We read at our Seder tables that the Torah reflects upon four children: the wise, the wicked, the simple, and the one who does not know how to ask. The Haggadah tells us that wise child asks about the rites and rituals. The wise child is concerned with how to follow the laws. The supposedly wicked child is in search of meaning, trying to find personal significance and understanding in ritual, asking “what does this mean to you?” The simple child simply asks “what is this?” wanting to know more and to learn more. The fourth child doesn’t ask anything at all.
For centuries, commentators have spent a great deal of time asking what role these four children play in the Haggadah and in the Passover narrative. If the goal of the Seder is to retell – and reenact and re-experience – the exodus from Egypt, then these four children seem out of place. However, the goal of the Seder is much more than that. The goal of Passover is to light a spark within each of us, to appreciate our past and our freedom, and to refuse to stand idly by while others suffer from similar oppression or wait to be free. Introducing the four children during the Passover Seder acknowledges our various relationships with Judaism, with the exodus narrative, and with freedom at different moments in our lives.
At times, we are each the “wise,” the so-called “wicked,” the “simple,” and the “silent.” At times we are interested in rites and rituals; other times we challenge the status quo. There are times when we simply want to learn more and there are times that we refuse to act and don’t do anything at all. We read about these four children because we acknowledge that we encompass them all. We should never just strive to be wise or simple. And it isn’t so bad at times to be defiant or silent. Our challenge is to know how to act and when.
As we celebrate Passover, may we all strive to find meaning in being each of these four children. May we learn about ritual and law, in hopes that these rituals are a meaningful vehicle to help us connect to the Divine. May we challenge authority to search for meaning and understanding, knowing that we cannot find true connection, unless we find true meaning. May we learn that the simplest and most basic of questions are often the most profound. And may we learn to talk less and listen more, taking in the lessons that the world around us has to teach. Chag Sameach!
-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky