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The Wise Child

The Wise Child

(by the Wicked Child)

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To the Editors of the Traditional Haggadah

Dear Editors,

While I appreciate your consideration in including me in your work—thereby preserving the spirit of diversity and inclusivity at gazillions of seder tables over the past few millennia—I do have several serious concerns over the frame in which you have placed my older and respected sibling, a.k.a. “the wise child.” In particular, and in synch with your own format, I have four questions to ask:

  1. Unimaginative Repetition

  2. For several thousand years now, you have my older sibling asking the same question. This displays a complete lack of sensitivity on your part to that child’s sense of self-dignity. It only took a few centuries for the smarter crowd to start asking the obvious: What’s so wise about a kid who asks the same question year after year?

    Concerning my own question, the answer is simple: I never got an answer. All I got was my teeth blunted, insults and derision. So of course I will continue asking until a satisfactory response is provided. My younger, simple sibling doesn’t have much of a question to begin with, and the kid at the end of bench still thinks he knows it all and just wants to get to the chicken soup with matzah balls.

    But when it comes to my respected, wiser sibling—year after year, the same pontifical shpiel about “testimonies, statutes and laws” trying to look so ingenious, his thumb waving in the air as Mom and Dad kvell over his erudition ad nausea for all of us sitting around. How long do you expect us to stomach this? Did you consider the effects of sibling rivalry when you composed this? Were experts in pediatric psychology consulted? It’s no wonder that most of us are simply not turning up for a seder any more.

  3. Trivial

  4. Even if you’ll find some way to justify this emetic perpetual replay, take a look at the question itself. This you call a wise child’s question? All it takes to be wise is a supercilious utterance of the formula “testimonies, statutes and laws” and you’re in? Think about it: you have this wise guy announce to all and sundry year after year that he has no clue why we do these mitzvahs, what is the history behind them or what is their purpose, and just because he can rattle off the magic formula “testimonies, statutes and laws,” everyone is supposed to nod their heads and say, “Oh so wise, so wise!” Please! What is so wise about a kid who doesn’t even know what a mitzvah is or why we do them?

  5. Sloppy

  6. Worst of all, in total mimicry of my gifted sibling’s superior aptitude, you have him present his question in such a way that elicits mockery and scorn even from a wicked ignoramus such as myself. I’m talking about that gut-churning “testimonies, statutes and laws” again. Everyone knows that’s all wrong. It’s either “statutes, testimonies and laws” or “laws, testimonies and statutes.” But the order you’ve got it in makes this wise guy kid look like no more than a ceremonious fool.

    In case you still don’t get it: Laws (mishpatim) are those rules that make sense, laws that even I would keep if I didn’t have my teeth knocked in year after year at this seder you’ve eternally committed me to. Statutes (chukim), on the other hand, are those rituals that you people just do with total faith, reason shmeason, G‑d says, so do it. Testimonies (edot) are somewhere in between—I mean, if you had never heard of such a thing, would you come up with a crazy idea to eat bread that tastes like cardboard for seven days to commemorate freedom from slavery? But once it’s there, I suppose, you can present some sort of weird rationale.

    Obviously, then, the order should be from most rational to unrational. Or the other way around. As it stands, you’re making a ignominy of my respected older sibling by sequencing his lines totally out of whack.

  7. Prejudiced

  8. Finally, have some empathy. Here I come to a seder year after year, despite the opprobirium of most of the other participants, despite my stated disdain for meaningless ritual, despite the utter lack of appreciation expressed in your own composition of this hagadah, and I ask one simple, earnest question: “Why the heck do you guys have to go through all this?” I mean, we’re supposed to ask questions, right? So I ask what’s truly on my mind.

    And just for one word, I get it over the head—because I said “you” guys. I wasn’t inclusive enough. Yeah, I know what you have to say about me in Freeman’s Wicked Child piece. So I blew it. I can handle that.

    But now, let’s take a look at my older, wiser, highly respected, kvell-over-me-mommy-and-daddy-cuz-I’m-so-good dear sibling: “What are the testimonies, the statutes and the laws that G‑d our G‑d commanded…”—get this now—”…YOU.

