Steven Bayar

This Passover, I am the Evil Child

What does the evil [son] say? “What is this worship to you?” To you, and not to him. As he excluded himself from the community, 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.” For me, and not for him. If he had been there, he would not have been saved.

I am the evil child. I reject the euphemisms of gentler translations. While I may be contrary or wicked, in the context of the Haggadah, I am purely evil.

Why? The four children are placed near the beginning of the Seder. We can only guess why, but it’s not far-fetched that the editors wanted to direct the conversation away from certain areas. Their message is, “Be good. Be the wise child. Talk about the observances and the commandments required for the holiday. Discuss the what and not the why. Don’t be the wicked child and talk about meaning.”

But I am asking, “what does all this mean to you?” I want to know, what significance can be gleaned from the massacre of October 7? What is the purpose of a 7th month (and counting) of a war that has only brought mass destruction to multiple cultures and unleashed worldwide antisemitism against us?

Isn’t it enough that we have to eat the bitter herbs? Do we have to ingest the concurrent toxicity it generates? How do we approach a hidden God? Are we to be like Job, railing against a capricious God who demands loyalty even when it has not been earned? Or are we to accept the futility of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), who concludes, “all is in vain.”

I understand why the Haggadah wants us to be the wise child, to concentrate on the what we should do. The wise child’s ask guides us into obsession on the observances demanded — and distancing us from the raw emotion tragedy brings.

But I am in a different place, and my wickedness is more subtle. For I know my answer — I want yours. I want to know how you reconcile the needless suffering with your faith. I want to know if it is indeed needless, and if it is not, I want to know why. I want a conversation, a dialogue. I want you to deal with what you have been deflecting, because while there are many answers, there are no good ones.

And how will you treat me? Will you ostracize or ignore me? Will you try to “set my teeth on edge?” Will you threaten to have me “removed from the community?” And, in a final remonstrance, will you tell me, “had I been in Egypt I would not have been redeemed?”

I am not looking for redemption. I am looking for meaning. And, I am hoping those who are “wise” will look beyond their search for chametz — and join me in conversation this year.

About the Author
Rabbi Steven Bayar recently served as Interim Rabbi at Congregation Agudas Achim in San Antonio, TX. Ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, he is Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation B’nai Israel in Millburn, NJ, where he served the pulpit for 30 years, and teaches at the Golda Och Academy in West Orange, NJ. He is a member of the Rabbinical Assembly and Rabbis Without Borders, and has trained as a hospice chaplain, a Wise Aging facilitator, and a trainer for safe and respectful Jewish work spaces. He’s the co-author of “Teens & Trust: Building Bridges in Jewish Education,” “Rachel & Misha,” and “You Shall Teach Them Diligently to Your Children: Transmitting Jewish Values from Generation to Generation.”
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