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?


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.