Based on Likutei Sichot volume 11, Sicha 1.

Child X comes to the Passover Seder. Child X sits down with his siblings. He makes kiddush, he washes his hands, eats the greens dipped in salt water and dutifully asks the Four Questions.

Then Child X asks, “Why do you people do this boring Seder, year after year?”

What do we answer Child X? How do you talk to a child who doesn’t feel a part of the family, the community and the tradition?

“Wicked child! If you had been there, we would have left you behind!”

What kind of answer is that? What’s this doing in a Passover Seder?

This is a night dedicated exclusively to telling How do we teach anything by further alienating an already alienated child?the story of our wondrous escape from slavery and exile, so that our children will understand that we still haven’t achieved the freedom we set out to achieve, that we are still in exile, but soon we will be liberated just as we were back then. How do we achieve that by further estranging an already alienated child?

Yet that’s how the Haggadah instructs us to respond to “the wicked child” who dares ask this question.

Perhaps it’s meant as reverse psychology. Perhaps we’re expecting Child X to respond, “Oh yeah? I sure would have been redeemed!”

Perhaps. Once upon a time. Today, that’s too big a risk.

What do we do? We don’t change the Haggadah. The Haggadah is Torah, and Torah is eternal.

Rather, we implement the classic Jewish technique of adaptation: Read deeper into the text and bring out a meaning that was waiting for it’s time to arrive.

So here’s how the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, read this response of the Haggadah for our generation:

“If you had been there, you would have been left behind. But here and now, when a new Moses will come and lead each one of us all out of our internal exile and all of us out of our external exile, this time no one will be left behind!”

Now that’s a much better conversation opener. Child X will certainly want to know what changed. And you will explain to him.

As follows:

The Parent-Child Relationship

Who were the proto-Child Xers that were not redeemed from Egypt?

Idolaters, criminals, even gossip-mongers all left Egypt with us. They crossed through the splitting of the Sea of Reeds all the while clutching a little idol in their bosom.They crossed through the splitting of the Sea of Reeds all the while clutching a little idol in their bosom—just in case. Even Dathan and Abiram, the infamous duo that had mocked Moses in Egypt, came along and continued to give him even more trouble.

Even Jews who were reluctant to leave were forced to leave by the frantic Egyptians, like it says, “The Egyptians urged the people on, impatient to have them leave the country, for they said, ‘We shall all be dead.’”1

Here’s what the Midrash2 has to say, somewhat paraphrased:

Having brought nine serious plagues upon Egypt and following fierce negotiations with Pharaoh and his advisers, on the first day of Nissan, Moses announced to the Jews that they were soon to be redeemed from Egypt.

The Jews responded, “Hold on, Moses! We can’t be redeemed now! Abraham, our father, was told we would be in exile for 400 years. We’ve only been here 210. It’s too early to leave. We need to stay put another 190 years!”

So Moses explained that G‑d desired to ignore the arithmetic and redeem them now. But the Jews responded, “Okay, but hold on, Moses! We don’t have any good deeds to merit redemption. G‑d can’t take us out until we better our ways.”

So Moses explained that G‑d desired to ignore the paucity of good deeds and redeem them now. But the Jews responded, “Fine, but hold on, Moses!”

(Are you ready for this?)

“The whole of Egypt is filthy with our idolatry! Certainly G‑d can’t redeem dirty idolaters like us!”

Yet, nevertheless, they were redeemed. Another Midrash3 explains:

“And G‑d recalled His covenant.”4 This implies that they were not fit to be redeemed. Only due to the covenant with their forefathers were they redeemed.

Why were these wicked children redeemed? Only because they were children. Children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to whom G‑d had promised to give the Land of Canaan. No conditions, no requirements, other than being the valid progeny of said progenitors.

Something very deep was transpiring here. Something that transcended personality, behavior, or even professed beliefs. A deep-to-the-core relationship between these people and the G‑d of their forefathers forged by a covenant that could not be broken—much like the bond of parent and child.

And that is precisely how G‑d instructed Moses to describe his people to Pharaoh: “My child, my first-born Israel!”5

So if back then, wicked children were still considered children and still redeemed, why would Child X be left behind?

