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Who Is Really Talking?: The Wicked Child

“What does the Wicked Son say?” “Say,” not ask, because nothing says more about a person than the questions he asks.  What’s the context of the Wicked Child’s question? Moshe’s presentation of the laws of the Pesach Offering to the elders of Israel: “Draw forth or buy for yourselves one of the flock of your families, and slaughter the pesach-offering. You shall take a bundle of hyssop and dip it into the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with some of the blood that is in the basin, and as for you, no man shall leave the entrance of his house until morning. God will pass through to smite Egypt, and He will see the blood that is on the lintel and the two doorposts; and God will pass over the entrance and He will not permit the destroyer to enter your homes to smite. You shall observe this matter as a decree for yourself and for your children forever Exodus 12:21-24).”


God’s presentation of these laws had a much different emphasis. Moshe stresses the blood on the lintel and doorposts, and implies that as the key element of the offering! The child of future generations sees this and asks, “What is this service to you?”

He is asking the parents of future generations why they continue to practice an Offering of Protection, which is how the Pesach has just been presented, in this generation, so many years later?

Or, in other words, this child is asking parents who seem to have no connection to their service of God. He is asking parents who pray, and study, and observe, without any sense of personal connection to all their religious observance, what we describe as “Avodah Zarah,” worship that is a stranger to me; worship that does not reflect me or on me. This child is addressing parents he perceives as wicked! This is not a wicked child, but one who feels that he lives in a wicked environment.

The parents hear that they will be perceived as wicked, and will still, “come to the land that God will give you, as He has spoken,” which was the very issue that led Abraham to ask, “How will my children merit Israel if they are undeserving?”

“The people bowed their heads and prostrated themselves (12:27),” over the news that they would inherit the land and have children (Rashi). They prostrated themselves because they heard that they will inherit the land despite having children who will perceive them as wicked.

How will they merit the land if they are so perceived?

Because they are parents who are listening carefully enough to hear the child’s question with all its implications for them! They do not respond with their answer, their beliefs, or their opinions. They respond according to the question. Or, as the verse teaches, “no man shall leave the entrance of his house until morning;” they will create a safe environment for their children, one in which children will feel safe asking, and know that their parents will not respond with canned speeches, but to the question and how it is asked!

A safe place. A nourishing place. A secure place. A “Makom,” as we begin the section of the Four Sons: “Baruch HaMakom,” “Blessed is the Omnipresent,” the first time that Jewish tradition refers to God as “The Place,” is here in the Haggadah!

What is the next stage of the Haggadah?

Tzei u-Lemad,” “Go out and learn!” The Talmud always says, “Come and hear.” The Zohar uses, “Come and see.” The Haggadah says, “Now that you have succeeded in creating a real Makom, a safe Makom, a nourishing Makom, “Go out into the world and explore and learn, and apply.”

A Chassid, a pious person, lives miLifnim meshurat haDin, from the inside of the letter of the law, meaning, he first lives IN the law, in a Makom, a place in which the laws speak to him, nourish him, guide him, and then he goes milifnim, from the inside, and Tzei, goes out and applies what he has experienced inside his Makom.

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