The wicked child, what does he say? “What’s up with all this stuff you guys do?” He says “you,” excluding himself. Since he has excluded himself from the whole, he has denied the main point. So you too should dull his teeth, saying, “With a strong hand G‑d took me out of Egypt.” Emphasize me. For if he had been there, he would not have been redeemed. (From the Passover Hagadah’s description of “The Four Sons”)

”Hi, Schwartz?”

”Oh, hi, Freeman. Wassup?”

Jack Schwartz is bad. He is a wicked child. Not as in “there’s something bad about that child.” As in core-of-evil bad.

Just the man I needed at this point.

”Schwartz, you’re a wicked child and I need a wicked child for my seder. Think you can make it?”

I needed him to say yes. You don’t understand: Just as the wise child represents the epitome of wisdom and the simple child the ultimate of simplicity, so Jack Schwartz is the paradigm of bad. Perfect.

”I’d love to, Freeman, but I’m afraid I’m already booked.”

”Where? At the night club? Look, Schwartz, you may be wicked, but we’re talking about the night of Passover here!”

”I know that, Freeman, but every year I’m expected at my parent’s seder.”

”You gotta be kidding. Okay, look, when you’re done, just pop in over here. I mean, you prob’ly just show up over there and get out as quick as you can, being wicked and all.”

”No, not at all. I sit there the whole night, right next to my wise-child brother and my simple-child brother…”

”And you make trouble, right?”

”Actually, I participate.”

”You do? Like what?”

”Like I ask questions. Good questions. I learn a lot.”

”You ask questions? You mean, you’re really interested in the seder?”

”Sure. I find the seder very interesting.”

”Hold on, this is Jack, right? Jack Schwartz? The wicked child guy?”

”Well, they call me that, but I’m not sure why. I mean, I’m fascinated by all things Jewish.”

”You are?”

”Especially the Passover Seder, which is a rich historical repository of many rituals and customs, each with its own story and cultural significance. From an anthropological point of view, it makes a great study. And from a psychological or sociological standpoint…”

”Hold it, Schwartz! That’s not what the seder is supposed to be about! The seder is a personal experience! You’re supposed to get carried away by the experience of it all, the multisensory spill-the-wine-on-your-silk-tie and swallow down the matzah without embarrassing yourself in front of the relatives experience. You are supposed to be part of it—not coldly observe from the outside like some anthropologist studying the Wakawalla tribal matzah feast! It’s about being part of the tribe and experiencing that!”

”Experiential? That’s an interesting insight. I see a content versus process issue, á la Marshall McLuhan.”

”Schwartz, you’re anthropologizing again. Get past the mind games and let’s talk about the ‘you’ in the seder.”

”The you in the seder. I like that. Sounds almost post-modern.”

”Maybe it’s chassidic. Chassidics were post-modern before modern was invented.”

”Oh yes. My wise-child brother is chassidic. He discusses many abstract chassidic concepts that fascinate me from a philosophical/historical perspective. I wonder about the relationship of chassidism to the romantic movement that was sweeping Europe at the time…”

”Schwartz, you are hopeless!”

Nu, I guess that’s why they call me the wicked child.”

That’s what gets me about Jack Schwartz. Inviting him to your seder is like inviting the fire station chief to a fireworks party. Or bringing a neat freak on a camping trip. The atmosphere could be as saturated with magic as it is with the vapor of the chicken soup, and just one of Schwartz’ comments will freeze it to liquid nitrogen in an instant. The table could be as flowing with yummy conversation as it is with the kids’ grape juice, morsels of wisdom scattered about like the crumbs of matzah—but two words from Schwartz and the place is reeking of formaldehyde.

What gets me more about Jack Schwartz is that he ain’t stupid. He has brains, but all he does with them is tickle his own brains with his own brains. He has brains, but all he does with them is tickle his own brains with his own brains. Brains are meant to be part of a human body and human bodies are all about emotions, experience and life. But Schwartz’ brain stands outside life peering in, like a surgeon examining a cadaver.

Look, it’s one thing if you never get to a seder—what you don’t know can’t move you. But this guy turns up year after year as though he were an embedded journalist. At least if he would yell and scream, rebel, act out and get people upset—at least then we would know that he cares. But no, he remains cold and perfectly satisfied with everything. He feels it has nothing to do with him, it’s just a cultural curiosity, so why get emotional?

That’s evil. Darkness in its essential form. Not the type of darkness that fights against light—because then, at least we would know there’s some life inside—otherwise why the fight? No, this is darkness that can sit comfortably at the same table as bright, stunning light, stare it in the face and say “that’s interesting” without budging a nano-lumen from its darknessness. Relentless, unregenerate, essence-of-death, dark badness.

Which is just what the Hagadah says, that there’s four kids and one of them is wicked because he denies the basis of the whole thing. How? By proclaiming his atheism? By declaring the seder a worthless bother? By insulting his mother’s food? No, just by dulling the teeth of the seder. By ripping the experience out of it and making it into an academic exercise. By seeing himself out of the picture instead of inside it.

Which pulls the Passover table out from under the tablecloth. Because if there’s no one inside the picture, then there’s no Jewish People. And if there’s no Jewish People, then the Exodus might as well have never happened and Passover isn’t happening now and the matzah is not matzah, just some over-priced flat bread that’s not even lo-cal and there’s no point in making a seder or spilling wine on your silk tie in front of your in-laws because it’s all dead history.

So we are supposed to blunt his teeth back, saying:

You’re stuck in Egypt! If you can’t experience being part of the people, part of the story, part of life, then you can’t experience liberation. A deadbeat like you would have stayed behind in Egypt, saying “Interesting people, ethnologically speaking, these Jews. Me, I’m just another Egyptian who happens to be of Hebraic lineage.”

But if there is a Jewish People, then we are a living miracle and we are celebrating the here and now, reliving the Exodus just by the fact that we are sitting together and making the story real once again. Us, but not you. So there.

And then, maybe we could console ourselves. “Three out of four,” we could say, “ain’t so bad after all.”

But we can’t.

You see, what really bugs me the most is that Jack Schwartz is my friend. From childhood. There’s not many of us that don’t bring their own Jack Schwartz to the seder He’s a part of me. In fact, he’s a part of all of us. There’s not many of us that don’t bring their own Jack Schwartz to the seder with them. So if Schwartz is hopeless, what’s with the rest of us?

The Hagadah seems pretty unforgiving with this child. At least, that’s the way we understood the Hagadah for a couple of thousand years. Then along came the Rebbe and turned the whole thing upside down:

The Torah speaks of four children. One is wise, one is wicked, one is simple and one doesn’t know how to ask. What do they all have in common? One. As in, Hear O Israel, G‑d is your G‑d, G‑d is One.

Tell him: If you had have been there,” he read the words, “then you would not have been redeemed. There but not here. There means the proto-Torah era. But here and now, since the Torah is given and all of us became a single whole, this time around no one will be left behind. Tell him that regardless of anything he will say or think, he is part of us and we are part of him and we are all in this together.

The ultimate redemption of the world, the Rebbe taught, is not when it is filled with light. It is when the darkness itself will shine. When cold, academic intellect itself will declare, “There is nothing else but the Infinite Light. Nothing outside of it. Not even us.” Not even Jack Schwartz. Not even the Jack Schwartz embedded so deep within the egos of each one of us.

Maybe that’s what Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi meant when he said that when the moshiach comes, his warmth will melt the Arctic sea. My polar bear friends tell me it’s already begun.

Hold on a sec. “Schwartz? Yeah, it’s me again. Hey, there’s two nights to the seder…”