The River of Denial

Back in the era of hippies and draft dodgers, R. Cobb produced a cartoon illustrating two little piglets escaping under a fence. Surrounding them were miles of pig-pens, while a large smoke-billowing factory loomed in the background with the impressive title “Hog Factory” painted on its brick walls. Observing the two piglets stood two big hogs. One of the hogs was commenting, “Look at the younger generation! Always trying to escape reality.”

Just what proto-Child X in Egypt had to say. Not just, “I’m scared to go!’ but “Leave me out of your dreams, Moses.”

G‑d said, “Let My people go!” —and Child X said, “Not my fantasy. G‑d said, “Let My people go!” —and Child X said, “Not my fantasy.”I was born and raised in Egypt. This is my reality, and here I am to stay.”

After all, since the plagues had begun, slavery had ended. By now, being Jewish was status among Egyptians. Life in Egypt was looking better all the time.

So Child X stayed there, and died there. Idolaters, criminals and even gossip-mongers were miraculously redeemed, but Child X, says the tradition, was buried during the plague of darkness along with many others like him. Otherwise, when the Egyptians told the Children of Israel to leave, they would have forced Child X to leave as well. And for him, everyone else’s Exodus would have been his exile.

So, you see, it’s one thing to break trust, it’s another thing to deny you have any connection to begin with.

That’s what a covenant is all about: Two parties say, “No matter what, we’re in this together.” One partner may hurt the other and break all the rules, but a deal is a deal, and they’re still in the deal.

But a covenant is not a decree. A covenant also allows free choice to leave the covenant. Especially if one partner denies there was ever a covenant to begin with.

Prosecution and Defense

The Rebbe once compared this dynamic to that of Yom Kippur. Fast and refrain from work on Yom Kippur, say you’re sorry, and Yom Kippur cleanses your soul. In the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda haNassi, cited in the Talmud, you don’t even need to say you’re sorry.6 On Yom Kippur, G‑d embraces every Jewish soul and says “You are mine. I love you no matter what.”

(“No matter what” = You still have to pay back your dad for the car you smashed up, say sorry to the nice lady whose coffee you spilled on the gown and carpet that you’re paying to get dry-cleaned, and somehow make up for the importune words that slipped out of your mouth and flushed your co-worker’s reputation down the drain. Yes, you are loved. But you still need to clean up your mess.7)

There are exceptions, however.Yom Kippur is trying to clean this guy up. But what if a Jew doesn’t trust Yom Kippur? Everyone agrees that Yom Kippur works only when you keep the rules of Yom Kippur itself.8 Most notably, outside of life-threatening circumstances, you can’t eat.

Now, how does that work? Take the guy who loudly watched the football game throughout the entire Passover Seder, told obscene jokes throughout the Shofar blowing on Rosh Hashanah, and roasted and ate his pet Vietnamese Pot-Bellied pig. All is forgiven. After all, it’s Yom Kippur. But if we catch him outside the synagogue downing a cold bottle of kombucha, he remains in the bad books!

What’s going on here?

What’s going on is that Yom Kippur is trying to clean this guy up. But what if a Jew doesn’t trust Yom Kippur? What if a Jew says, “I’m thirsty. I want a cold and smelly drink. Yom Kippur means nothing to me.”

Now Yom Kippur has a big problem. As Rabbi Yosef Rosen (known as “the Rogatchover Gaon” because he was born in Rogatchov, Belarus, in 1858) explained: The only reason it’s wrong to eat now is because it’s Yom Kippur. It comes out that Yom Kippur is responsible for constructing a sin out of this Jew’s food consumption!

So how can Yom Kippur provide atonement? Even Yom Kippur can’t both soil a person and cleanse a person simultaneously. In the language of the Talmud, the prosecution can’t act simultaneously act as the defense.

Or in the language of Chassidus: On Yom Kippur, the essential connection of a Jewish soul to G‑d is shining, a connection no transgression can blemish. The light of that connection can cleanse even the greatest sinner’s entire soul—as long as doesn’t oppose it. But once he opposes that connection, the connection itself becomes his stain.

