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  • Writer's pictureNitzotzos

Pesach - An IFS Approach to the Four Sons

In this shiur, delivered in the Lubat home in Neve Shamir, Rav Burg explains why the Baal Haggadah counted each son with the number one (as Moshe Rabbeinu did). IFS sees a person as a self and parts. Only when we unblend self from parts can parts leave their exiles and become integrated (self led) with the self.


(For a write up of this shiur, see below)


כְּנֶגֶד אַרְבָּעָה בָנִים דִּבְּרָה תוֹרָה: אֶחָד חָכָם, וְאֶחָד רָשָׁע, וְאֶחָד תָּם, וְאֶחָד שֶׁאֵינוֹ יוֹדֵעַ לִשְׁאוֹל.

Corresponding to four sons did the Torah speak; one [who is] wise, one [who considers himself] evil, one who is simple and one who doesn't know to ask.


There is no Yom Tov in the Jewish calendar that is centered around parenting more than Pesach. The entire obligation of our recitation of the Haggadah is our response to the question of a child. Four separate times the Torah speaks of answering a child’s question about the exodus from Egypt and while the Torah is speaking of a generic child offering four different explanations to a generic son, the Baal Haggadah explains that the Torah is referring to four individual children. 


As we carefully examine the Baal Haggadah’s words it is striking that he writes, אֶחָד חָכָם, וְאֶחָד רָשָׁע - one [who is] wise, one [who who considers himself] evil etc… We were just told that the Torah is speaking about four sons. We know how to count. The Baal Haggadah could have simply written: כְּנֶגֶד אַרְבָּעָה בָנִים דִּבְּרָה תוֹרָה: חָכָם, רָשָׁע, תָּם, וְשֶׁאֵינוֹ יוֹדֵעַ לִשְׁאוֹל, Corresponding to four sons did the Torah speak; the wise child, the child who considers himself evil, the simple child and the child who doesn't know to ask. We know how to count to four. Furthermore, if the Baal Haggadah is going to count for us he should have written the first child is the wise child, the second child is the child who considers himself evil, the third child etc…. Why does the Baal Haggadah continuously stress the word “one”?


We find a similar language when Moshe Rabbeinu names his children:

וְאֵ֖ת שְׁנֵ֣י בָנֶ֑יהָ אֲשֶׁ֨ר שֵׁ֤ם הָֽאֶחָד֙ גֵּֽרְשֹׁ֔ם כִּ֣י אָמַ֔ר גֵּ֣ר הָיִ֔יתִי בְּאֶ֖רֶץ נָכְרִיָּֽה: וְשֵׁ֥ם הָֽאֶחָ֖ד אֱלִיעֶ֑זֶר כִּֽי־אֱלֹהֵ֤י אָבִי֙ בְּעֶזְרִ֔י וַיַּצִּלֵ֖נִי מֵחֶ֥רֶב פַּרְעֹֽה: 

and her two sons, one of whom was named Gershom, because he [Moses] said, "I was a stranger in a foreign land," and one who was named Eliezer, because [Moses said,] "The God of my father came to my aid and rescued me from Pharaoh's sword." (Shemos 18:3,4)


Here too the Torah ought to have written the first son was Gershom and the second son was Eliezer. This would be the more typical expression of counting that we find in the Torah as we see from the Korban Tamid:

אֶת־הַכֶּ֥בֶשׂ הָאֶחָ֖ד תַּעֲשֶׂ֣ה בַבֹּ֑קֶר וְאֵת֙ הַכֶּ֣בֶשׂ הַשֵּׁנִ֔י תַּעֲשֶׂ֖ה בֵּ֥ין הָעַרְבָּֽיִם׃

You shall offer the one lamb in the morning, and you shall offer the second lamb at twilight. (Shemos 29:39)


Clearly, when it comes to children, as we see both in reference to Moshe Rabbeinu’s children and in the description of the four sons in the Haggada, we count children with the number one. What is the inner message we are meant to glean from this peculiar counting?


