Short version: The story of the four sons or children in the Haggadah tells of the generations of modern Jewry in a country.
The first generation lives by the customs and laws of the Old country and the Old style religion. They strictly observe the Old Testament. They fear innovation. They consider themselves wise. They write Haggadah’s.
The sons and daughters of the next generation reject many of the Old ways and forge a New path in a New land, based on a New Covenant, in The New World. They are called wicked.
The third generation lose connection with tradition. They are not sure what to conserve and what to reform. The Seder itself may seem a ridiculous ritual, as Kafka relates of his family Passover experience. They must simply update the tradition or it will be reduced to absurdity.
The forth generation is so cut off it does not even know what to ask about their great grandparents traditions.
The first of the Four Questions exclaims that on this night we eat only unleavened bread, the two challahs being conspicuously absent.
Why is the first question not about the wine? Is this Purim with so many (four) cups to drink?
Also the four questions appear to be exclamations:
How different this night is from all other nights!
Remembrance of last years Seder would have to prompt a new first question since, so far we have one cup, the one for Kiddush. We only know four after the Seder is complete.
Why four? (Cups and sons, or children?)
The Torah speaks of telling the story of the Exodus in four separate verses. This defines four tellings to four types:
One wise, wanting to understand every custom and law as it relates to the narrative. The wise have four exclamations.
One is contrary, not wanting to conserve any of the old orthodoxy’s. The key word is “any”. Reacting to all tradition the contrarians want radical reform, a new way. The wise call them wicked but another authoritive Talmudic text call them a “Tepesh,” the Hebrew term for a blockhead.
The contrarians forget to question. They do not question their own questions and assumptions. In fact, they have no questions, only answers.
One type we call simple. Either they do not know how to question, or they know they will discover new questions.
The fourth type does not know how to ask a question.
All four are faced with the text that follows in the order of the Haggadah, telling Joshua’s review of Israelite history, including esoterica I insist we skip when I lead the Seder.
Why in every generation do our enemies stand up against us to destroy Israel?
Another relevant question at this point in the Haggadah is,
Why is the story not:
The children of Israel were redeemed from Egypt. Forty years they wandered and then grew into a nation ready to receive the Torah.
The Torah was given at the Mountain Sinai, an ideal constitution with instructions for living and settling a Holy People in the Holy Land. Joshua sued for Peace and the Israelites settled in Israel, the Holy People in the Holy Land.
And they lived happily ever after.
After the Egyptians, why the Babylonians?
After the Babylonians why the Persians?
After the Persians why the Greeks?
After the Greeks why the Roman?
And how the hell did the Alpern family wind up in Germany?
My father was not the only Alpern without a nation. His father Nathan and his fathers father Abraham were also never accepted as Germanys. It just was not in our blood. Blood. The first plague of the Egyptians.
The Haggadah is a retelling and recounting. So far we have Four Cups and four questions and four types and four epochs of bondage. We also have four promises of Redemption. We are now in the forth epoch, anticipating the forth promise:
“I will take you as my people
and I will be your God” (Exodus 6:7)
Does this mean we are on the forth cup? Are we now in the age of the forth child? Do we even know the right questions?
Our Rabbis teach that every verse of the Torah has four levels of interpretation (PARDES).
The forth, Sod , contains the earthy basics and secrets of Torah and life.
The secret for the people of the earth:
This is your story.
Israelites being an optimistic people end the Seder assuming the reader is the wise child. In fact the entire Seder with all of its customs and laws is designed for the wise child.
We end by asking God to remember her promise to dwell amoung us again in her holy shrine the temple of Zion in Jerusalem.
I end with a defense of the Tepesh. Kafka was a Tepesh until the end of his life when his every dream was of the holy land. See Consider Me A Dream.
Jews of our Modern (Kafkan) Era are not wicked.
The marginal, the disinterested, sometimes self loathing modern Jew is not evil.
The Tipesh has simply stopped believing that Judaism has anything to offer.
What they experienced as Judaism left them with no questions. This is why they have no wisdom. They have mistaken the pitfalls for the path.
The wise say to the wicked; “It is difficult to be a Jew.”
O, is it?
Our wisdom is in our questions.