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Bradley Burston

Bradley Burston

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This Passover, We Need the Wicked Child More Than Ever

Posted: 04/18/11 10:31 AM ET

Imagine calling a child -- any child -- the Rashah. The wicked one. Evil. Mean-spirited. Contemptuous. Disrespectful. Disdainful. Ostentatiously disengaged. Intentionally hurtful.

But we do it. Every year at this time. At every Passover seder. We say good riddance to bad children.

Some of us wince as we read the passage on the Rashah, some of us mumble, some of us skip it altogether. Some of us get through it by speeding it up or making it rote, or turning it into a joke, classically at the expense of someone across the table.

Yet, we do it. Every year at this time, we let the meanness in us out at the one we call the Rashah. We argue that this kid's an apostate, that he's deserted the community of Israel. But in fact, it's we who act as though we don't need this kid. Our sages command us to "blunt down his teeth." To assault this kid, to clout the Rashah with one of the meanest, most exclusionary sentences in all of Judaism: If you'd been in Egypt, you wouldn't have been saved.

What did the Rashah do to deserve this? Asked a question. "What is all this drudgery, this workout, this service, this production, what is it to you?" In fact, what the Rashah asks, is the one question that makes all the difference. "What does all this, any of this, have to do with me?"

And why is this year different from all other years?

Because this year in Egypt, the child who was different, the child who thought otherwise, the child who acted up and out, led the community, and, in so doing, was set free.

Because it is the Rashah who sees, when we do not, where the rest of us are going, and where the rest of us are going wrong.

Because it is the Rashah who sees that freedom unshared is freedom denied.

Because the very model of the Rashah is Moses. Over and over, the community of Israel is furious with him, for breaking dangerous new ground. For outrages which prove to be necessary.

On that day when he comes down from the mountain with the commandments, he is the ultimate Rashah. He is the outsider. Like Abraham, the Rashah before him, he is the minority of one. The community is preoccupied with other concerns. Constructions. Idolatry. The organized community is furious with him. He reminds them of why they are there, and where they should be headed, and they cannot forgive him.

So it is this Passover. We need the Rashah as never before. We need the child who asks "When I grow up, will I be free? Or will I find myself flat and twisted as a hieroglyph, the taskmaster, dressed and designated to deal with the people next door? Beating them down. Maybe just patting them down. Holding them up. Holding them down. Blunting their teeth. Anything to make sure that the construction go forth."

This year, there are those who would pass laws against the Rashah. There are those who would silence the Rashah, vilify, excommunicate, picture the Rashah with horns.

This Passover, it is time for the Rashah to stand up and say: I am different and I am crucial. I am the community of Israel, no less than the idolaters and their constructions.

In the past, you needed me and you denied me. But this night, and this year, will be different than all other years. You need me now more than ever, the wicked daughter no less than the wicked son. I am the one you have to worry about. And listen to.

On this night, just this once, may we cease to call these children wicked. Long enough to hear them out. Next year, may we even begin to see them for what they are. The future of Israel.


Originally published at Haaretz.com

 

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