Reminder for Parents
Thus far the Haggadah
has given guidelines to the parent who is full of earnest enthusiasm to
pass on an historical and cultural message to the younger generation.
If ever there was an event which appeals to the parents desire to
bring their youth-culture-centered children to appreciate the old values
of cultural and ethnic pride and identification, the Pesach Seder is it!
Here lies a dangerous pitfall for the parent-educator. The leader of the
seder is likely to concentrate on the text of the Haggadah without sufficiently
taking into consideration the audience the younger generation
and their level of interest. Absorbed with the sales-pitch, the salesperson
often forgets the customer!
Four Parents": Children Label Their Parents
IN THE DAYS of the patriarchal regime, we
allowed ourselves to categorize our children harshly accepting
only one as positive the wise one.
The simple, the wicked
and the one who knows not how to ask questions had to swallow hard and
hide their sense of being insulted...
Now in our days no
child is identified as the offspring of the parent and often
the parent is identified as the parent of that child. We have
arrived at an era not of partiarchy or matriarchy but the rule of children.
In our age it is then miraculous that our dear, delightful children dont
divide us up and categorize us. At the best, we would be rated naive
or simple minded parents or parents who dont know how
to respond to a question.
(Israel Eldad, The Victory of the Wise Son)
Pitfalls of Labeling
I INSTINCTIVELY recoil from static stereotypes
that label persons simplistically. Therefore, I choose to interpret the
midrash of the four children as a diverse set of strategies for addressing
four different facets of each and every child. Each personality combines
these facets in different ways. For example, the wise and the
rebellious facets can be combined for evil. Then the cunning mind
is used to inflict pain on ones parents. Alternatively, the combination
can produce a revolutionary chalutz (pioneer) seeking not just to undermine
the traditional order but to create new frameworks of meaning. This requires
an intelligence which is not conservative like the traditional wise
child but which looks beyond the horizon, beyond the existing laws
and their pat rationale.
(Yaariv Ben Aharon, Kibbutz author)
THE TRULY WISE question the wisdom of others
because they question their own wisdom as well, the foolish, because it
is different from their own.
Rabbi Leopold Stein, Journey into the Self (Germany,
THIS DIFFICULT CHILD is determined to embarrass
us, the parents (in the midst of the Seder before all the guests). He
implies that the wine and lambchops are only for our culinary pleasure
when he says pointedly, This service is for you (not for God).
(Don Isaac Abrabanel, Spain, 15th C.)
Producing Wicked Children
THE PASSOVER CELEBRATION is aimed at the
child in all of us, allowing us to open our imaginations, to rediscover
the lost elements of wonder, pleasure, and hilarity that are captured
in this event. Having children at the seder can help make this happen.
If we make our children
unhappy, they will remember Passover, but not fondly. In the British Isles,
there is a custom of taking sons out every year to beat the bounds.
Today they use the stick as the boundary markers, but they used to beat
the boys at the site of those markers to ensure that they would remember
the limits of ancestral property. Beating our ancient heritage into our
childrens psyches may make them remember, but it is probably the
reason so many people remember ritual and ceremony as intrinsically unpleasant.
(Ira Steingroot, Keeping Passover)
Is Truly Wise?"
THE WISE CHILD of the Haggadah is portrayed
as a knowledgeable, believing and obedient child. This child formulates
long complex questions, distinguishes multiple categories of laws, and
accepts the God who commanded us. But lets beware of
this stereotyped, academic brainchild. Is this child truly wise?
Don Isaac Abrabanel, The Smart Alec: This wise-guy
child is arrogant in his wisdom. He shows off the distinctions
he can make between types of mitzvot. But you teach him the subtleties
down to the last detail in the Mishna. Let the smart-alec
who appears wise in his own eyes see that there is still much for him
There is twice as much wisdom in these laws as in the question. Let the
wise grow in wisdom and in humility.
Israel Eldad, To Know When to Ask: No!
The wise child does not derive his title from the pretense to know-it-all.
One who thinks he possesses wisdom already, does not ask at all. One
who does not even know how to ask has a negative trait, typical
of the know-it-all. The truly wise child asks genuine questions, not cynically
and mockingly like the rebellious child and not superficially like the
simple child. He seeks the essence of things, What is the true nature
of the laws, testimonies and statutes that God has commanded us?
The Chassidic Seer of Lublin: In my judgment, it is better
to be a wicked person who knows he is wicked, than a righteous one who
knows that he is righteous. Worst of all is to be a wicked person who
thinks he is righteous.
(Menachem HaCohen, Haggadah of HaAm)
"Wicked" Child An Unfair Description?
The "wicked" child expresses
a sense of alienation from our Jewish heritage. In this age of liberalism
and democracy, of pluralistic tolerance for many cultural expressions,
should a person who expresses such a feeling be condemned as wicked
l Hold a brief discussion on the topic. Would a different characterization
be more appropriate to our contemporary sensibilities - such as the
rebellious one, the skeptic, the arrogant
chutzpadik? Is setting his teeth on edge the best strategy
to deal with such a person?
Role-Playing: try to get inside the personality of the so
called wicked children and their parents. Describe the feelings
of each one in this tense confrontation described in the Haggadah.
Suggestion: Have the
younger participants at the seder describe the feelings of the parent,
and have those who are already parents describe the feelings of the child.
Parent of the Silent Child
THE CHILD DOES NOT ASK because he is afraid
of making a mistake. He does not know how to phrase his question and lacks
confidence. Therefore, the parent should try to lead him into a conversation,
to encourage him, to strengthen him, to strengthen his confidence.
(Marc Angel, Sephardic Haggadah, p. 30)
Contemporary "Four Children"
Which famous person today would be the
best representative of the wise child, of the wicked
child, and so on? Suggest candidates and discuss their suitability.
A Childs Perspective
Ask the younger children to describe the
behavior of a bad child at the seder.
What might be causing such behavior?
Do they approve of the parents response in the Haggadah?
How would they handle the situation?
Why do they think the silent child asks no questions?
How might that child be coaxed into greater involvement?
I DO NOT VIEW labels as static pigeonholes.
I believe in the power of the educational act to release locked up potentials.
For example, one who does not know how to ask may be silenced by the rules
of society. The silence may hide an exceptional, sensitive child whose
questions are choked. A parent can open the child up, remove
the obstructions, enable personal growth and break stereotypes
(Yaariv Ben Aharon, Kibbutz author)
the Generation Gap
The inter-generational dialogues in the
Torah explicitly refer to parents who participated in the Exodus addressing
their children who have grown up in freedom in the Land of Israel. The
parents have undergone an experience of slavery and redemption which is
totally foreign to the reality of the younger generation. The gap in experience
causes difficulties in the inter-generational dialogue.
Invite the seder participants
to discuss the following:
What are the generational gaps among us, the participants of tonights
seder? Go around the table and have people relate a particular experience
connected with their generation which might be difficult for a person
of a different generation to comprehend.
Artistic Tour: 500 years of the Four Children of the Haggadah