That Darn Wicked Child

As we stand at the edge of what is arguably the biggest night in the Jewish calendar, I wanted to share one bit of learning I picked up this weekend from a local Rabbi.

We all have people in our lives who resemble the Rasha – the wicked child of those famous 4 children who make their appearance at this time of year. Heck, at one time or another (or many) in our lives we may even BE the wicked child: the one who is completely disaffected and disconnected; who stands apart – from the seder, from the family, from Judaism itself.

Reading through the four children, we GET this bad-boy of the seder.

So (asked the Rabbi), what is he DOING there? I mean, most people who don’t buy into Passover, or the seder, or Judaism don’t show up in the first place! But there he his, sitting with his sneer next to the Chocham (the wise child) and making snide remarks under his breath.

Methinks he doth protest too much.

I used to teach a parent-child class at my synagogue, to help kids prepare to write the d’var Torah for their Bar/Bat Mitzvah. There would always be one or two kids who would make all kinds of comments – to the embarrassment of the parent seated next to them. In response to the inevitable parental apologies, I would tell that parent it was more than OK – it was my pleasure. See, the kids could only make those comments if they were listening in the first place. As long as they were listening, I knew we were on the right track.

Ditto the wicket child. He’s there. He’s listening. He’s asking questions. What do his actions tell us, versus his words?

Another point the Rabbi brought up was that the Rabbis who structured the Haggadah put those kids in order of importance. Second only to the wise child, the wicket child is considered more favored than the simple child or the one who doesn’t know what to ask. I leave it to you to ponder why.

And my final item to share, in the hopes it sparks conversation around your table tonight: Those four children could easily represent the course of American immigration and assimilation. The wise child is our grandparents, who arrived here from Europe knowing all the traditions and rules they learned in the shtetle overseas. The wicked child is the first generation American, trying hard to distance themselves from all traces of “foreign-ness”. The next generation asks their (wicked) parent “What’s is that?” to which they are told “Be quiet. Bubbie’s crazy.”

And fourth generation (third generation American) is the child who doesn’t know how to ask. Far from a tragedy, this child is open to learn the fullness of our tradition fresh and new, if only we are willing to keep modeling these strange customs and weird holidays, providing experiences to learn and discover…

…until the moment when they start asking their own questions.

Chag Sameach Pesach