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Friday, October 3, 2014

We Have Met the Enemy, And He Is Us! - Four Sons Walked Into Paradise part 9

Impollutable Pogo by Walt Kelly, 1970

It is now the eve of Yom Kippur and I have evil on my mind.

I return now to our Evil Son. I say 'our' because despite the fact that the midrash comes to exclude the Evil Son from the community, he is paradoxically included by the mere fact that he is recognized and discussed. No matter how many times we read the haggadah, the Evil Son is always present if only to be dismissed.

Why do Chazal go out of their way to bring the Evil Son to the seder table?

I raised several questions regarding the Evil Son in an earlier post. We can make more sense of possible answers by first addressing this fundamental question of the inclusion of this son at the table if only to tell him to pack it up and leave.

We noted earlier that the Evil Son comes to contrast mainly with the Wise Son. Whereas the Wise Son wants to know in depth about the rituals being performed, both the how and the why, the Evil Son dismisses what is going on as being personally irrelevant.

The Evil Son is, in some essential way, the dark side of the Wise Son. In Jungian terms we can say that he represents the 'shadow' of the Wise Son-- perhaps of all the other Sons.

In other words: We are all the Evil Son, just as we are all the Wise Son, The Tam and the One Who Doesn't Know How to Ask.

The more we try to push the Evil Son away, to claim that he has ousted himself, that he doesn't belong, the more he stays.

The Evil Son is the part of us that we find so distasteful, so far away from our idealized selves that the only way we can relate to this dark shadow is to find it in and project it onto others.

The liberals and the conservatives who decry each other, the Jews who hate the Arabs, the xenophobes who despise the aliens, all of these recognize in the 'other' that which is within themselves which they cannot access, cannot touch.

The world that allowed Jews, the Eternal Other, to be slaughtered in the Shoah and those who would delight at the destruction of the State of Israel project upon us that which they despise in themselves.

All of us have a shadow. All of us cannot easily touch it much less be aware of it. But when we begin to comprehend what we so hate about the other, we have a clue to what is darkest inside of us.

Erich Neumann, a Jewish student of Jung, elucidated this notion of the shadow in his book DepthPsychology and a New Ethic. I will bring up more of the substance of the book in later posts.

Neumann himself quotes the Talmud:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת ברכות דף נד עמוד א ואהבת את ה' אלהיך בכל לבבך וגו'. בכל לבבך - בשני יצריך, ביצר טוב וביצר הרע

Babylonian Talmud Tractate B'rachot 54a: “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart...” with all your heart: With both of your inclinations, with the good inclination and with the evil inclination.

Chazal recognized that we are comprised of both good and evil. Part of our personal struggle is not to repress the evil, but to bring it into the picture; to use it along with the good and in this way truly love ourselves, mankind and thereby God.

We will delve into this more next time.

So we find the Evil Son at the seder table every year because he is always part of us. We can try to distance ourselves from him, say that we are different, exclude him from the redemption while blaming him for the exclusion. But he is an inextricable part of our being.

May we merit on this day of Atonement to be truly at-one with ourselves, our fellow humans, all of creation and with the Lord.


  1. But it is not loving the evil. It is because he is a son, not because he is evil, that he is at the seder table. And as the Rebbe pointed out, the exclusion the haggada talks about is in the past -- it is only from the past redemption that he would have been excluded.

  2. Thanks for your comment. It's nearly YK here. If you can, send me your citation from the rebbe. I will be discussing the place of the Evil Son in several more posts and would appreciate the input. G'mar tov

  3. Did the Rambam not follow Aristotle in regarding evil as a deprivation rather than an "entity"? That evil "exists" only in someone or something as a deprivation or lack of a particular good?

    1. My apologies. I didn't word my previous comment very well. What I am trying to determine is how the Rambam, through his interpretation of Aristotle, might have influenced Jewish thought on the topic of evil. Did he follow Aristotle's view that evil is nothing more than a deprivation (and therefore does not exist in itself) of some good? And if so, how does this impact what is stated in the Talmud vis a vis an evil inclination? Aristotle believed that all human beings seek the good in everything that they do; that is, they never intend to do evil.

    2. You're touching on the basic question of what is meant by the word 'evil.' I will discuss that further in future posts.

    3. Thanks for your clarification. I will touch on some of this later-- specifically about the Rambam's view of evil along with some other commentaries and Jewish philosophers. I will be limiting the discussion to what I see as relevant to this particular discussion about the Evil Son, though, as the larger question of the nature of Evil is pretty huge.

    4. Thanks! I agree, the topic of evil would probably take you further afield than what is warranted here.

  4. Sorry, Shel, for not jumping right in with a response to this post like I did with the previous ones. There are really five types of son. The fifth type is the athletic son. A parent who has an athletic son has to chase him around the country to see his games. I have an athletic son and we’ve been traveling to colleges in the Midwest Conference to see him. The last two were in Lake Forest, IL (a close one) and Waukesha, WI (two hours). The next one will be in Beloit, WI (two and a half).

    My other son is a student at Beloit. So I will be torn, as we are torn between the Wise and the Wicked son.

    I like your suggestion that the Wise son and the Wicked son are traits that coexist within ourselves. My wife and I discuss this when one of us puts a label on another person. We all share a spectrum of psychological traits—some more and some less—and this gives us the ability to have empathy. We can understand the other because we share the same urges, to one degree or another.

    I’m looking forward to see what you have to say about the yeter tov and the yetzer ra. You are much more learned than I in the relevant texts. I’ve written a bit about them in my blog, but with only limited understanding (it’s a blog, after all).

    The first post on the subject had to do with a couple books I read a couple years ago on self-control. One of the books was by Dan Ariely, who I mentioned to you before (

    The second post on the subject had to do with a quickly assembled theory of evil, which says that the character of evil depends on the consequences and is not inherent in the action itself (

    I am looking forward to learning what the Rambam had to say on the subject and on the Aristotelian view. My initial reaction to saying that evil is only the absence of good is that it doesn’t get you very far. It’s pretty much the equivalent of saying that good is only the absence of evil. What does that mean? It seems circular and doesn’t address the real problem of evil, which is to minimize it.

    Looking forward to the next post.