Imagine your son asks a simple question at the seder, like “why must you have such a long discussion of the Exodus from Egypt?” and you respond: “rasha, evil child, you said ‘why must you have ?’ Does that mean that you are not part of the seder ? You deserve to be shunned, ostracized, and banished from the family, if we don’t knock your teeth out altogether.” And then you tell him how you really feel: “you don’t deserve to be redeemed, if you had been in Egypt, we would have left you behind, you’re just no good.”
This colloquy must sound familiar to some people – because that is how we treat the “wicked” son. He just asks a simple question – “what is this service to you?” – and he is lambasted for it. But on the surface, it doesn’t seem like such an aggressive, antagonistic, heretical question. He did say lachem (you) – but that is not much different from the “wise” son’s style of questioning, who also said you (etchem). And are we trying to drive away the wicked son, who at least came to the seder ? Shall we assault his dignity – tell him we will break his teeth, call him an atheist, tell him he wouldn’t have been redeemed?” Why are we so hard on him?
The whole seder revolves around questions – so how wise is it to rule some questions out of bounds? Undoubtedly – and this has been verified statistically – young Jews have been turned away from a life of Torah because their questions were ridiculed, or dismissed, or not answered – or worse – their questions generated a vicious counterattack on the part of the person question – whether Rabbi, teacher, parent: “Only a heretic would ask such a question!”
And at the end of the day, that question of the wicked son – “what is this service to you?” – was never answered. So why are we so harsh on this child ?
Rav Meir Simcha Hakohen of Dvinsk (the Meshech Chochma) explained that the answer can be found in the verses themselves. The Torah emphasizes the “wise” son’s question: “When your son asks you ‘what are these laws and testimonies, etc.’”(Devarim 6:20) Concerning the “simple” son’s query, the Torah relates: “When your son will ask you tomorrow, ‘what is this?” (Shmot 13:14) But the “wicked” son’s question is not really a question: “And it will be that your sons say to you, what is this service to you?’” (Shmot 12:26)
What a difference! The wise and simple sons ask – and then “leimor,” saying – they anticipate and desire a dialogue, they want an answer. The “wicked” son doesn’t ask – he says. Sure, he puts his statement in the form of a question, like on Jeopardy, but he doesn’t really want an answer. It is “ki yomru”, he says it – and there is no “leimor,” saying – there is no sense that this is a discussion or a dialogue. His mind is already made up. He doesn’t ask – he makes pronouncements.
A heretic once visited Rav Chaim Brisker and said that he has some questions on Judaism he would like answered. Rav Chaim said to him: “if you really had questions, we could answer them. But you don’t have questions – to you, your questions are really answers. You have teirutzim, not kushyot. You don’t want to observe Mitzvot, so you look for “questions” that for you constitute “answers,” rationalizations for your lifestyle. There is no answer for that.”
That is why the Hagada says “because he separated from the group, he denied G-d” – not that he denied G-d and then separated from the group. His ideology is b’diavad, post-facto; it just seeks to justify the decisions he has already made.
There are many people who ask questions – and don’t really want answers. Answers can be very limiting, very inhibiting, and even very challenging. Answers can cause us to re-think, re-evaluate, perhaps admit error, and even sometimes to change. Some people are more comfortable with questions than with answers.
The true servant of Hashem is not the person without questions – such a person might not be a servant of Hashem at all. The true servant of G-d has questions – and seeks answers. He looks for solutions. With such a child – and adult – we can dialogue, interact, fall and rise together, and embark on the lifelong quest of Torah study. Through such children, Jewish communities are built; and through such communities, the nation redeemed 3333 years ago reminds itself why Hashem chose us, and sanctified us from among all the nations, and prepares itself for our own journey from servitude to redemption, speedily and in our days.
A happy and kosher Pesach to all !