Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch
Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirschצילום:

“What’s the point?” some of us wonder. The enemies of Western civilization – academia, the media, Hollywood, and big business – are just too powerful. We can’t possibly win. So best to stay quiet. To speak up is to preach to the choir.

Perhaps so. But we should speak up nevertheless, Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch seems to argue in this week’s parshah.

“And it shall come to pass that when your sons say to you, ‘What is this service to you?’” (Shemos 12:26). According to the Haggadah, this question comes from the mouth of a wicked son. How do we respond to him? We don’t, says Rav Hirsch. In response to questions about Pesach from a regular child, the Torah states, “you shall say to him” or “you shall tell your son.” In response to the wicked child’s question, the Torah states only: “you shall say.”

Why? Because “to them” – to a wicked generation that scorns the commandments – “you have nothing to say,” writes Rav Hirsch in his Collected Writings. “They expect no instruction from you. They have, indeed, ‘advanced’ so far beyond you that they wish to instruct you. They wish to move you by means of their ‘refined’ mockery from your stale ‘narrow’ views…up to the bright, easy unrestraint of their ‘progressiveness.’”

To respond to their mockery, therefore, is worthless. And yet, we dare not remain silent. “You shall say,” the Torah commands us. “The less you have to say to them, the more resolutely and clearly must you in general express what the Divine precepts are to you,” writes Rav Hirsch. “[You] must set your conviction against their doubt, your loyalty against their apostasy, your determination against their wavering…. Declare aloud that to fulfill G-d’s commandment is to let oneself be carried upon G-d’s ‘wings of eagles.’… With such a clear, resolute confession, you rescue yourselves and your children from the debasement of a generation gone mad.”

We must proclaim the truth. We cannot permit evil to go unanswered. If we do, even our own kids may succumb (which explains why so many Americans grow up to be “progressive” even though their parents are conservative).

The truth is that the fate of wicked youth might not be entirely hopeless. Perhaps “mitzvos earnestly carried out in understanding and conscious enthusiasm” will move them, as Rav Hirsch writes in his Chumash commentary. Perhaps even the words we declare for ourselves will one day serve as “the shining beacon by means of which they will…find their way back.”

But our duty is “va’amartem” – “to proclaim, let who will hear it.”

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) – head of the Jewish community in Frankfurt, Germany for over 35 years – was a prolific writer whose ideas, passion, and brilliance helped save German Jewry from the onslaught of modernity.

Elliot Resnick, PhD, is the host of “The Elliot Resnick Show” and the editor of an upcoming work on etymological explanations in Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch’s commentary on Chumash.