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Aren’t the Wise Child and the Wicked Child Essentially the Same?

Aren’t the Wise Child and the Wicked Child Essentially the Same?

Wicked children and post-modern parents

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Question:

There is one thing I’ve never understood in the Passover Haggadah reader. In the passage about the four sons, the wise son asks his parents:

What are all the laws that our G‑d has commanded you?

He seems no better than the “wicked child,” who is criticized for excluding himself and asking:

What is this service of yours?

The Haggadah tells us that the wicked child, “Says of yours—implying that it is not for him.”

Does the wise child not also say, "Commanded you" thus excluding himself? What makes him wise, then?

Answer:

There are many classic explanations why they are called wise and wicked, but since you asked about their style of questioning their parents at the Passover Seder, I would like to explain them.

In fact the wise child and the wicked child are not similar at all. They are opposites. The wise child asks a question. The wicked child isn't asking, he is mocking. He doesn't ask questions of his parents. He belittles them.

It isn't his fault. He is a child of post-modern parents. Such parents don't ever tell their children what to do. Instead of giving their kids direction, they ask them questions.

"Do you want to go to bed now, gorgeous?"

"What would you like for lunch tomorrow, princess?"

"Are you ready to stop poking your sister's eye out, cutie-pie?"

Parents who constantly ask their children questions and give them choices are putting their children into a position of authority that they are not ready for, while undermining their own authority. More than anything else, children need boundaries. They need to be lovingly told what is right and what is wrong, what is allowed and what is forbidden. These ethical lines have to be clear and unequivocal, set down with sensitivity but without room for debate.

But to give clear boundaries you have to be an authority figure, you have to carry moral weight in the eyes of your children. Parents who cave in to their kids' desires and cower to their demands, who consult their children's opinion on everything and always gives them options, will never command the respect needed to lay down the law. Children of such parents see themselves as the know-it-alls and view their parents as silly old people who haven't got a clue.

This is the wisdom of the wise child. He recognizes that his parents are the source of wisdom, not he, and so he needs to ask them questions, not the other way around. He looks to his parents for guidance, he seeks their input and their point of view, knowing that when it comes to life skills, his youthful energy and idealism are no match for the experience and mature insight of the older generation.

A wise child doesn't come from nowhere. He comes from wise parents. Ask your children too many questions and they will stop asking you any. Give your children clear direction, and they will become wise too.

Please see the The Four Children Explained from our selection on the four children.

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
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Anonymous Santa Clara, CA USA April 15, 2012

Wise and Wicked child Thank you for another wonderful insight to help live our daily lives by. Reply

Matthew Rand Staten Island, NY July 15, 2011

The Difference between the Wise and Wicked If I may make this contribution, albeit my Judaic knowledge is little, there seems to be a direct answer to this question:

The wise son asks:

What are all the laws that our G-d has commanded you?

His use of the word "you" doesn't indicate exclusion, as he is not of the age of bar mitzvah. Thus, he is correct in saying "commnaded you". Further, he says "our G-d", so he does not exclude himself from G-d. Even more so, he is inquiring about the laws. The wise son knows that he will be responsible himself for these laws, so in asking about them, he is showing his love for HaShem in his desire to know about the laws.

The wicked son, however says,

"What's this service of yours?"

Unlike the wise son, he doesn't mention any laws that he will one day need to fulfill, he doesn't even mention G-d, and excludes himself from the entire service completely, calling it "yours" rather than "ours". These things together make his question a mocking rather than a serious question. Reply

Craig Hamilton Sandwich, MA May 7, 2011

Wisdom Perhaps, it is how the wisdom is used. For example, there was no other animal that was as crafty or wise as the serpent in the Garden of Eden. However, Solomon, a loving king, was also wise and wrote wonderful Proverbs. Reply

karin anne Petaluma, Ca April 26, 2011

4. Is it [an appropriate] time for you yourselves to sit in your ceiled houses, when this house is in ruins?

The wise child listens to God and puts HaShem first and foremost.

He does not question God and he does exactly what HaShem commands.

The wicked follow thier own hearts.

They follow the folly of Man., Reply

Ephraim London, UK April 24, 2011

this doesn't make sense as good as the response is in and of itself, it does not answer the question. the hagada picks on the word 'you' used by both sons. where do you get any mocking from? he is simply asking a question. in terms of their asking, there does not seem to be any difference. Reply

Carmen April 21, 2011

And... Perhaps the Wicked Child's job is to gather the remaining wealth in his wanderings in the ,yet, remaining exile, in order to bring it to the Wise Child,so them all ( the four)can keep progressing as One.

Perhaps the Wicked Child is in state of nothingness in a certain way,but yet he is gathering "new information"to the whole,even not always knowing that he is.

I think he should be sincerely heard since he might have a lot to say...

Who knows in this way he does Teshuvah and becomes also a Wise Child... Reply

Carmen April 18, 2011

The Wise X The Wicked And the Wise Child should not treat the Wicked Child with prejudice and haughtiness,as many times happens,because they are both essentially very wise ,since them both are His Children.

If the Wise Child treats the Wicked Child in the above mentioned way,he is turning himself into a less wise child ,since he can not know and decide about the intimate wiseness of his brother.

This only G-d knows.

He should ,instead,be taught to love his brother as himself and to listen ,while helping his brother in the correct path.

And ,who knows,the “wicked”brother could help the “wise” one also, in a constructive and lovingly dialogue? Reply

Carmen April 18, 2011

It comes me something to mind:Nothingness/ Isness. The Wise Child represents Isness in progress;while the Wicked Child represents nothingness;nothingness yet to become.

And he is considered wicked because he is refusing to become;to become an IS,AM...according to G-ds will and rules.

Both are essencially the same ,since both recognize our G-d.

The difference between them is that one gives obedience to G-d (Testemonies,Statutes,Laws)and the other to god( earthy made commandments,philosophies and so on). Reply

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