    Yes, that’s your language, you put that there. Well, actually, that’s the language straight out of the Five Books of Moses—but you dear editors are the ones who determined these to be the words of the wise child, for which he is lauded and patronized, adored and idolized—while mine are judged those of a wicked one, to be jeered and chastised.

    Why? What is the source of this unjust animosity, this prejudice without cause, hung precariously on a less-than-flimsy inane pretense? How long will you continue this unfair discrimination against the rights of wicked people?

I write the above before involving my lawyer or approaching the Society for the Protection of Rights of Wicked People. Your response is eagerly awaited.


Dear Wicked Child,

Your letter has turned up in our emailbox, perhaps redirected by the original editors of the hagadah to whom it was addressed.

First off, let me write that all of us here at Chabad.org greatly admire your stalwart efforts to continue participating in the family seder, despite the apparent acts of discrimination which you mention. It takes a sturdy character, never mind real tough teeth, to put up with what you obviously perceive as verbal and emotional abuse, and bounce back next year for yet more.

We sincerely feel that the seder just would not be the same without you. As evidence, let me direct you to our collection of Wicked Child essays (as of this writing, there still isn’t a collection of Wise Child essays—you actually hold the honor of writing the very first such piece on this topic).

In response to your stimulating and insightful questions, we invite you to partake of our video series What's So Wise About the Wise Child? which deals at length with all four of your questions, plus a few.

In case you can’t make it through that entire video—which is quite understandable, being a wicked child, which likely implies some sort of challenge such as ADD or the like—let me just list a few very brief pointers:

  1. True wisdom is a state of awe and wonder. Your simpler sibling may be satisfied with simple answers, but the truly wise person asks the same questions again and again, because each time he sees a new depth to the same issues.
  2. Concerning the wise child’s apparent ignorance of the reason and history of mitzvahs, you need to keep in mind the drama of the seder. In the hagadah narrative, we’ve just left Egypt, once again. Your wiser sibling knows that, feels that, is reliving that. And so, he asks once again, “What are these mitzvahs we’ve just been given? Tell me, Mom and Dad!”
  3. All of us here at Chabad.org were very impressed with your perceptive question concerning the order of the three kinds of mitzvahs: laws, statutes and testimonies. Like I said, a bright guy like you should really check out the video series which deals with your question in depth.
  4. In a way, this question relates directly to your situation. You see, some Jews try to keep all the laws that make sense, while some choose not to make sense. Some Jews keep all the Jewish rituals just because they identify as Jews, while others choose not to identify. But every Jew, whether s/he chooses or not, is a testimony, because the very fact that any Jew exists on this planet in this day and age is an open testimony to the covenant G‑d made with Abraham, like we say in the Hagada: “In every generation they rise up against us to destroy, and G‑d saves us from their hand.”

    Which is why you are the most important feature of the Seder table: Without a Jew there, the matzah, the wine, the hagadah and the entire seder is meaningless.

  5. Concerning the “you” clause, which you interpret as a blatantly discriminatory practice: First off, please note that your wiser sibling did preface that culprit word with the phrase “G‑d our G‑d.” Those words effectively dismiss any notion of auto-exclusion from the community.
  6. Nonetheless, we must admit that this child’s emphatic use of the word you remains perplexing. The above-mentioned video series deals with this as well. At this point, I hope it will suffice to point out once again that the wise child sees him/herself as an integral player in the Exodus drama—a drama that (at this point in the hagadah, before Hallel, at least) has not yet taken us to Mount Sinai. And so s/he turns to the parents who assumedly have already traveled this journey and received the Torah and addresses them, saying, “What are the testimonies, the statutes and the laws that G‑d our G‑d has commanded you?”

Allow me to repeat that we appreciate you taking the time to write your concerns. I’m sure you’ll continue visiting our website, since we’ve gratuitously auto-subscribed you to a whole slew of stuff and will be sending you regular solicitations for donations when you least appreciate them.

Along with your wise sibling, your simple sibling and even your know-it-all kid sibling who never writes to us any questions at all, we look forward to the time when “no one will be left behind”—as the hagadah itself intimates: “If you had been there, you would never have been redeemed.” There, as opposed to here, in an exodus that will be all-inclusive, all-encompassing and otherwise totally cool.

