The Story of the Wicked Child
copyright 1997 Alan Radding, all rights reserved
The first Seder had been awful. Edward didn't like matzah and
he said so. "This stuff is like cardboard. Do we really have
to eat this junk all week?" He thought the whole idea of
a Seder, the special Passover meal, was stupid, all the ritual
this and symbolic that. The Four Questions that children are expected
to recite were really stupid. Nobody ever really reclines when
they eat. They'd choke. Then there was all the stuff about opening
the door for Elijah and the cup of wine. "Hey, doesn't this
remind you of putting out milk and cookies for Santa Claus?"
he suggested. Nobody laughed at his joke.
"You remind me of the wicked child in the Haggadah,"
said his Uncle Robert, referring to the rebellious child in the
Passover story. Uncle Robert then went into some spiel about how
special it was to be Jewish and a chain linking us all the way
back in history. Then he threw in the Holocaust. Whenever adults
want you to feel bad about not feeling Jewish, Edward thought,
they bring up the Holocaust.
So, here they all are at the second Seder and nothing has changed.
More aunts and uncles and cousins pour into the house. Everyone
raves about the food - brisket and turkey, tsimmes and potato kugel - but
Edward would prefer pizza or spaghetti, even a bagel. Edward
is still feeling like the wicked child. "Don't spoil it for
your younger brothers and sisters and everyone else," his
The Seder went along in its predictable way. The little kids all
sang the Four Questions. "Oh, how beautiful," Aunt Linda
declared, ignoring all the mistakes.
"I can read, so I'm joining in the adult parts," Edward
pointed out, as an explanation for why he didn't join the other
"Welcome to the club. You're getting to be a big boy,"
said Uncle Robert, giving Edward a friendly wink.
Despite his best efforts, however, Edward couldn't put much feeling
into this. Bubbie started crying as usual when they got to the
part where the Haggadah speaks of telling the story as if each
person came out of Egypt. Bubbie escaped the Holocaust so she
truly feels that God redeemed her, his father explained to their
visitors. "What about all the people who were killed?"
Edward muttered under his breath. He didn't feel redeemed at all.
The Afikomen part of the Seder is Edward's favorite. His father
always hides the Afikomen, a special piece of matzahwhich is saved for the end of the meal. When the
children find it, they all bargain for a prize, usually a book
or a toy. Because he is the oldest son, however, Edward often
is slipped a real dollar too. During the meal, the kids search
high and low for the Afikomen. "That's surprising,"
Edward told his younger sister. "Usually we find it right
"Give us a hint," begged the children.
"It's not upstairs," said the father, and it is at the
eye level of a child, he added. The kids scatter to cover every
room in the house. Edward slipped off to his father's study because
he vaguely remembered his father coming out of there just after
the start of the Seder meal. In the past this room was off limits,
but his father hadn't said that this year.
The study is crammed with bookshelves stuffed with books, the
perfect place to hide the Afikomen, thought Edward. But where?
A tiny glint catches his eye. It came from the light hitting the
glitter his little sister used to decorate the Afikomen bag in
nursery school. He reached over to pick up the bag, but as soon
as he touched it he felt like he was spinning. He yanked his hand
back, but it was too late.
Suddenly Edward found himself lying in what seemed to be a giant
mud puddle. Someone was shouting at him in a language he didn't
understand. Before he could move, something hit him. It stings.
He's being whipped. Again and again the whip lashes him. He madly
scrambled to his feet. A guy who looks like an ancient soldier,
like the kind he'd seen in movies, is hitting him with a whip
and shouting. Dirty people are all around him lugging bricks.
He scrambled into line with them and picks up some bricks. His
whole body hurt from the whipping. He's just a kid but they hit
him hard. He's crying, but nobody does anything.
All day in the burning sun Edward carried bricks. He didn't understand
a word people said. He wanted to go home, but he couldn't figure
out where he was or what happened. His body ached and he was desperate
for a drink of water. As the sun was getting low in the sky a
bell rang and people started trudging off in another direction.
Edward decided to follow them.
As they walked a murmur grew among the people heading toward a
collection of mud shacks. He arrived with the last stragglers
and found the people suddenly energized. They were killing sheep
and painting the doors of their shacks with the blood.
Now Edward recognized who they were and where he was. "They're
Jews. This is Egypt. They're slaves. They think I'm a slave too,"
he thought. The blood meant that they must be preparing for the
final plague - the killing of the first born.
Before Edward could react, the people disappeared into their shacks.
Some moms grabbed the last children and animals. Edward was left
alone, outside, as the last rays of the sun disappeared and night
Edward sat down to try to figure things out. Very slowly he started
to hear crying, quiet and far off at first but drawing closer.
Then it dawned on him. "God is coming tonight to kill all
the first born of Egypt!" he shouted. No one heard him. All
the Jews had painted their houses and were now staying inside.
Edward was left alone, outside, as the terrifying wailing and
crying got closer and closer.
Then he realized the jam he was in. "I'm a first born too,"
he cried. He didn't want to be killed. He wanted to live, to be
with his family, to be...redeemed. Yes, he too wanted to be redeemed.
He had to be redeemed. Frantic, he tried knocking on doors but
none would open.
Unable to get inside, he huddled on the doorstep, right up against
a door post painted with sheep's blood. The wailing grew louder
and louder. He could feel in the air the scariest thing he could
ever imagine-not a thing really but a presence. Edward, a first-born
son, knew he was in trouble, deep trouble.
"But I'm a Jew too," he pleaded. And suddenly, he started
to pray: "Shema Yisrael, Ado-nai Elohenu Ado-nai Echad."(Hear, Oh Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One).
He repeated it over and over. He recited the Borchu, Alenu, Ashrei prayers.
He searched his mind for every prayer his Hebrew school teachers
ever tried to teach him, every prayer he ever heard people praying
in synagogue. And he kept repeating them over and over.
The wailing kept growing louder and closer. Edward closed his
eyes and ears and prayed louder and louder. He felt the presence
almost on top of him, stopping. Still he prayed. After what seemed
a long time, the presence moved past. The wailing spread throughout
what seemed the whole world, but he was still alive.
Edward kept praying through that night of sorrow until, as dawn
broke, he heard a new sound drown out the wailing. It was the
Israelites shouting from house to house. Suddenly people were
rushing into the streets, grabbing whatever belongings they could.
The Exodus had begun.
"Thank you Ado-nai," whispered Edward.
"Aren't you going to bring in the Afikomen?" asked his
father. "We're all waiting to continue."
Edward was standing in the library holding the Afikomen. "I
thought you wouldn't hide it in your study," he said in a
"You found it so easily the last couple of years. I thought
you needed a little challenge," his father replied.
The rest of the Seder seemed to race by. They opened the door
for Elijah and it seemed to Edward that the level of wine in the
cup did drop, that Elijah came and drank. When it came time to
sing the songs, Edward sang for joy, as energetically as he could,
as if he really was celebrating freedom with the Jews in Egypt.
"Last night's wicked child sounds like a cantor tonight,"
Aunt Linda whispered to Edward's father.
His father smiled: "It sounds to me like he's discovered
what the Seder's all about."
Drop a comment to the author, Alan Radding at
Alan Radding writes Jewish stories for children and young adults. These
stories are read regularly as part of the various children's services and
programs at Temple Reyim, Newton, MA.
from the March 1999 Passover Edition of the Jewish Magazine