only the first of the many to come throughout history for the Jewish people. For wherever the Jew would travel throughout the exile - ”the song will remain the same”.

The wise son looks down the long road of history; he sees not only that only some 20 percent of his people would want to leave the slavery of Egypt for the Promised Land, but also that this story would repeat itself time and time again. The ten spies, hand-picked and sent out by Moshe, would return with the report that it’s better to stay right here in the desert heat, than to face the uncertainties in the Land of Israel. That observation would cost the Jewish people 40 long years of wandering under the desert sun.

He sees Cyrus, King of Persia, telling the Jews that they can go home to their own Land, but tragically, only a handful answer the call: A pitiful 42,300, while the rest - the bankers, the rabbis, the teachers - all prefer to stay in the "golden land" that Babylon was. He sees Ezra literally going from town to town, calling on his people to “return home” - only to be answered with: “You go up to your Jerusalem and we will stay in our Jerusalem”. He cursed them, for he knew that because they were not participating in the return to the Land, the redemption would not be complete and there would have to be more exiles.

The wise son is bewildered at this lack of action by his people to return to their land. He sees the legendary Talmudic scholar Resh-Lakish bathing in the Jordon, while the leader of Babylonian Jewry, Rabbi Bar Bar-Chanah, arrives and offers his hand to help him out. Resh-Lakish cries out to him: “By G-d, how I hate you, for if you would have returned in the time of Ezra to the Land of Israel, there would be no more exiles, the Final Redemption could have been at hand”.

The wise son hears the pain of Rabbi Yehuda Halevi, quoted in the book of the "Kuzari". When questioned by the king how is it that he continues to praise the Land of Israel but that his people do not return there, preferring to call the exile home? Rabbi Yehuda answers: “You have found our weakness, oh king.” This is the sin of generations.

He hears Rabbi Ya'acov Emden elaborate on this theme by telling his people that every Jew must make a firm and steadfast decision to ascend to and dwell in Israel. And this is why all types of misfortune befall us - that not one in a thousand awaken to heed the call to return home.

The wise son feels the pain of the Jabatinskys of this world, who tried to awaken their brethren to escape the exile before it would be too late. He hears him cry his warning of the dark clouds gathering on the horizon, only to be laughed at and called a fool.

The wise son sees all this and is bewildered. He sees the ads in the Jewish newspapers to celebrate Passover in the latest resorts, with their call to come to the Bahamas, Jamaica, Florida - anywhere but Home - to the Land of Israel.

He looks up at his father and questions: How could this be? Have we still not learned the lessons of history? What are we still waiting for, and what will it eventually take to bring home the rest of the Jewish people? His father painfully tries to tell him that when the Torah teaches us that G-d took us out of Egypt with “a strong hand”, He meant a strong hand against the Jewish people, for they did not want to leave the land of slavery.

As tears rolls down his eyes, he now understands the question of the wicked son: “What is this?” Why do we need to go through all this, why don’t we just assimilate, as 80 percent did in Egypt? Let’s just be like all the nations and end it all.

The wise son finds consolation in the answer: “This is the law of the Pesach sacrifice”. He realizes that there is a G-d in Israel, the Mover of history, and in spite of the stubbornness of His people who still refuse to see, still refuse to come home, things are moving in the right direction. G-d is indeed bringing His people home.