Values Embedded in the Tension Between the Wise and the "Wicked" Sons

בָּרוּךְ הַמָּקוֹם, בָּרוּךְ הוּא, בָּרוּךְ שֶׁנָּתַן תּוֹרָה לְעַמּוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵל, בָּרוּךְ הוּא. כְּנֶגֶד אַרְבָּעָה בָנִים דִּבְּרָה תוֹרָה: אֶחָד חָכָם, וְאֶחָד רָשָׁע, וְאֶחָד תָּם, וְאֶחָד שֶׁאֵינוֹ יוֹדֵעַ לִשְׁאוֹל.

חָכָם מָה הוּא אוֹמֵר? מָה הָעֵדוֹת וְהַחֻקִּים וְהַמִּשְׁפָּטִים אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה' אֱלֹהֵינוּ אֶתְכֶם. וְאַף אַתָּה אֱמוֹר לוֹ כְּהִלְכוֹת הַפֶּסַח: אֵין מַפְטִירִין אַחַר הַפֶּסַח אֲפִיקוֹמָן:

רָשָׁע מָה הוּא אוֹמֵר? מָה הָעֲבוֹדָה הַזּאֹת לָכֶם. לָכֶם – וְלֹא לוֹ. וּלְפִי שֶׁהוֹצִיא אֶת עַצְמוֹ מִן הַכְּלָל כָּפַר בְּעִקָּר. וְאַף אַתָּה הַקְהֵה אֶת שִׁנָּיו וֶאֱמוֹר לוֹ: "בַּעֲבוּר זֶה עָשָׂה ה' לִי בְּצֵאתִי מִמִּצְרָיִם". לִי וְלֹא־לוֹ. אִלּוּ הָיָה שָׁם, לֹא הָיָה נִגְאָל: .

Blessed is the Place [of all], Blessed is He; Blessed is the One who Gave the Torah to His people Israel, Blessed is He. Corresponding to four sons did the Torah speak; one [who is] wise, one [who is] evil, one who is innocent and one who doesn't know to ask.

What does the wise [son] say? "'What are these testimonies, statutes and judgments that the Lord our God commanded you?' (Deuteronomy 6:20)" And accordingly you will say to him, as per the laws of the Pesach sacrifice, "We may not eat an afikoman [a dessert or other foods eaten after the meal] after [we are finished eating] the Pesach sacrifice. (Mishnah Pesachim 10:8)"

What does the evil [son] say? "'What is this worship to you?' (Exodus 12:26)" 'To you' and not 'to him.' And since he excluded himself from the collective, he denied a principle [of the Jewish faith]. And accordingly, you will blunt his teeth and say to him, "'For the sake of this, did the Lord do [this] for me in my going out of Egypt' (Exodus 13:8)." 'For me' and not 'for him.' If he had been there, he would not have been saved.

Giving everyone the benefit of the doubt is an important Jewish value, as we read in Orchot Chaim, a set of instructions for living. written by Rabbi Asher ben Yehiel (c. 1250 - 1327), Rhineland:

(י) י. שֶּׁיָּדִין אֶת חֲבֵרוֹ לְכַף זְכוּת:

(10) Judge your fellow man as innocent; always give him the benefit of the doubt.

Giving the "evil" child the benefit of the doubt, ask yourself, what's behind each of these questions:

Why does each child ask what s/he asks?

Can you discern this person's values from the question s/he is asking?

Michael Rosenak's distinction between explicit and implicit religion (the subject of his book, Commandments and Concerns) is helpful here:

Explicit religion [Commandments]concerns itself with what we believe and practice as loyal adherents of a specific faith, as members of a believing community; it sets down norms that prevail in our fellowship, norms that are incumbent upon whom ‘we’ will recognize as ‘religious.’

Implicit religion [Concerns] deals with existential encounters, occasioned by looking within and up in an attitude of faith; it connotes ... openness, and search for meaning. Implicit religion begins not with God’s demand but with human hopes and fears, with perception rather than tradition, with the depth of questions, rather than the authority of answers. [pp.112-113]

“The relationship between these two orientations is unstable, and they exist in varying proportions in different people.”

This diversity , Rosenak argues, can be a big plus—allowing people of different religious sensibilities to coexist in the same religious community. On the other hand, when one dimension “overpowers” or “suppress” the other, “theological and educational corruptions” are the result.

Reframing the "wise" and the "wicked" children as people with two different viewpoints (one focusing on commandments, the other focusing on concerns) Where along this axis would you place yourself?

If we think of commandment and concerns as two ends of a scale, Rosenak is arguing for a "balance."

  • Do you agree?
  • Does the balance always need to be in the middle?
  • How do you as an educator help your students to find their own sense of balance?