Internal Family Systems (IFS) is an approach to psychotherapy developed by Richard Schwartz that identifies and addresses multiple sub-personalities or families within each person’s mental system. IFS makes the distinction between self - the Godly spark that truly defines us and parts -  subpersonalities that manage and protect us from our exiled pain. The core features of the self include: Curiosity, compassion, clarity, connectedness, creativity, courage, confidence and calm (commonly known as the 8 c’s) as well as presence, patience, perspective, persistence and playfulness (commonly known as the 5p’s). “Parts” are divided into three categories: exiles, managers and firefighters. Exiles are the younger parts of self that hold emotions, vulnerabilities, needs and memories that went unresolved (exiled) because there was no capacity to process the trauma that was experienced. Exiled parts are generally parts that feel a deep sense of pain, shame and fear. Managers and firefighters try to exile these parts from our consciousness, to prevent this pain from coming to the surface. Managers are parts with preemptive protective roles. When we interact with the outside world our managers protect us from being hurt by others and to prevent painful/traumatic experiences from coming into consciousness. Firefighters are extreme versions of “managers''. When an exile breaks out and demands attention, our firefighter parts emerge to protect us. In a desperate effort to make the pain/shame/fear go away, firefighters engage in impulsive behaviors like overeating, drug abuse, overworking, disconnecting from self/others etc…


What is most important to remember as we are working with our parts is, we are not our parts and our parts are not their burdens. The first step we must take when working with our parts is called unblending. Oftentimes we conflate self and parts. We see a part of ourselves as indistinguishable from self. When this happens our parts control our thoughts, emotions etc… To the degree that parts are blended with self they are in control. Unblending is the separation between parts and self. When our parts feel that it is safe and appropriate, they unblend from self and step aside so that the self can sit in the driver’s seat. When our parts are blended with self (and continue to carry heavy burdens) there is little energy for the self available to us. When we unblend from our parts there is a larger space for self energy to flow into the body. 


To be clear, we are not trying to rid ourselves of our parts, we are trying to ensure that all of our parts are self led. Our parts are often necessary for us to manage in life. There are no bad parts, there are only parts with positive and negative impacts. Our goal is to live in harmony with our parts. When a part is self led, when it can be called upon by the self to manage whatever circumstances we find ourselves in, it is less likely to have the negative impact that we are accustomed to dealing with. For example, in a difficult meeting at work we may need to call upon our assertive parts. If our assertive part is blended with self, it may show up to the meeting as aggressive and controlling. The negative impact may be that people are less likely to work well with you under such conditions. When unblended and self led, our assertive part can be clear and direct without bullying others. 


With this concept in mind, perhaps we can suggest that this is what the Baal Haggadah was indicating when he wrote, אֶחָד חָכָם, וְאֶחָד רָשָׁע. Chacham, Rasha etc.. can be seen as parts of ourselves. How often in life do we see ourselves as wise or wicked. In truth, there is a part of ourselves that is wise or wicked but fundamentally we are not our parts. We are a Godly soul. And since Hashem is one, so are we. The first step in dealing with these parts is knowing that there is a self that is beyond all of our parts. Before we developed a wise part of ourselves, or a wicked part of ourselves, we were one ie. a Godly soul. This knowledge allows us to unblend from our parts as:

  1. Our protective parts feel safe knowing that the Godly self can take charge. 

  2. We come to recognize that in truth we are a Godly soul and not the parts that we have employed to manage our lives.


Ultimately, when we realize that our true self is the “אֶחָד” it allows us to live in a harmonious (read: אֶחָד) fashion with our parts. 


As parents we may sometimes focus on a child’s parts and conflate the self and the part. We must remember, just as would in our own self, that our children are not lazy, or angry or self absorbed etc... These may be parts of themselves and with kindness and compassion we can help those parts unblend from self and unburden their pain. In saying אֶחָד חָכָם, וְאֶחָד רָשָׁע the Baal Haggadah is reminding us that in truth our children are precious Godly souls. This does not mean that we don’t pay attention to the various parts that may be expressing themselves but we must be careful not to label them as their parts. Children who grow up in a home where they are seen as “אֶחָד” with parts are given the space to consider their parts and help integrate those parts into their self. On this exceptional night of parenting our children let us take the opportunity to see our children as they truly are, Godly souls on a human journey doing their best to make it through life. 









 


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