As we near Passover, there are two major events that mark the Jewish calendar. One is the birthday of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the lover of Jews, unparalleled since Moshe Rabeinu and the Baal Shem Tov, and we prepare for the Seder. As the noise and sounds in the kitchen die down, we can focus on the Haggada and all the rich text. The words of the Haggada so precise, rich and flavored, they match the kugels and kneidelach in their savory depth.
Perhaps the most frustrating passage in the Haggada is the line, to “knock out,” or “blunt”the teeth of the wicked son who doesn’t appreciate what is going on at the Seder.
Here is the text:
The wicked son, what does he say? “What is this service to you?”7 [By saying,] “to you,” [he implies]: “but not to himself.” Since he has excluded himself from the people at large, he denies the foundation of our faith.
Therefore, you should blunt his teeth and tell him: ….. “Had he been there, he would not have been redeemed.”
The frustration is, what gives? Ok, he doesn’t know what’s going on? Or perhaps, he doesn’t like what’s going on, so he takes himself out of the community and thus we are told to knock out his teeth? We add insult to injury by telling him, that had he been there in Egypt he would have not been redeemed? Rather harsh, don’t you think?
Certainly, the Rebbe, the Baal Shem Tov, the lovers of the Jewish people cannot be ok, with such harsh treatment of this “wicked son”? He is clearly hurting or unhappy about something, so he is acting out. Beating him, and telling him that he would have not been saved had he had this pugnacious attitude back in the day, is not going to motivate him or bring him back into the fold?
Particularly, in today’s world of “safe spaces,” and – appropriate – hypersensitivity to those who are struggling, we need to approach these “at risk” youth with a different approach than our parents generation who would deliver a “frask” – Yiddish for a spanking, and expect things to improve. That may have worked for that generation, but does not work for ours.
So what gives?
I’ve heard this critical question explained thus, and I am channeling my inner student of the Rebbe, to present what I think his sentiments would be, using my verbiage.
There is rarely such a thing as a wicked child, or a wicked Jew. It happens, but it is too rare for the Haggada to spend it’s precious space addressing. What the Haggada is talking about, is the child who behavior is wicked but his core, the neshama, the soul, is pure. It is not able to be contaminated. So you have a pure soul, that has gotten caught up in something that is making them act out in a way that appears wicked.
For some it’s an abusive home, others an abusive experience by a teacher, friend or family member, others is the Gd given gift/challenge of emotional difficulties and demons that they need to battle. For other its a traumatic experience, the loss of a loved one or any other crisis that creates frustration, pain and suffering.
What they all have in common, is that they are not at peace with themselves. This child (either literal or figurative child) is suffering. They are hurting and don’t have the tools to work through the situation on their own. So their “behavior” looks like the wicked son. However, their soul/essence remains as pure as their holy wise and righteous wise brother.
The words “Since he has excluded himself from the people…” is a statement about how this suffering child feels about those around him who he hoped he could have relied on to help him through his struggle. He feels excluded by the world, so he excludes himself.
The Haggada then advises us what we must do to fix the situation. Blunt his teeth. NO, don’t knock them out, and beat him further, Gd forbid, but blunt them, grind down the sharp edges, soften the poisonous vitriolic anger and angst this child is struggling with.
Love him, hug him, embrace him and remove the the sense of exclusion from the community of family and peoplehood that he thinks he does not belong to and has removed himself from (incorrectly). Let him know that he is not only a part of the family but an integral piece. So much so, that the obligation to do the Seder – “vi’higadita li’bincha – you shall tell your children” – cannot be completed without him.
I need YOU my dear son. Despite your pain and hurt, I need you, I want you. You are important. Maybe even more important than your other siblings.
Engage him, help him see his eternal value and worth. Show him how you cannot be complete without him. Show him how much he matters. Then you will have removed some of the bitterness that he is feeling and will have begun to help him heal. You will have helped him reach his person redemption, from his personal Egypt. You will have helped him realize that he belongs and needs only to adjust his behavior to become one with soul, his essence and his true and ultimate worth.
He was hurt by life, let’s show him some compassion and show him how life is really very good. This is what is meant by blunt his teeth. Soften his blows, and show him his own beauty. Show him, that he too is the wise and righteous son at his core.
This is hinted in the numerology in the term “blunt his teeth.
Rasha/Wicked (son) = 570
Tzadik/Rightous (son) = 204
Shinav/Teeth = 366
If you take the “Shinav/teeth – 366, the bitterness/anger/sadness/pain/frustration away from the the Rasha/Wicked -570 – the pained and struggling child, you are left with Tzadik/Righteous – 204. A calm and at peace child who is ready to heal and embrace their inner awesomeness!
This is how the Rebbe looked a “rasha.” He said, let’s show them how beautiful they are. Let’s introduce them to their neshamah, their truest essence and then the misbehavior and negative self imaging will fall away.
Thank you Rebbe for your novel approach to seeing life and showing it in every aspect of Torah. You are balm for a hurting world.
We, your students miss you, and will continue to endeavor to keep you legacy of positivity and optimism alive!
Credit @theyeshiva.net & Rabbi YYJacobson