Shabbat Pesach 5776–The Fifth Child–Who Is Missing from the Seder?

I read recently that though there are many examples of the “famous fours” during the Seder (4 questions, 4 cups of wine, 4 expressions of redemption and, of course, the 4 children), the reality is that they are supposed to be the “famous fives.”

“What?!?!?,” you say.

There are a number of examples of ancient Haggadot with 5 questions. The 5th cup of wine is well known and has become known traditionally as Elijah’s cup which we fill out of respect for the interpretation of the Rambam, but do not drink out of respect of the interpretation of Rashi. We make it the cup of Elijah and the dispute over 4 or 5 cups will be resolved then. There actually are 5 expressions of redemption, but we do not say the fifth because it relates to being brought to the Land of Israel and when the Haggadah ritual was in its infancy there was not even a doubt by that we were in exile.

But where is the “5th Child”?…. Exactly.

The late Lubavitcher Rebbe z’l discussed that fact that there is a Fifth Child, a very important one. It is the child that has been lost or is at risk of being lost to the Jewish people. It is the child of families for whom their Jewish identity is not important to them and who become removed over time from our traditions and rituals. They say that it was only little by little that the Jews became enslaved in Mitzrayim, first participating in public works projects as a matter or patriotic duty with full pay. Later the pay was slowly decreased but the work did not decrease. Laws and edicts were issued that restricted them until it was too late.

As our society provides the greatest freedoms of expression in the history of Judaism, the forces of assimilation play those same tricks on us. We lose sight of the fact that it is very unlikely that our children and grandchildren will observe the fullness of our traditions if we do not observe them. The less we do. The less they will do. The less we teach, the less they will learn and be able to transmit. L’Dor va’ dor is at risk of becoming a real door and a closed one. There are too many families and children missing from Seders as it is. What can we do to help more children truly feel a part of our people with a share in our incredible heritage?

At your Seder, would you consider discussing the 5th child who is not present? Remember that the children of the Haggadah are metaphors for each of us. Ask yourself and your family if you know anyone who is lost (in any number of ways) and if you can help them to be found.

Best wishes to all of you my dear friends for the most meaningful Pesach possible.

Paul

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