Marlene Berlin submitted this essay on Monday, April 21st.
The Wise child asks: “What is the meaning of the laws and rules which God has commanded us?”
The Wicked Child asks: “What does this service mean to you?”
The Simple Child Asks: “What is this all about?”
The Fourth Child: Has no question.
The retelling of the story should be able to speak to all of these children.
The Seder is about questions, such as these and others within the ceremony, and from those participating around the table. And it is our questions that keep the retelling of this story alive and vibrant. The question that elicited the most attention at our Seder was, “Why the harsh judgment of the wicked child’s question?”
I gave the standard response: “The use of the word ‘you’ is seen as an act of holding oneself apart or not belonging to the group.” This view of such a question was challenged by many around our table. What was wicked about asking what the holiday meant to the observers?
After everyone had departed, the question tugged me to the internet to see what I could find. I did find an interesting commentary about this child as the one who challenges, and it is those who challenge who move the religion forward. And those who challenge are often thought of as bad, wicked and evil.
Such a challenge suits our individualist culture. However, in Judaism, as in other religions, the laws and ceremonies that hold the group together take precedence over the thoughts and feelings of the individual. The focus on the individual posed by the questioner is considered the real threat. Such thoughts seen as a threat to the survival of the group. Does this rationale not bear merit?
But then again, what about the five daughters of Fiddler on the Roof? They did push the boundaries of religious tradition. Were they all wicked?