Confessions of a Wicked Daughter
Every Passover, my family makes me the Seder’s “wicked son.” I don’t mind—it’s a part I was born to play.
I don’t particularly like my family’s Seders. They are long and boring, and (the year someone brought Ten Plagues finger puppets notwithstanding) each Seder is pretty much just like the last. We always start later than planned, forcing me to spend the first half of the evening starving and sneaking more salt-water-dipped-karpas than is permissible under halachah, at least according to my brother-in-law, our resident Orthodox rabbi. And while I happily comply with the Haggadah’s clear instructions to drink plenty of wine, this particular observance always engenders a certain amount of suspicion at the table. (“Are you sure that’s only your second glass, Deena?”) My usual move is to stay through the meal, “help” my mom with the dishes while everyone is benching, and eventually quietly drift upstairs to my bedroom, where I promptly fall asleep. I remember “Chad Gadya” fondly, but I can’t remember the last Seder when I was awake to sing it at the end.
Just as predictable, though, is what will happen after the salt water and the wine but before my early exit: When we get to the part about the Four Sons, the whole family looks to me to read the part of the rasha, aka the Wicked Son. In one of the best-known parts of the Seder, the Haggadah tells us the story of four children (all male, of course), characterizing them by the questions they ask. The chacham, or so-called wise son, wants to memorize the boring details: “Tell me the laws, the regulations, the ordinances.” The simple son, meanwhile, can only handle the broad strokes: “What is this?” he wants to know. The one who cannot even ask a question has nothing to say; the father has the imperative to open the conversation. But it is the one son who asks a real question, one that requires some original thought and an actual challenge, who we label “wicked.” And the question that has earns him this title? “What is this service to you?” By questioning his religious obligations and adding “to you,” he separates himself from his family and his community. Our response: We shun him right back. (“… because God took me out of Egypt, me and not you.”)
Every year, I’m the wicked one. Always have been. Always will be.
I can’t remember when I officially became the family rasha, but family lore puts it at around the time I introduced my third non-Jewish boyfriend. It didn’t matter that I was the only one of my parents’ three daughters with a job, paying my own rent, and headed to an Ivy League law school. Or that I was the only one to reliably send flowers on Mother’s Day, call my bubbe, and buy every single family member a Hanukkah present. What mattered was that I was breaking the cardinal rule of the Shanker household: Thou Shalt Not Have Gentile Boyfriends. Even if we lived an hour away from the closest Jewish community, even if my yeshiva had only one good looking guy in the whole high school (who would later marry Ivanka Trump), and even if my eventual transfer to public high school would introduce me to one cute goyishe boy after another.
But the truth is that I was the family rasha long before I met Andrew, my very first non-Jewish boyfriend, and I will likely remain the family rasha even after I meet the next one. (Sorry, Mom and Dad; I can’t promise the last one was the last. Is it my fault I have a weakness for handsome, hard-bodied men?) The rasha is not wicked for breaking the rules—he is wicked for questioning them, and I have been challenging convention, for better and sometimes for worse, for as long as I can remember.
The rabbis offer plenty of explanations for the nature of the Wicked Son, and the more of them I read, the more I realize that my family has it right about me. I am “wicked.” I do believe, as Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch said about the rasha, that I have “‘progressed’ far beyond [my] elders,” though I don’t think that makes me a “mocker”—just a liberal. I truly do not understand how an animal raised in the torture of a factory farm can be considered kosher, or why the fact that men can’t control their libidos means that women need to cover their hair. I cannot come to terms with Jacob stealing his brother’s birthright by tricking his blind, dying father; and I can’t help but notice that the whole scheme was organized by the one woman in the story, the mother. And I cannot believe that any just God would punish me for marrying a man I love, even if he is not a member of the tribe, has never been to a Seder before, and can’t pronounce l’chaim, chutzpah, or charoset.
Chicken Marbella, once a staple of trendy dinner parties, is now a mainstay recipe for Passover’s festive meals