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Hello, Fifth Son
By: Rabbi Manis Friedman

An idea mentioned in the Talmud years ago concerned the sons at the Seder table, commonly known as the Four Sons. The Lubavitcher Rebbe introduced the idea that there's a fifth son. It was a radical idea at the time.

Who else is there besides the wise son, the wicked son, the simple son and the one who doesn't know how to ask? The Rebbe said, there's a fifth son. The fifth son is the one who refuses to come to the Seder. He didn't just forget, he won't come.

Traditionally, this was the lost member of the family, the one we don't talk about anymore: the one "who stopped being Jewish." The Rebbe said, the fifth son is a Jew and we have to reach out to him and invite him to come to the Seder table.

What part of him refuses to come to the Seder? His Jewish part. His Jewish soul is objecting because the Judaism that is being offered does not live up to his expectations. He wants a better Judaism, not a lesser Judaism. His Jewish soul is asking us to listen.

By hearing what the fifth son has to say, Judaism can be all that it's meant to be. The fifth son is like a safety valve; like a regulator that reacts when something is not working properly. He is a warning bell that tells us when we're drifting, becoming too petty, too insular, or simply just too bland.

For example, the fifth son doesn't come to the Seder because it's just for Jews. He doesn't like that. Why do we have to separate ourselves? Why do we have to make ourselves different? Why do we have to be a small minority when we could be part of the bigger world? He's absolutely right. If G-d wanted us to be insulated, if G-d wanted us to be a little community living someplace in our own little enclave, why would He scatter us all over the world? Why are we everywhere if we don't belong anywhere? The fifth son is right, Judaism is not just for Jews.

Of course, there are parts of Judaism that are just for Jews - "Speak to the children of Israel" and they should do such and such. But in the bigger picture, Torah is not only for Jews, it's the blueprint of creation. And this is the truth that the fifth son knows in his heart.

Particularly, the fifth son gets upset because at the Seder we mention the verse of Jeremiah:16, asking G-d to pour His wrath out on all the rebellious nations. But the fifth son doesn't want to have anything to do with that. He's not like a bunch of frustrated old people who think the whole world is against him and he's going to sit there at the Seder table and vent his frustrations on the world. He doesn't want to do this. He doesn't think this is acceptable. He's right.

He's right because nobody explained that passage to him. If you look at it at face value, it seems like we're venting frustrations. But the greatest compliment you can give a human being is: I hold you to the same standard that I hold myself. Once again, we see a challenge from the fifth son rooted in the Divine.

Another idea the fifth son doesn't like: he cannot accept the suggestion that if he comes to the Seder, then he's Jewish; if he doesn't come, he's not really Jewish. Mitzvos don't make a Jew, Jews make mitzvos. The fifth son is right again.

There are other things the fifth son objects to. The fifth son doesn't like division. He wants unity, just as G-d does. The fifth son also doesn't like negativity; he wants joy. For most people, if you're religious, if you're observant, you've got to be serious. You've got to be cautious because around every corner lurks a potential sin. You can't live like this. This is not what G-d intended, and the fifth son knows that. He is looking for a Creator with a vast eternal plan and a Jewish people with a historic purpose. He wants G-dliness with teeth. He wants a G-d he can worship with all his youthful devotion - a G-d who needs him and his service. He wants what the Rebbe wanted and found in the Torah.

The central theme of Judaism is, serve G-d with joy. But then you look around, and where's the joy? The fifth son knows it's in there somewhere. So what gives? The fifth son says, something's wrong with you guys, I'm out of here. Call me when you've got your act together. Call me when you're ready to speak to my Jewish soul. Call me when you're ready to give me a Judaism that doesn't patronize, that doesn't pander, that just is. Call me. You know where I am.

This Passover, let's all try to welcome a fifth son or daughter to our Seder tables. It would truly make it a night different from all others.