We Are The Children
Jewish spirituality has always been captivated by the mystery and majesty of the development of self. As we prepare to leave Egypt in the Torah, Moses’s speech to the people does not address the wars ahead, nor the great rendezvous with destiny on Mount Sinai, but rather – Moses speaks to the nation as an educator, about explaining to posterity the momentous significance of the exodus for the Jewish people, and for all of humanity.
Millennia thereafter, countless Jewish scholars and scientists, including Erik Erikson and Abraham Maslow, offered humanity grounding and seminal prisms through which to grasp and facilitate the emergence of a mature, educated and enhanced self. We all wish for our children and grandchildren to become such nourished and fulfilled souls.
Nietzsche once asserted that “inside every great man there is a child who wants to play”. On the Seder night, we give voice to the concerns and vantage points of four distinct children in the Haggadah. There is an ever-growing popular Midrash which regards these four children (the wise, the wicked, the simple and the one who doesn’t know how to ask) as representative of four different levels of the development of self. According to this outlook, during infancy we are all akin to the child who doesn’t know how to ask, we are rather helpless and utterly devoid of basic verbal capacities.
During the early years of childhood, we learn basic tasks, such as tying our shoe laces, riding a bike, eating with silverware – thus we are the simple child. As we mature into young adults, we have an intrinsic need to assert our own individuality, identity and sense of autonomous selfhood. As a result, at times we reject, or challenge, key features of our socialization, as a subconscious means by which to achieve self-exploration and discovery. Ideally, we end up as a mature nuanced self, who makes peace with the complexities and at times even inherent contradictions of existence. We reintegrate parts of our socialization and upbringing into our identity, but in a negotiated and thoughtful way, in a way which is attuned to our personal sensibilities and dispositions. This is the achievement of the wise child. The wise child is not necessarily a brilliant intellect, as much as a flexible and integrative being.
May we all become wise children in this regard, and with G-d’s help, also empower and inspire our own children and grandchildren to cultivate that wisdom as well. For such a towering existential achievement would also ensure, inter alia, that the Seder night – the oldest existing religious ritual in the west, forever remains an integral and intrinsic part of our familial and national heritage.
Wishing all of us a Shabbat Shalom and a kosher and happy Passover, warmly,