The four children described in the Haggadah use stereotypes to explain that any retelling of the Passover story must be done in a way that everyone present can understand. The wise child asks for a complex explanation of the laws of Passover. The simple child asks what is going on. The wicked child wants to know what the Seder has to offer him. The child who cannot ask might be full of burning curiosity, but it is the leader’s responsibility to start the discussion.
Four Children and Their Four Parents
One child casually asks, “What are the laws of the seder?” His mother launches into an hour-long explanation that includes quotes from the “Pesachim” tractate of the Talmud. This is way more than the child wanted to know, and he regrets his curiosity. And as the other guests get hungrier and hungrier, they regret his curiosity too.
Another child asks, “What does this mean to you?”, expecting her dad to briefly reminisce about his own childhood seders, or offer something else of a personal nature. But her dad has had a rough day of last-minute seder prep, and snaps “What does it mean to ME? So you think this is all about ME? It’s supposed to be for YOUR benefit. But if you want to exclude yourself from the Jewish people, fine. You don’t have to come next year.”
A third child asks, “What is this?”, pointing at the bitter herb, wanting to know the Hebrew word for it. Her mother, misunderstanding, says “We eat this to commemorate the bitterness of the lives of the Israelites.” The daughter does not ask what “commemorate” means, but nods her head as if satisfied. She doesn’t want to make her mother feel bad.
A fourth child doesn’t ask anything at all at the seder. He is just taking it all in. His father decides he must be bored, and sets him up with a “Happy Passover, Grover” DVD in the next room, so he won’t make trouble later on, if he gets really bored.
And what of the fifth child, and the fifth parent? The parent who always understands immediately what a child needs, and provides it? Our sages teach that this parent will rear the Messiah. But the Messiah has not yet come, so that fifth, perfect parent must not yet exist.