The Ultimate Exile

Same thing here: What creates exile? A promise of something further ahead.

After all, an Egyptian in Egypt is not in exile. If an Egyptian slave is released from slavery, everything is good. The Jewish people could be said to be in exile in Egypt only because they had been promised their own land, the Land of Canaan.

If so, the covenant itself, the very relationship with their forefathers and thereby with G‑d, the memory of a noble past and the promise of a lofty future—this was what defined Egypt as exile and the Jewish people as a nation. When the point in time came for that promise to be fulfilled, and a Jew refused to leave, how could he be redeemed by the very same promise that was now constructing his exile?

The ultimate exile, then, is to deny that there is any exile.The ultimate exile, then, is to deny that there is anything greater in store for you. To deny that there is anything greater in store for you. To say, “Here I am and here is where I belong.” No place could be darker, more imprisoning. And it was impossible for the covenant to be both party to the construction of such a deep exile and demolish it at the same time.

And that’s the state of Child X, this child who says, “I don’t see any meaning in this memory of yours. It is your memory, not mine. I am not a player in this story.”

Yet, nevertheless, he will be redeemed.


Because he lies.

A Deeper Connection

After Exodus came Mount Sinai. That was the whole point of Exodus, as G‑d originally told Moses, “When you will take this people out of Egypt, you will serve G‑d on this mountain.”9

What happened at Mount Sinai that changed things so drastically? Being chosen. When we say that the Jews are “chosen,” we’re talking about the event at Mount Sinai.

Which is a very misunderstood topic.

Every critter that exists is chosenEvery critter that exists is chosen to fulfill a certain role in a divine story—otherwise it wouldn’t be here. to fulfill a certain role in a divine story—otherwise it wouldn’t be here. It’s chosenness is its G‑d-point within, its truest reality.

Stars were chosen to shine in the night. The sun was chosen to shine and make it day. The squirrel in my backyard was chosen to scutter up that tree this morning—for what reason, I have no clue.

Everything begins with a choice. Because G‑d is free. He doesn’t have to create anything. But He chooses to do so. And He chooses what He will create and why. Nothing happens just because it has to, and nothing just is.

That’s probably the most essential thing you can say about G‑d—that He is free to choose. Not that He has wisdom, not that He is kind, not that He is full of love, not that He is mighty. All those are attributes He chose and brought into being. But this freedom to choose, that is most essential quality of the divine. And that chosenness is the G‑d-point within each thing.

If you’ve ever asked, “Why am I me, and not someone else?” well, the answer, you were chosen. That choice is what makes you “you.”

At Mount Sinai, each Jew was chosen for the mission of bringing the light of Torah into the world. That was our defining moment. That’s our G‑d-point. Ever since then, that’s who we are.

That is what makes us free—not our escape from Egypt, not the plagues that Moses brought, not brains, not character, not even the Official Semitic Slave Emancipation Act of the Egyptian Monarchy. What makes us eternally free is our chosenness as a people for a mission.

As the Maharal of Prague wrote, once we left Egypt we could never be enslaved again. Even if they enslave our bodies, our souls are now essentially free. G‑d’s freedom of choice became our freedom. And with that freedom, every Jewish soul chooses G‑d and identifies with the Jewish people.

But wait—don’t we see Jews who say they are “not religious,” “don’t identify,” or just don’t seem to care? Like Child X, for example.

They lie. We know the truth. They themselves may not recognize it, but at their core they are inseparably one with their people. Because that’s what being chosen means. It’s not about what you think. It’s about who you are.

You can hold onto a lie for only so long. You can even hold on to it for every Yom Kippur of a lifetime. But when it comes time for our destiny as a people to be fulfilled, at that defining moment, the lie crumbles and truth is revealed.

As Moses himself described, in the end of days, “And G‑d, your G‑d, will return your captivity in love. He will bring you back together from all the peoples where He has scattered you.”10

Whereupon Rashi, in his classic commentary, describes the scene, “It will be as though G‑d Himself must actually seize hold of each individual’s hands schlepping him from his place, as it is said, ‘And you shall be gathered one by one, O you children of Israel.’”11

Child X, that means you. We’ll never leave you behind.