The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. — Albert Einstein
A central organizing principle of the Passover Seder is the use of questions to facilitate the process of telling the story of the Exodus. The entire ceremony of the Seder is peppered with rituals designed to provoke questions. We begin the telling with the four questions, asked by the youngest child.
And then we turn to the Four Children and their questions, and we immediately bump into an ironic situation:
The second child is labeled as a *rasha*: Wicked. Evil.
For asking a question — the very thing that was encouraged.
The Haggadah instructs us not only on the verbal answer to the “wicked” child, but also tells us to “blunt his teeth,” which feels unreasonably harsh.
The labels given to all four children are problematic, but this child really gets the short stick. Even a casual student of psychology or observer of human behavior knows that labeling a child as a “bad kid” is a harmful practice that can mar a child’s development.
What is so evil about the second child?
This child asks: what is this service to you? Commentators say that by phrasing it as to you and not to us this child separates itself from the community. They say that the question is rhetorical, a challenge that brings skepticism to the process.
I don’t think that’s enough to warrant the “wicked” label. First, the “wise” child also uses this language. Second, the second child is here, at the table, participating.
It’s dangerous to ascribe motive to someone without knowing their intent. The second child’s question can also be a sincere attempt to understand from the others at the table what this means to them, as part of the path of finding his own meaning in it.
The labeling of the second child as “wicked” reflects a sad truth: people in authority don’t like to be challenged.
The Wisdom of the Skeptic
Perhaps this child’s question is infused with some snark and skepticism, and that is healthy.
Exploring the boundaries of an idea and seeing how much it can push those boundaries is a natural part of the learning process.
It’s also necessary to drive innovation.
To use a phrase coined by Seth Godin, this child is making a ruckus.
Where would we be if everyone adhered to the status quo?
The world is shaped by people who are willing to push the boundaries of conventional thought, consider alternative approaches, and question prevailing viewpoints.
Moses himself pushed back against God when called on to represent the people. By the metric of the Haggadah, he would have been labeled as “wicked.”
Why do we do this? Why in this way? What are we really trying to do here? Is there a better way?
These are the questions asked by the wisest minds, by the people who are here to effect change, to make a difference by thinking differently.
People in authority may not like them in the moment, but the innovators and change makers and challengers are the ones who drive progress. They force everyone else to dig deeper and soar higher.