Wednesday, May 27, 2009

No Respect For The (Simple) Son

At the Passover Seder one of the most interesting topics is the one dealing with the 4 sons. The gematria of 4 sons ארבּעה בּנים is 380, the same as Egypt מצרים to remind us of the importance to educate our children so that they don't assimilate into Egypt (representing current exile). Each child has strengths and talents that Hashem has blessed them with and it's important for a parent to understand what they are. Our sacred legacy must be passed on generation to generation in a real, genuine, truthful manner.
Though the Haggadah mentions and discusses the 4 sons, it doesn't describe the father at all. But who other than a parent knows what is really in the heart and mind of their children? The wise son is mentioned first, followed by the skeptical, arrogant, wicked son. The simple תּם son is only mentioned ahead of his brother who is unable to ask any questions. Most Rabbis and teachers stress the importance to emulate the wise son and downplay the special character of the simple son. It's not unusual to hear "Who wants to be the simple son? Who would want their children to be like the simple son?" But then realizing that our father Jacob is actually described as an אישׁ תּם we hear the response that "Well, Jacob was first, a man אישׁ, and then he was a תּם." How sad is this twisting of the true nature of Jacob. Why was Jacob described as an אישׁ תּם? Was it because he was the best "learner" in his class? Was it because his family was wealthy and he was honored at dinners? Or did he possess a special characteristic that earned him the great merit of being called an אישׁ תּם? The answer is found when you calculate the atbash gematria of אישׁ תּם which is 453. Amazingly, this is the same value as הקל קול יעקב "The voice is Jacob's voice." Jacob's father Isaac said this with respect to his son since Jacob always spoke in a gentle, humble, polite manner always mentioning Hashem. In fact Isaac described Jacob this way right after he called him father, אבי, in Genesis 27(18). Actually, Jacob with just this one word was not only addressing his own father, but was also addressing G-d, for the atbash of אבי is 740, the same value as רבּונו שׁל עולם, (Master of the Universe). A true righteous person speaks little but says alot. His words are scarce but right to the point. He does not try to impress others with his knowledge. This differs from Jacob's brother Esau who fooled his own father into believing that he was a righteous person. He would ask Isaac whether water and salt must be tithed. Isaac thought, "If he wishes to tithe water and salt which do not need to be tithed, then surely he takes the other tithes." And when Isaac would ask Esau where he was during the day, Esau responded, "In the study hall." His father would marvel and say, "See how careful my son is with the precepts."
Now let's look at the 4 sons' questions. The wise son asks, "What are the testimonies, statutes and laws that Hashem our G-d has commanded you?" Sounds pretty impressive. But we must ask whether or not this son is indeed sincere or whether he is like Esau, just trying to fool himself, as well as his father into believing how righteous he is. So how does his father answer him. He tells him that one cannot eat anything after the "afikomen." But when the simple son asks, "what is all this about?" מה זאת, his father answers him, "With a strong hand did Hashem bring us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage." If we look at Deuteronomy 6(21-25) we learn from the Torah how to answer our children. We tell them that, "We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and Hashem took us out of Egypt with a strong hand." This answer from the Torah is very similiar to the one that the father tells to the simple son. But his answer to his wise son regarding the "afikomen" is not even mentioned in the Torah.
Perhaps the wise son is really righteous, and perhaps in most cases he is sincere, but if we had to choose which one will grow into a true, righteous, humble Jew, we would predict that it would be the simple son who says, מה זאת. Like Jacob, his words are brief and not wasted. In fact the gematria of מה זאת reveals the truth to us, for it is 453 the exact same value as the atbash of אישׁ תּם and the actual gematria of הקל קול יעקב.


  1. Josh perhaps you'd like to read the latest posting here and treat others with the respect that you, as well as they, deserve.

    If you don't think gematria is a valuable science, why are you reading a gematria blog?

    (please don't respond to this, we know what you think)

  2. Who made Josh the bloggers' Man of LaMancha?