Rejoicing at the Presence of the Wicked Son at the Seder Table

Pesach Is About Embracing All Into Jewish Family

Haggadah of Moses Loeb ben Wolf

By Avi Shafran

Published April 13, 2014, issue of April 18, 2014.
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In the varied depictions, he’s a medieval knight; a dandy in a zoot suit; a boxer with fists held high; an aloof fellow with a Hitler moustache or a mischievous one who looks like Groucho; a jester; a boy with a mohawk and a yo-yo (really!), and (as once depicted in the pages of the Forward), a postmodern doubter of Zionism.

Yes, it’s the rasha, the Haggadah’s Wicked Son. As the only Jewish text that has, for centuries, been graced with drawings, the Haggadah provides an interesting peephole into how Jews in different times and places conceived of “wickedness.”

I lack graphic talent, and so I won’t likely ever illustrate a Haggadah. But if I did, mischievously mindful of the talmudic opinion that the embodiment of Esau’s essence that wrestled with Jacob looked like a talmid chacham, a Torah scholar, I might scandalously draw my Haggadah rasha with a beard and hat, just like the Wise Son’s. Wickedness has no “look”; appearances can be deceiving. As a great poet sang, sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace.

As to the identity of the rasha’s evil, that, too, has undergone changes over the years. There was a time, and a long time it was, when failure to make the effort to be Jewishly observant marked one as “wicked.” When observance was the norm and expectation of all Jews, those who shed it — usually to gain entry into Christian society — were consciously rejecting their Jewish identity and in turn were rejected by their fellow Jews. But even the most Haredi Jew today, who would consider non-observance unfortunate, even tragic, would never judge the nonobservant as evil.

What constitutes “wickedness” in the contemporary Jewish world is as variegated as our people itself. Some, in a distant echo of the medieval knight depiction, might consider the bellicose to be the bad guys; others, abusers; others still, supporters of the Palestinians, or falsifiers of Jewish beliefs, or Republicans.

Whatever rasha any of us might have in mind during the Seder, though, a startling thought about that nefarious Second Son belongs there, too.


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