The fours sons are typically explained as representing four different types of people in Klal Yisrael, and how each deserve a different explanation of the Pesach story. We call this in the world of education "differentiated instruction," or as Dovid Hamelech said centuries ago, "Chanoch la'naar al pi darko..." “Educate each child according to his way.”
I would like to suggest, that the four sons are not four types of people, but rather four stages of development in a child's life. When a child is in the "early childhood years" he is "sh'aino yodeah l'shol." As he grows into the lower school years he becomes the tam- a bit more educated, but not quite there yet. And, then we have the words of the "rasha" “Mah haavodah hazot lachem” “What is this work to you?!.", which sounds something like your teenager might say to you when irritated by something you are attempting to impose upon him.
Of course, I am not implying that teenagers are "wicked!" Most teens give us much nachat most of the time. But, often their comments try our patience, and we have to seriously consider how our responses will impact on their view of and love for Judaism as they grow older.
As we know, the four sons are taken from the Chumash where it indicates in four different places how to respond to our children regarding the Exodus. The first son who receives a response is the "rasha." Rabbi Yisrael Rice, in his article "Your Inner Teenager," identifies the teenage qualities in the rasha and puts an interesting spin on the pesukim in Shemot 12:25-26. "' And it shall come to pass when you come to the land which G-d will give you, according to His promise, that you shall keep this service of observing Passover. And, it shall come to pass, when your children shall say to you, "What the heck are you guys doing?'” (Instead of “What is this work to you?” Clearly not the words of the pasuk). “The whole family is together doing one thing; in walks this child and rejects whatever it is that is going on. Sounds to me like an archetypical teenager...And even before we leave Egypt, G-d is telling us that in the future, your kids will give you lip."
Rabbi Rice continues to point out how the teenager has similar qualities to the rasha. "Let us look at our archetypical teenager. S/he is at a remarkable stage in life of seeking self-definition. In order to adequately experience this stage s/he does not want to be part of the norms of general society. This may manifest itself in many shapes and forms. But the common denominator is that they are now, in some way, apart from the world of their childhood years. And if you don't go through this stage, well then, you are still a kid."
We know that teens need to go through this stage of individuation when it may appear as if they are rejecting the values of their parents. As parents of teens, how do we help our teens when they may feel that Judaism is too “confining, leaving little room for individuality and self- development,” as noted by Rabbi Steven Katz in Jewish Action? “They view the halachos of Shabbos and Yom Tov as restrictive, depriving them of ‘fun.’” What do we do when those qualities demonstrated by the rasha rear their heads?
Rabbi Jay Goldmintz, in his article “Why Aren’t Our Kids In Shul?” sees this phenomenon evident in teens’ shul attendance. I believe that Rabbi Goldmintz’s answer to this tefilla problem can relate to all areas of religious resistance we often find in teens. Many assume that the sure way to drive a child away from Judaism is to “force” him or her. Rabbi Goldmintz states that the research indicates just the opposite. On research done on teens and church attendance, Dr. Kenneth Hyde notes, “Most children regard worship as uninteresting and boring, nevertheless, it is the children who have been regularly involved in it who are more likely to retain the habit of church attendance when free to abandon it.” In Rabbi Goldmintz’s words, “many children don’t want to attend religious services, but those adults who end up attending services on their own are those who went as children even they didn’t want to . Simply the more you force your child to go to shul, the more likely it is that he or she will continue to go to shul later in life.”
One might seemed shocked at this idea- won’t forcing turn him/her off? Rabbi Goldmintz continued that developmentally it makes perfect sense. Teens are trying to figure out who they are, but that search must happen within the system. Don’t we “force” our teens to do many things which they would not do otherwise, such as chores, homework, visits to relatives etc.? We hope that as they grow they will come to appreciate these values. But, if we simply let them off the hook now, they may opt out altogether. We need to “keep them in the ‘game.’” He is not advocating never being flexible, and of course there are exceptions, but in general the message should be “in this family, going to shul is a value that we will not concede.” (Rabbi Goldmintz continues in his article to share some important ways we as parents can make davening a meaningful experience for our teens). Rabbi Goldmintz’s message is a fitting one for the rasha.
One might have wondered, why do we even bother having the rasha at our seder if he is so resistant and argumentative? That is Rabbi Goldmintz’s point as it relates to all areas of religious growth. He may not appreciate the laws and statutes now, but if he keeps on returning to the seder each year, he will eventually come to it on his own.
Rabbi Rice continues to ask, Why is the rasha the first one who is who receives a response in the Chumash? The Chumash is pointing out that there are definitely qualities of the teenage years that we as adults and Jews can emulate. As observant Jews we often fall in the routine and rote of practice. We settle into "mediocrity" and allow "norms to box us in." The theme of Pesach is to ability to break free from the shackles of slavery, "being defined as a nation, developing an identity and rejecting all around us to experience something new and sublime." Pesach is about redemption and change. All things the teen does well.
The teen turns to us and says, "Do you see what I am about? I am about change! However life has been until now will not do. My life is a point of departure. A redemption, as it were. I may need to wear different clothes, talk funny and be less accessible in order to facilitate my change. But what about you? You have all the rules printed up, all the recipes followed, and songs sung with proper cadence and melody- but no soul. I don’t see anyone changing. I don’t see anyone experiencing redemption.”
What does the response in the haggadah mean, “So too, shall you blunt his teeth?” Remove the sharpness of his argument in your mind- view it in a different way. What the rasha is telling us is not so bad. When your teen is resistant, change your viewpoint. Maybe we need to be a bit more like our teens, according to Rabbi Rice and emulate their ability to change. Or, maybe, in a more basic way, when our teens are resistant every so often, we need to remind ourselves that it’s just a passing stage. In a few more years, they will be the chacham .
Sixth Grade- Students tackled some real-life friendship dilemmas and how they would solve them.
Seventh Grade- Tattling verus telling? Are we hesitant to tell someone when something wrong is happening? What are the consequences for coming forward? How do we withstand those fears?
Eighth Grade- Students had the opportunity to discuss their experience in the Holocaust play – how it changed their views, what went well and what could have gone better?