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Passover

The Second Son in the Haggadah Is Not Wicked

Arthur_Szyk_(1894-1951)._The_Haggadah._The_Four_Sons_(1934),_Łódź,_Poland

I am Jewish. My husband isn’t. We have had religious tolerance and understanding in our home since it was established over twenty years ago.

I don’t keep kosher. I don’t have two sets of dishes. However, there are some traditions that are very important to me: I light candles on Friday nights. I light the menorah. I also host a seder.

When I host the seder, I invite everyone. I take to heart the part of the Haggadah that says, “All who are hungry, let them enter and eat. All who are in need, let them come celebrate Passover with us.” Jewish? Great. Not Jewish? Also great. I think I am happiest when we have an equal number of Jewish and not Jewish people at our seder.

As in most families, we go around the table reading the haggadah paragraph by paragraph. I love this part, but I always want to cringe when we get to the story about the four sons. Since it’s been at least a year, let me refresh your memory about the part that bothers me.

The Torah speaks of four children: One is wise, one is wicked, one is simple and one does not know how to ask.

The wicked one, what does he say? “What is this service to you?!” He says `to you,’ but not to him! By thus excluding himself from the community he has denied the foundations of our faith. You, therefore, blunt his teeth and say to him: “It is because of this that the L-rd did for me when I left Egypt”; `for me’ – but not for him! If he had been there, he would not have been redeemed!”

This has upset me on many levels for a long time.

First, there is a major disconnect between “all who are hungry—come in and eat” and “if you don’t see yourself as part of us and you don’t know what this service is to you—well you’re wicked and wouldn’t have been redeemed.” No. We don’t feed the hungry with strings attached. We don’t give tzedakah with strings attached. It’s just not the right thing to do, and it doesn’t feel Jewish.

Moving on to, “If he had been there, he would not have been redeemed.”  Really? There were six hundred thousand and flocks and herds according to the Torah. Somehow I don’t believe that God would take all those people and animals and then leave some people out for questioning their place in the community. We’re Jews. We question everything!

Furthermore, time of the homogeneous seder is long gone. Many seders have non-Jewish spouses, Jews by choice, Jews by adoption, and many other permutations and variations. For some, these seders are our first exposure to what Judaism is. Do you want to classify those new learners as wicked? I certainly don’t.

How much have we lost in human history because questioning people are turned out instead of welcomed. How much have we lost because we make people who feel unsure feel even more marginalized—or wicked? Women? LGBTQ folks? Anyone who doesn’t feel as if they personally were brought out of Egypt is wicked? Telling people who don’t yet feel included to just go away doesn’t work.

Again, we as Jews have always been the ones to question. We don’t just study Torah, we debate it down to a comma, which may make an entire paragraph change meaning. Jacob was renamed Israel because he wrestled with an angel— and since that time we have all wrestled with our faith in our own way. We don’t accept what everyone says we need to do to have a relationship with God, faith and customs; we forge our own. So we will ask, and continue to ask, “what is this story to you?”

Seders are fluid and change with the times. Now there is a Miriam’s cup representing women as well as Elijah’s cup. Now there is an orange on the table for all who feel that their stories haven’t been told. Maybe it is time to enlarge the allegory to include women and men, and to make those who question actually feel good about it.

So this year I will host the seder. My loved ones, Jewish and not, will read, and I will say about the wicked son: “I never thought someone who questioned was wicked.” And we can talk about this in between verses of Dayanu, and have the kind of conversation that is so important to our tradition and our humanity.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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