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Your Inner Teenager

Your Inner Teenager

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I have always had a covert attraction to the "Wicked Child" of the Seder. Maybe it was the totally-out-of-place pictures smack at the beginning of the Passover Haggadah. Here we were celebrating the Exodus from Egypt, and there's a picture of some ruffian (always with a cigarette) teasing our imagination. It seemed so out of place. It made a profound impact on my young mind. Perhaps that's why I became a rabbi. After all, I didn't want to turn out like that wicked son. On the other hand, part of me definitely did; after all, he was so cool looking.

Even before we leave Egypt, G‑d is telling us that in the future, your kids will give you lipAfter years of study and concealed longing, I found that I was not alone in my "Wicked" appreciation. The four children of the Haggadah are actually taken straight out of the Bible. There are four different dialogues (okay, one is really a monologue) in four different places of how to respond to our children. And here is the amazing thing, in the Passover Haggadah we start with the Wise Son. But if we take a look in the Torah, the very first son who is given attention is the Wicked Son!

And it shall come to pass when you come to the land which G‑d will give you, according to His promise, that you shall keep this service of observing Passover. And it shall come to pass, when your children shall say to you, "What the heck are you guys doing?" —Exodus 12:25-26 (paraphrased)

This refers to the wicked son. —Rashi

The entire family is together doing one thing; in walks this child and rejects whatever it is that is going on. Sounds to me like the archetypical teenager. (If you are a teenager, I mean no offense. Since you are reading this article, you are atypical.)

Why does the Torah start with this child? Of all of the possible types of responses that our children may have through the generations, this is the first one? And even before we leave Egypt, G‑d is telling us that in the future, your kids will give you lip. I guess it is full disclosure.

Let us take a look at our archetypical teenager. S/he is at a remarkable stage in life of seeking self-definition. In order to adequately experience this stage s/he does not want to be part of the norms of general society. This may manifest itself in many shapes and forms. But the common denominator is that they are now, in some way, apart from the world of their childhood years. And if you don't go through this stage, well then, you are still a kid.

If we peel away the external layers of the teenage-hood we will find some remarkable values to emulate.

Teens knows that the life that they have experienced thus far is no longer their reality. They realize that a new identity must be forged. And to achieve this, they may need to call into question the very foundation of life as they have known it until now.

So this child comes and says: "G‑d took you out of Egypt. Whatever was sacred to the Egyptians became dinner to you. As you became defined as a nation, as your identity developed, you rejected everything around you to experience something new and sublime.

Peel the layers of the "wicked" child and the question is quite chilling"And now you are all getting together to celebrate this event. Are you still lifting yourselves up beyond your surroundings? Or have you settled into mediocrity? Have you now created new "norms" to box you in? I thought the whole idea of Passover was redemption and change. All I see is matzah balls and roast beef."

Peel the layers of the "wicked" child and the question is quite chilling. It is not a condemnation of what we are doing. It is a condemnation of what we are not doing. This unique child is asking us if our Passover is real.

"Look at me," s/he says, "Do you see what I am about? I am about change! However life has been until now will not do. My life is a point of departure. A redemption, as it were. I may need to wear different clothes, talk funny and be less accessible in order to facilitate my change.

"But what about you? You have all the rules printed up, all the recipes followed (and thank you, that kugel really was tasty), and songs sung with proper cadence and melody – but no soul. I don't see anyone changing. I don't see anyone experiencing redemption.

"What the heck are you guys doing?"

The Haggadah responds "So too, shall you blunt his teeth."

This is an idiom that means you respond in such a way as to remove the edge of his argument. However, there could be a much more profound way of looking at what this response means.

Stephen Covey, best-selling author of "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," relates the following story: He was traveling in a subway, a man gets in with his two sons, the sons are running all over the place bothering the people on the subway. Covey finally gets irritated enough to ask the father why he doesn't do something to control his kids. The father replies, "We just got back from the hospital where their mother died. I don't know how to handle it and I guess they don't either."

We can reach deeper within ourselves to find the real meaning of what we are doingMr. Covey refers to this response as a paradigm shift. Suddenly you see everything differently. They are the same kids yelling and screaming in the subway, but you look at them and understand them in a different way. Perhaps, this could be a deeper way of "blunting his teeth." We can remove the edge of his point by reaching deeper within ourselves to find the real meaning of what we are doing. And with this new-gained consciousness, the entire conversation shifts to one of growth and redemption.

Rabbi Yisrael Rice is the Executive Director of Chabad of Marin, Marin County, California and Chairman of the Editorial Board of the Jewish Learning Institute. He is the creator of the "Infinite Within" seminar and author of "The Kabbalah of Now."
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another atypical teen Jerusalem, Israel March 26, 2010

i guess there are more atypical teenagers than i thought! :-)
i think that most teens go through a "wicked," or rebellious stage- testing the boundaries and trying to find their place. i think it's our responsibility to help them feel comfortable with us at our seder. Reply

Brian Sullivan Brisbane, Australia via chabadbrisbane.com March 25, 2010

Your Inner Teenager In my pre- Jewish days - a past in a different tradition - I only wish I had enjoyed this type of insight as a parent.

The wonderful chassidic & Kabalistic insights so abundant on Chabad.org illuminate the human character & its diversity in a way far superior to that of my pasts unidimensional perspwective.
Thankyou. Reply

Another teen TO March 23, 2010

This article rocks I second your comment, Guila.
May all adults learn to think like teenagers. Amen.
But why does he have to be called "wicked child"? Reply

Guila Cohen Montreal, Canada March 11, 2010

Getting in Touch with your Inner Teenager I think that you got it all right.
It's the first time someone understood teenagers.
So interesting.
I hope you continue to write like this.
I personally am a teenager and am in full agreement with you.
Your kids a really lucky! Reply

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