The Fifth Son and the Power of Community – A Passover Message

by Michal Kohane, Israel Center Director

Studies show that Passover is the most-celebrated Jewish holiday of the year. It offers something for everyone: an extended-family get together, a hearty meal, historical insights, spiritual messages, intellectual exploration—as well as an invitation to strangers, the hungry (whether physically or spiritually), to share our table and our story.  It’s all there: Coming together as one people to enjoy a fabulous story accompanied by a grand dinner.

In many ways it’s a classic feel-good story: few against many, bad against good. One guy, no different that you and me, standing up to an evil tyrant, and although he was not given the gift of speech, he was able to inspire others to follow – and even later to lead an entire nation to the Promised Land.

Of course, along with the joy, comes the oyOy, the amount of cleaning, preparing, shopping, chopping, baking, making. Oy, look, so much food; oy, I’m stuffed….  But then, kvetching can be a good sign: it comes with a certain amount of doing, often in areas that are new, less familiar and challenging. Like Moses, we too are asked to step outside our comfort zone, and act.

The Five Sons

The story of the Four Sons in the Haggadah highlights our need to reach out beyond ourselves. We can see the four sons around us or even within us. We can also see them generationally. Thus, the “wise” are paralleled to the great-grandparents’ generation who came to this country at the turn of the century, a largely traditional community that had no need for books about why keep kosher and what tikkun olam means, because pretty much “everyone knew.” Their children, however, became “rebellious,” mocking their parents for their old, outdated practices: “What is this to you?” they asked, wanting to integrate into the new surroundings, be “like everyone else” and have little or nothing to do with the parents’ way of life. The third generation, the “simple” son, grew up in the home of the “rebellious” son, with a “wise” grandpa who perhaps still upheld some obscure practices, but what and why?

Then one day, the fourth child is born. This generation grows up in the home of the “simple” son with the “rebellious” son for a grandparent. They often know that they had a great-grandparent who was observant or a rabbi, but they already know so little that they “don’t know what to ask.” Regarding them the Pesach story instructs us, the listeners: “You must start him off.” There is no fifth son. The fifth son, symbolizing continuity in the family, depends on us. Already in the Haggadah, some of which was compiled more than 2000 years ago, we, the community, are called to find ways to engage the less engaged. Like Moses of long ago, we too are called to reach out and care. We are called to act.

Taking the Message Home

The power of community is threaded throughout this story.  It is the story of our people – our interdependence, our duty, and the knowledge that when we join together, there is no limit to what we can achieve! We wish you and your family a happy and meaningful Passover!  


Categories: Holidays, Videos


March 07, 2013


The Federation