Last Friday night, amidst the charades, spilled grape juice, and joyful chaos that is seder with toddlers, the group of us gathered managed to have one relatively grown up conversation. It was, rather ironically, about the Four Children. The Haggadah reads: "The Torah alludes to Four Children: One wise, One wicked, One simple and One who doesn't know how to ask." At our seder, we were each prompted to reflect on the roles we play in our families of origin relative to the archetypal children presented in the Haggadah.
On some level we all resisted categorization until the resident psychologist at the table led us through a conversation about internal family systems. Then we took a closer look at text of the Haggadah and saw with renewed clarity that in fact the wise child and the wicked child ask essentially the same question: What does this ritual (and its rules and laws) mean to you? One question ends with lachem/לכם and the other etchem/אתכם. In both questions the child is asking their grown up what this means to them. The distinction really comes in the parental response, which supposes a difference of tone or intention. The wise one is heard as precocious and curious, and the parent wants to teach them. And the wicked one is heard as judgmental or alienated, and the parent is shaming.
In different moments in my life, I find myself feeling more or less like both the wicked and the wise child. Sometimes it is about how I approach a situation and sometimes it is about what is projected on to me. Sometimes I want to be one or the other, and sometimes I feel stuck in a bad pattern. Because we know for sure that these paradigms are not value-neutral. To be the wise one is to be identified with the rabbis of old, the sages of Jewish tradition, the authors of the Haggadah itself. To be the wise one is to be seen as a source of authority. But then again, as we learn in Pirkei Avot,
"Who is wise? One who learns from everyone."
As we enter the final day(s) of Passover, may we linger in the seder's teachings. May we be inspired to extend kindness and compassion to the many children in our lives and to ourselves for the genuinely curious, imperfect questions we ask.
Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.