Rabbi’s Corner

Outreach to ‘fifth son’ vital beyond Passover

Rabbi Yossi Winner and his wife, Naomi, set up a Chabad tent on the University of Arizona mall each week.
Rabbi Yossi Winner and his wife, Naomi, set up a Chabad tent on the University of Arizona mall each week.

Every Tuesday, my wife, Naomi, and I sit on campus under a tent meeting with students as they pass by in between their classes. One such Tuesday, a few weeks ago, I encountered an individual holding a big sign that read, “You all deserve hell.” After about an hour, during which hundreds of students passed by, one courageous student approached this individual and requested an explanation as to why all these good people deserve such a harsh punishment.

“Do you personally know the good deeds and bad deeds of each and every person passing, that you can decide their destiny?”

No answer.

Compelled to send a positive message to the passersby, the student quickly put together her own sign that read, “There is a place for all in heaven.” And with that, she stood next to her newfound friend.

As they stood side by side, each with her own perspective and message, I overheard the individual with the first sign ask the student, “What religion are you a part of?”

“I’m Jewish!” was her reply.

As they passed by our tent, I congratulated the student on taking a leadership role and spreading a positive message on campus.

While we talked about the incident, she mentioned that she was, in fact, not Jewish. “Maybe it’s because my boyfriend is Jewish. I’m not sure. It’s just what came to me,” she said.

Curious to find a connection to the sudden Jewish response, I asked if any of her grandparents are Jewish. Sure enough she replied, “Actually, come to think of it, my maternal grandmother is Jewish.”

Of course, then and there, I explained that this meant she was Jewish, as well!

“But, in our home,” she continued, “we never celebrated Judaism and that’s why I never thought I was Jewish until this very conversation!”

We invited her for Shabbat dinner and mentioned that when she is ready, we are here to help her discover her Jewish heritage.

When we read the Haggadah on Passover, we begin with the invitation to welcome all people to our Seder, followed by the children asking the Ma Nishtana — The Four Questions. The entire Seder is centered around the children’s questions and the parents’ response. The Haggadah explains that, “The Torah is addressing itself to four sons: the wise, the wicked, the simple, and the one who does not know how to ask.” The Torah offers four different approaches to explaining the message of the festival and the purpose of our freedom.

As different as they may be, the four sons of the Haggadah have one thing in common: They are all present at the Seder table. The line of communication is open; the potential wise son that resides within every Jewish child is approachable.

Today, however, in our era of spiritual displacement, there also exists a fifth son: the Jew who is absent from the Seder table. He asks no questions, poses no challenges, displays no interest and may not even know that he’s Jewish. He knows nothing of the Seder, nothing of the holiday of Passover, nothing of the revelation at Sinai — at which we received the Torah.

To these children of G-d, we must devote ourselves long before the first night of Passover. We must not forget a single Jewish child; we must invest all our energies and resources to bring every last fifth son to the Seder table of Jewish life.