The festive meal is a centerpiece of Jewish life, and the Passover Seder is the defining experience of the whole holiday. Oddly, at the beginning of the evening, the section in the Hagaddah that speaks of the Wicked Child threatens to undermine the holiday’s good family feeling. After all, in our day and age, we do not speak of wicked children but only of children who act wickedly. My friend and teacher, Rabbi Lior Engelman, directly addresses this problem in his discussion of the Wicked Child in the Hagaddah. Below, I’ve freely translated from his Hebrew text.
What does the Wicked Child say: “Whatever does this service mean to you?”
Who are you, oh Wicked Child? What are you afraid of? Whom are you fighting? Maybe “this service” bothers you? On this holiday of freedom perhaps you feel that freedom should be perfect, like a vacation without effort. You rebel against the pain of spiritual effort. You are not prepared to limit your desires in order to ascend the Mountain of G-d.
If this is the case, then let us reveal to you an old secret: There is no greater freedom than the freedom of service, freedom from the outer chains that control us. And we tell you, dear child, that G-d looks upon your work and not upon your accomplishments; G-d judges your path but not its results.
Who are you, oh Wicked Child. What makes you so angry? Perhaps what troubles you is “Whatever does this service mean to you?” You wonder why G-d passed over the Israelite houses, but wreaked destruction in every Egyptian home. Yes, perhaps what troubles you is not the importance of service, but the notion of chosenness. You wonder why this one nation was chosen from all the other nations on earth. You cannot forgive this prejudice. Why did G-d kill them but pass us over?
If this is your problem, then we will whisper in your ear that while service is important it isn’t everything. Before service there is chosenness. You scorn this chosenness dear child because you have gotten used to examining everything superficially. From a deeper perspective, the human being is the most precious creation because he bears within him the image of G-d, and Israel is most special of all nations because the Torah was given to us. But don’t worry. We will not use our chosenness to do bad. Precisely the opposite is the case: we will act as a heart to the other organs in the body and we will bring spirit to the nations of the world.
Dear child we are happy that your sharp words are said here and now because if you were there in Egypt you would have missed out on being redeemed. But now everything is different. Sit with us dear child. We are confident that you will not forever abandon the path of Torah and that ultimately you will come to believe and to feel.
Teddy Weinberger, Ph.D., is Director of Development for a consulting company called Meaningful. He made aliyah with his family in 1997 from Miami, where he was an assistant professor of religious studies. Teddy and his wife, Sarah Jane Ross, have five children.