The Four Children as Aspects of Divinity

The Passover seder contains a description of four children, a wise one, a wicked one, a simple one, and one who does not know how to ask, and tells the celebrants how they are to address each child. This meditation imagines the four children as aspects of the Divine, and aspects of ourselves.

The wise child, what does that one say? “What are the testimonies, decrees, and ordinances which the Eternal has given you? Explain to him the laws of the Pesach: that after we eat the afikoman we do not turn to other forms of entertainment.

The wicked child, what does that one say? “What is this service to you?” “To you” and not “to me,” excluding that one’s own self from the community, and denying the basic principle of life. Set that one’s teeth and say: “because of what God did for me when I went out of Egypt. “For me” and not “for you,” for had you been there, you would not be redeemed.

The simple child, what does that one say? “What is this?” Tell that one: “With a strong hand did the Holy One take us out of Egypt, from the house of bondage.”

As for the child who is unable to ask, you must open up: “You shall tell your child on that day: it is because of what the Eternal did for me when I went out of Egypt.”

The wise child, this is Chochmah, the wise magician, the spark-father. “What are the laws the Eternal has given to you?” He asks, so that we will make rhymes and reasons, so that we will know our minds. He asks this knowing that we will abandon Him. After the afikoman, the matzah that ends the ritual, we will be satisfied with our decrees and ordinances and we will forget to turn to Him again for new ways of seeing. Unless, perhaps, within the broken pieces of the afikoman we find His spark again.

The wicked child, this is Binah, the womb of life. For must we not say to the mother: “I am separate from you”? Must we not say to Her: “For me” and not “for you”? so that we may grow? When Mother Binah says to us: “What is this service to you?” She makes us feel our oneness with Her, and then sends us away to be separate again, to answer our own questions. We can never stop being angry with her, for it is true: had She been there, She would not have been redeemed, for She has no need of redemption. She contains joy and sorrow. She is within and beyond us. She nurtures us in places we cannot see, cannot know.

The simple child, this is Tiferet, the impatient one, the heart-prince. His lust is for this world, for “this” itself, and so he asks “what is this?” Recalling Him, we recall the strong hand of desire that lifted us from Egypt at great risk, at great cost. He is the simplicity of flowing water that seeks to run wherever there is space to run. To know the mystery of freedom, we must accept his simplicity yet also move beyond it.

The child who does not know how to ask: this is Shekhinah, the Divine presence within the fabric of reality. For, being part of all questions and all answers, all molecules and all atoms, being part of all desire and all fulfillment, how can She have anything left to ask? It is we who must begin the story, we who must ask the questions, so that Her love and power may arise in us.

Rabbi Jill Hammer is the founder of Tel Shemesh and the author of Sisters at Sinai: New Tales of Biblical Women.

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