Why do we respond so harshly to the wicked son in the Haggadah? He may be a rebel, but why should we "loosen his teeth"? Does he really deserve a punch in the face?
The Haggadah is one of the most profound texts of Judaism. Nothing in it should be taken lightly. Here too, the Haggadah has a powerful message on how to view wicked children, young or old.
Every person has a soul, and that soul is pure. Sadly, that pure soul can sometimes accumulate layers of baggage that conceal its goodness, through years of neglect, or bad experiences, or wrong education, or negative influences. It can even reach a point where the soul's fire seems all but extinguished.
But no soul is never a lost case. Every Jew is a child of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the holy patriarchs. This chain cannot be broken. No matter how far a Jew has strayed from Judaism, no matter how many layers of cynicism or ignorance covers a Jewish soul, they are still a part of the family. Scratch away the surface and the Jewishness shines through.
This is the secret behind the Haggadah's response to the wicked child. The name for a wicked person in Hebrew is רשע, spelled with the three Hebrew letters Reish, Shin and Ayin. The outer letters, Reish and Ayin, together spell רע, which means evil. For wickedness is no more than an outer shell, an external layer that is peripheral to our true inner being.
The middle letter, Shin, represents the deepest core of the wicked son's personality. The letter Shin, ש, is made up of three lines, representing the three patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. At his core, even the wicked son is connected to the Jewish family. In the depths of his soul, he just wants to come home to his people. His Shin is intact.
When the Haggadah says "loosen his teeth," it really means "bring out his Jewish soul." The Hebrew term "his teeth" שניוcan be translated "his letter Shin." Loosen the Shin from the Reish and Ayin. When we meet such a rebellious child, when we come across a Jew who is antagonistic to his Judaism, remember that it is no more than a façade. The evil is a front. Inside is a wholesome and sacred Shin.
His connection to the Jewish people is unbreakable. All you need to do is tease out the inner soul, allow its light to break through the evil shell that covers it, loosen his Shin and you will see in front of you not a wicked cynic but a glowing and bright soul.
Good Shabbos and Good Yomtov, a happy and kosher Pesach,