By sharing our common story of liberation at Passover, we are reminded that we are one family. Though we live with different perspectives, contexts and privileges, we are connected to each other. To understand our bonds—separate from our bondage—we must take the time to hear each other’s experiences and recognize that often they reflect different dimensions of ourselves. The Four Children come from the same family but have different understandings. Bringing their experiences together, we can learn more about each other and ourselves.
We’re accustomed to hearing about Mitzrayim as a Hebrew name for Egypt in the biblical recitation of the Exodus. However the word also can be translated as “the narrow place.” In our world today, the narrow place is—ironically— the increasing distance between two groups of people. It represents the growing inequity of wealth inside the United States and around the world. The gap widens as the wealthy grow richer and the poor grow poorer. Here is a modern day retelling of the Four Children to remind us that—despite the gulf that divides us—we are all part of one family.
THE ONE WHO IS CONTENT
The one who is content asks: “What can I contribute?” This child lives the teaching of Ben Zoma (a second-century scholar), who answers the question “Who is rich?” with the response “The one who is content with her portion.” This child studies the teachings of tzedakah and understands the blessings and responsibilities of her privilege because she is part of an interrelated, interacting system that values community.
Table Conversation: In what ways are you satisfied with your portion? How do you understand tzedakah as part of justice in an interrelated community?
THE ONE WHO IS GREEDY
The one who is greedy asks: “That should be mine, shouldn’t it?” already knowing the answer. He lives in fear that there will never be enough and that to avoid scarcity he must acquire everything first and fastest. His connection to community is only through coveting what others have, which keeps him separate from others and unaware of his dynamics with his community. His self-esteem is wrapped up in possessions and his understanding of power is material.
Table Conversation: We can all relate to the fear of this child at some point in our lives. How do you answer the questions: “How much material wealth is enough?” and “How do you know when enough is enough?”
THE ONE WHO IS UNAWARE OF PRIVILEGE
The one who is unaware of privilege asks herself: “Doesn’t everyone have that?” Often she makes assumptions that reveal her unfamiliarity with others’ identities and origins, which are different from hers. This child has an unexamined entitlement which—when challenged—can make her feel uncomfortable and defensive. She is often committed to doing good for others, but her contributions are more about feeling good about herself than doing what is just. This child cares about community despite these blind spots. Thus, with patience and exposure to a gentle teaching presence, this child is open to learning about the disparities and depravations of others. With awareness, her unrecognized privilege can be transformed into a deep understanding of herself and can spark responsible speech and action.
Table Conversation: In what ways does your understanding of privilege inform your responsibilities to others?
THE ONE WHO IS IN NEED
The one who is in need is often silent because he is overwhelmed by what he lacks. When he does ask “Can I have some too?” we often do not hear him because we turn away, or he is rendered invisible or disposable by our society. Filled with fear or lack of self-worth, this child is often blamed for his own need. But if we listen, we hear that this child is truly hungry.
Table Conversation: Passover is the holiday when we proclaim “All who are hungry come and eat!” What will you do to live this mandate and ensure that we all have enough?
Rabbi Joshua Lesser, RRC ’99, Congregation Bet Haverim, Atlanta
Chair, Jewish Reconstructionist Communities Tikkun Olam Commission
Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, RRC ’85
Director, Social Justice Organizing Program at RRC
Staff Member, Tikkun Olam Commission