The Four Sons of the Haggadah are not just sons nor even children, but human types. Inevitably we ask, “Which son am I?” and its concomitant, “Which son are you?”
The famous 18th century Chassidic personality, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, played this game too.
He could have said he was the wise son, because he certainly had a good mind and well stocked memory. He could even have said he was the wicked son, because he knew he was no angel of perfection and he had his moments of doubt and rebellion. He could have humbly considered himself as the simple son, an average person without exceptional traits or special talents.
He could have regarded himself as the son who knows not how to ask, often curious about life and the world, worried about what was happening to himself, to the Jewish people, to mankind as a whole, but not always certain how to put it into words.
So what did he do? He had the habit, like most believers and even some who claim to be unbelievers, of having private conversations with God. In this case his conversation (actually an amplified conversation, as it took the form of a Pesach homily in the presence of his followers) went like this:
“Master of the World, I am sure I am the son who does not know how to ask. But the Haggadah says to the parent, ‘You take the initiative – at p’tach lo‘. God, You are my Parent. As such, please – You tell me what it is all about!
“Then again, I’m not sure I would fully understand the answers if You gave them to me. But in the meantime, like all Your people Israel, I am suffering. So there is one thing I implore You to tell me, the son who knows not how to ask. I do not ask why I am suffering; I only want to be assured that I am suffering for Your sake!”
In these terms, we are, all of us, the son who knows not how to ask. Each in our own way, our request to the Almighty is the same as Levi Yitzchak’s. As he wanted God to promise that the suffering had meaning, so we yearn that God will assure us that life is no fraud, that human experience is more than a “register of the crimes and follies of mankind”, as one historian put it; that history is more than “just bunk”, which was the view of Henry Ford.
On Pesach we yearn to know that everything that we continue to undergo, and the patience with which we must continue to await the final redemption, have their purpose in the Divine scheme of things and are, in the end, for God’s sake.