At the Passover Seder we are taught to imagine Four Children, who question the seder and the Passover tradition.
The Wise Child asks how one carries out a seder, implying he or she will learn and continue tradition.
The Wicked Child asks why Passover is important, specifically to you, the adult/teacher, thereby isolating and elevating his or herself from others. Isolationism, narcissism, spite, and cynicism is seen as true evil.
The Simple Child simply wants to know what’s going on — what is this whole holiday about, which is simultaneously asking the most direct and the most complex question of them all.
Then there is The Child Who Does Not Know How To Ask, to whom we simply tell “It is because of what the Almighty did for me when I left Egypt [that we celebrate].” This is done to light a spark, inviting them to question and inspire them to learn more down the road.
But I suggest a Fifth Child — The Child Who Is Not Able To Ask; forbidden from questioning the world around them. In the recent past, Jewish scholars have suggested a child that represents the children of the Holocaust, for which the inability to question was almost definitive to their lives cut short. But I see the Fifth Child today as well.
As a teacher I meet Wise, Wicked, Simple, and Unsure children all the time, and to each I have an approach to help them learn as best they can. It is when I come across a child whose circumstances are totally intellectually debilitating that I am lost. The Fifth Child has autism or disabilities. The Fifth Child comes from a broken home, raised by cruel parents. The Fifth Child runs from law and immigration officers for a reason they are not old enough to understand. The Fifth Child is lost to gun violence. The Fifth Child is lost to drugs. The Fifth Child is lost to incessant bullying, parental and societal pressures. The Fifth Child is so busy trying to support their loved ones that they have no time to question why it is that a child is working an adult’s hours or needs to steal in order to eat.
The Fifth Child was a slave in Egypt and the Fifth Child is a slave today, be it to society, their home, or their very own bodies. We must ask questions on their behalf and work to free them, and allow them and their more fortunate peers’ minds to inquire and understand. They are the future. We must allow a free future or we will all remain slaves in one way or another.