The Pesach Haggadah outlines four different children who ask questions at the seder in the following order: the wise child, the wicked child, the simple child, and the clueless child.
One may ask, why does the wicked child come right after the wise child? We wonder, wouldn’t the wicked child come last? So the clueless child isn’t so smart, but at least he isn’t wicked. Why should he be last? Similarly, the simple child may be simple, but is that such a great sin that he should come after the wicked child?
We must first look at what the wicked child says, before we can better understand the lesson behind the order of the children.
The wicked child: what does he say? “What is this bothersome ritual service to you?” (Shemos 12:26).
He says “to you,” but not to himself. In declaring immunity from the law, he has denied a basic principle of Judaism.
You should therefore also blunt his teeth and say to him: “It is because of this that G-d did for me when I left Egypt” (Shemos 13:8). “For me,” but not for him! If he had been there, he would not have been redeemed.
[Courtesy of The Kol Menachem Haggadah]
Now that we see what the wicked child says, and how he is responded to, we are able to understand the lesson that unfolds. In a talk by the Lubavitcher Rebbe of Chabad Chassidim, we come to better evaluate the order of the children:
Of course, in terms of practical observance, the Clueless Son vastly surpasses the Wicked Son. He performs the necessary rituals and he certainly does not challenge any sacred practices or texts. But the Clueless Son is sadly further from being redeemed than his wicked brother, for he suffers from two maladies that, when they strike together, defy any simple cure—ignorance and apathy. The Wicked Son may be a terror, challenging everything we do, but at least he takes an interest in the evening’s activities. Judaism angers him, but at last that shows that there is “somebody home.” When the Wicked Son finally comes around to our way of thinking, he will be a passionate Jew and an asset to his people.
The key to all of this is the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s last statement, which assumes that the wicked child is placed next to the wise child in accordance to his potential, which is equal to—if not greater than—that of the wise child: When the Wicked Son finally comes around to our way of thinking, he will be a passionate Jew and an asset to his people. Note that the Lubavitcher Rebbe says “when,” not “if.”
Using gematria we are able to understand the point:
If you take an evil person (in Hebrew, רשע – gematria 570) and as the Haggadah suggests, you subtract the rough, biting edge of “his teeth” (שניו – 366), then you’re left with 204, the Gematria of צדיק – a righteous person!
[Courtesy of Rabbi Shraga Simmons @ http://www.aish.com
Now, what are we to learn from all of this? The Lubavitcher Rebbe concludes:
The lesson here is a powerful one. We should never be perturbed by those who are angry and antagonistic towards Judaism. For such individuals are blessed with passion, a gift that needs not, G-d forbid, to be extinguished, but rather, redirected for the good.
At one point in my life, I was the wicked child at the Pesach seder. Coming from a non-observant background with minimal Jewish education, many of the rituals were confusing to me. As far as I was concerned, Jews were defined by lighting a menorah on Chanukah instead of putting up an X-mas tree; fasting one day a year; having a bar/bat mitzvah instead of a communion; and not believing in “the man on the cross”. I was always questioning, always putting the Jewish responsibility on my parents or my grandparents, never understanding the meaning of any ritual that we chose to participate in, never knowing what my stake in it was–I never asked to be chosen, and what did that mean, anyway? So, I was born into the Jewish people, I didn’t get to choose it.
Now, I thank G-d every day for my birthright and for redirecting my passion for the good by leading me on the path to observance. Ultimately, I did get to make the choice–I choose G-d; I choose Am Yisroel. It is a never-ending choice that must constantly be put into action, in every activity that I participate in throughout the day from the most mundane to the highly spiritual.
Sometimes, we are the wicked child. Sometimes, we need to be the wicked child because deep down we care, we have passion. We want to understand, we just don’t know how to begin. So we begin by questioning, but questioning from a distance, distancing ourselves from the subject-matter. Ultimately, our questioning leads to reconciliation.
If we listen to the guidance that G-d sends for us, our passion is redirected for the best.
חג פסח שמח