Yours sincerely,

An editor

From Heaven Exposed by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman. For bio, info and more articles by this author, click here. To order Tzvi's books, click here.
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Suzy Sandor Manhattan April 1, 2015

Here and There “If you had been there, you would never have been redeemed.” There, as opposed to here, in an exodus that will be all-inclusive, all-encompassing and otherwise totally cool.

What on earth does it mean? It is not a clever explanation, this child would have remained a slave in Egypt? Reply

Carmen April 23, 2011

Now I understand a bit more about these two Guys.. The Wicked acts as the acusator to the Wise when the Wise is not being that wise,while the Wise is encharged to blunt the teeth of the Wicked when the Wicked has not balance in his criticism and turns into agressive.

The Wise draws the wiseness inside of the Wicked to the outside,while the Wicked draws the wickdness inside of the Wise to the outside,when he is too attached to the form and less to the essence.

The wise blunts the wicked´s teeth (and the wicked sharps the wise´s heart.) Reply

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, author April 21, 2011

To Stephen Wicked, Stephen, real wicked! (and I love it, too!) Reply

Stephen Weinstein Camarillo, CA April 20, 2011

Baruch Hashem, the 1 called "wicked" is righteous This article unintentionally makes a very powerful case for the following.

The one we call "wise" merely says what will win him the admiration of those in power. That shows prudence, but not greatness.

The one we call "wicked" stands by his belief even though it is unpopular and gets him called "wicked". That takes true courage. He follows in the noblest tradition of our ancestors who when told to renounce Judaism and tortured went to their deaths reciting the Shema to the end. He is the one we should admire.

The one we call wise may do well at sucking up to his boss, getting a promotion and a pay raise, and making enough money to donate a large sum of money to Chabad, but will never contribute an original idea, not so much as even just a controversial comment on a chabad.org article. We can think him for the gelt to be polite, but the truth is that he is depriving the world of the greatest gift we have received: our ability to think and to articulate our own thoughts. Reply

nene ny, ny April 13, 2011

wise child by the wicked child What nice pilpul .Quite in line with our tradition, and funny to too. A pleasure to read.

Tasting like cardboard?! Have you tried whole wheat matzos? Reply

Carmen April 12, 2011

You... In Egypt,there was not "you".

We were slaves in Egypt...
We were forbidden to have or express our" I" to You-our G-d.

Now,G-d was saying " 'you',now there is you and Me,and these are the testemonies,the statutes and the laws
that I command 'you'."

The words of the Wise Child represent the words of G-d Himself ,talking to His Children in the Seder of Pessach.

And this Wise Child honored in the Seder,could or should be all of the Four Sons.

All of them deserve the honor to repeat G-ds words.Perhaps even the girls.Every one in one turn.

Then all His Children will be included in the “YOU”meant by G-d. Reply

Carmen April 10, 2011

Thank you. This is beautifull,instructive and very moving.

Obs:I have my mom's clue to turn that Matzah "cardboard"into something delicious:just eat it hot! Reply

Michelle April 9, 2011

thanks .. thought provoking and much to offer in prayer for all who attend, or where or have been there. i have some ADD symptoms myself so i struggled with the length of the text... but i did.. just! make it to the end.

lesson appreciated and some interesting points raised on both sides. G-d bless Reply

Ann Arlosoroff Houston April 6, 2011

This novel-in-a-nutshell Tzvi, you have outdone yourself--and that is saying a lot!! Yasher Ko'ach!

Warmest regards! Reply

Dvorah Lakeville, PA April 6, 2011

Thank you After years and years of repeating the traditional Haggadah, two of my three children have become very bored. One has turned into a "wicked child", and another a "simple child." With the technical assistance of my more (traditionally) learned husband, I undertook a mighty project - I wrote my own Haggadah. I was careful to keep all the important parts while allowing myself to get creative and even a little mystical, explaining more as well as making it more fun. My goal was to keep it interesting and new in order to engage everyone, hoping to help them experience the exodus rather than just talk about it. I've been hesitant to try to publish it, wondering if I've done something "wrong" in challenging tradition. After reading this article I have decided to go ahead. Thanks, Rabbi Tzvi! Reply

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