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Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Blunt the Wicked Son's Teeth!

Daf Yomi Bava Kama 35

The world recently lost one of the greatest sportspersons of the twentieth century.  Muhammad Ali will most famously be remembered for his 1965 punch that knocked out Sonny Liston in the first minute of the first round.  

It kind of makes you think.  Remember the good old days when spectators would gather in the Coliseum and watch gladiators fight to the death?  Nowadays that sounds so ancient and barbaric, doesn’t it?  One can only wonder how our great-grandchildren will look back at our present-day spectator sports!

The truth is boxing didn’t begin in the modern-day ring.  It already appears in the Hagadah!  When we read about the four sons at the Pesach seder, we are told to blunt the wicked son’s teeth.  What does that mean?  Is that like an uppercut to the jaw?  Is there any other way to blunt his teeth without completely knocking them out? 

There was once an ox in Rav Papa’s home that had a toothache.  It entered the house, pushed the cover off a beer barrel, drank beer and was healed.

The wicked son within each and every person has many names.  Sometimes, he’s the yetzer hara.  Other times, the Satan.  According to the Kabbalists, he is called the ‘animal soul.’  It’s the ox within us fighting to fulfil its animalistic desires.

And sometimes, as animals are wont to do, the inner animal will use its teeth and bite those it feels threatened by.  ‘Beware of the dog’ is not just a sign on one’s gate; it’s often a sign on one’s heart.

And so the Hagadah tells us that we need to blunt the teeth of the wicked son.  When you encounter an individual who is angry and biting away at Torah and mitzvos, you need to take the edge off the bite of their inner ox.  But how do you do that?  With an uppercut to the jaw?

Rav Papa’s ox was brilliant.  It could have kicked and screamed until Rav Papa knocked out its hurting teeth.  But instead, it found the beer barrel and discovered a way to numb the pain, thereby healing itself.  No need to knock out the teeth; a bit of alcohol did the trick.

The Hagadah doesn’t say to knock out the contrary child’s teeth; we are instructed to blunt his teeth.  You could blunt his teeth in so many ways.  But when you’re in tune with what’s really going on, you realize that most ‘wicked’ children are simply in pain.  Don’t go for the punch.  Reach for the numbing alcohol.  Give them something to ease the pain.

Most people who rebel against their Judaism don’t do so for rational reasons.  They give it all up for emotional reasons.  They’re often in pain.  Something’s happened in their lives that has so upset them that they’re lashing out at the community and G-d for the pain they’re enduring.

Blunt their toothache.  Ease their pain.  Take the edge of their bite.  How?  By reaching out with love.  Don’t try to argue with them.  Simply shower them with lovingkindness.  Know that it’s not them; it’s their inner animal compounding the pain of whatever tragic circumstances they’ve dealt with in their life.

The Vilna Gaon famously explains that the numerical value of the ‘wicked’ son (rasha) is 570.  When you blunt ‘his teeth’ (shinav) – which equals 366 – you are left with 204, the numerical equivalent of the word tzadik – righteous.  In other words, once you numb the pain of the seemingly wicked child, you will be left with the true essence of the person – a purely righteous individual.

Some people today claim that the Jewish world is facing a crisis, with the numbers of OTD (Off The Derech) – people who have forsaken their Jewish practice – on the rise.  Sadly, however, it’s no different to any other time in our history.  We have always had any number of our brothers and sisters who have drifted away from traditional practice. 

At times, these ‘contrary children’ were individuals, who simply assimilated and disappeared.   Other times, they formed enough of a critical mass to create a new movement within the framework of the Jewish people.  But even such movements were, for the most part, short-lived; as they did not have Torah as the foundation and power of their activities.

The only real answer to the contrary child is love.  Because the only real question they have is why the Almighty could allow them to suffer.  May you reach out and help numb the pain so that you may discover the hidden tzadik within each and every one of our Jewish brothers and sisters!