[Avodah] Shinana

Micha Berger micha at aishdas.org
Mon Apr 15 09:33:07 PDT 2019

On Mon, Apr 15, 2019 at 05:34:49AM -0400, Micha Berger wrote:
: On Sun, Apr 14, 2019 at 12:57:52PM -0400, Sholom Simon forwarded a friend's
: thought:
:: It is the nick name given to R Yehuda because he had big teeth. But it
: I would think it's definitely sharp thinking. When you go from sharp
: to persuaive, the metaphor of teeth fails. But who ever heard of a Jew
: being encouraged not to think so much?

Offlist, R A Zivotovsky mentioned his article in Alei Etzion #18, now
available at

Before his own proposed explanation of haqhei es shinav, RAZZ writes
(consider these teasers):

   The most perplexing part of the Haggada's formulation, and the focus
   of this essay, involves the rasha, whose question is deemed to be
   outright heresy and who is met with a bafflingly severe response:
   The anomalies in the answer are also troubling from a stylistic
   viewpoint. Whereas the other three children each receive a
   straightforward verbal response, the rasha is treated to two
   additional components. The Haggada's response to the rasha includes
   the instruction "hakheh et shinav" - do something to his teeth -
   and it additionally provides a stinging reprimand for his impudence...

   In the remainder of this essay, we will first survey some of the
   standard answers offered to these questions, and we will then propose
   a novel explanation of the Haggada's message.

   Previously Suggested Explanations

   The Haggada Sheleima translates "hakheh" as "anger him," and thereby

   Others similarly explain that "hakheh" is not active, but ...
   When we inform the rasha that he will have to watch everyone else
   eat the succulent, aromatic Passover sacrifice, while he will not be
   permitted to partake, his teeth will "stand on edge."[13] The Ramban
   (Bereishit 49:10) similarly explains that the meaning is "to weaken
   his teeth with your words."[14]

   Most explanations translate "hakheh" as to "blunt" or "dull" his teeth,
   and various explanations have been offered to clarify the intent
   here. R. Ovadia Yosef in his Haggada offers a creative and beautiful
   explanation that views this phrase as an analogy to the rasha.[15]
   The rasha is bothered by all of the ritual activities performed at
   the seder, which he labels as avoda (work). It seems that he would
   rather meditate and think about the Exodus than do...

   Interestingly, there is Biblical precedent for "bashing the teeth"
   of the wicked, although the word "hakheh" is not used in these
   sources. One example is Psalm 58... Psalm 112 ... Psalm 37 ...
   Psalms 35:16...

Before moving on to his proposal, let me add another, rather creative
one. (Meaning, nice thought, but I doubt it reflects original intent.)
/KHH/ is a shoresh chazal use when speaking of a pregnant woman feeling
weak from cravings. (Eg Y-mi Sheviis, bottom of vilna 12a.) So, this
suggestion, "make him crave his learning" -- going back to shein -

Anyway, now on to RAZZ's proposal:

   All of the above explanations ring true, but it is unlikely that
   they reflect the original intent of the compiler of the Haggada.
   There is much more hidden within the unusual word "hakheh" that is
   used to describe blunting the teeth. Indeed, the entire response to
   the rasha presents an integrated message about Judaism's system of
   reward and punishment. The anonymous compiler of the Haggada cleverly
   inserted this message, assuming a knowledgeable readership that would
   recognize it via particular words and phrases that would serve as
   hints or "hyper-links" to broader concepts.[18]

   The word "hakheh" is extremely rare in Biblical and liturgical
   literature. It is not the common word [hakeh], which means "hit,"
   but is rather [haqheh], from the root H.Q.H. It appears in only three
   places in the Bible, Yirmiyahu 31:28-30, Yechezkel 18:2, and Kohelet
   10:10, and all three citations are relevant to the Haggada's usage.

   The verse in Kohelet notes that if one desires to chop wood with an
   ax that has a dull blade, he will have to apply additional muscle
   in order to accomplish his goal: "Im kaha ([qahah]) ha-barzel." From
   this verse, we can deduce an unequivocal definition; in the context
   of an ax, "kaha" clearly means "blunt."

   Indeed, Metzudot Tzion uses the meaning of ka'ha in Kohelet to derive
   its meaning in the less clear context of Yirmiyahu 31:28, where the
   word describes teeth. He explains that this refers to the "weakening
   of the teeth's ability to cut food, just like the iron [of the ax]
   is weakened in its ability to cut wood," i.e., a blunting of the teeth.

   The contexts of the word's appearance in Yirmiyahu and Yechezkel
   both address the culpability of one generation for the sins of
   another, an issue that appears to have conflicting sources in the
   Torah. Devarim 24:16 states, "Fathers shall not be put to death for the
   [sins of] children and the children shall not be put to death for the
   [sins of] fathers; every man shall be put to death for his own sin."
   This seems to clearly dissociate the actions of one generation from the
   responsibility of another, be it previous or subsequent. A seemingly
   contradictory statement is found in both versions of the Ten
   Commandments (Shemot 20:5; Devarim 5:9) and in the Thirteen Attributes
   with which Moshe pleaded with God to forgive the Jews after their sin
   with the Golden Calf (Shemot 34:7) and after the sin of the spies
   (Devarim 14:17-18). For example, Shemot 20:5 describes God as "visiting
   the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the third and
   upon the fourth generation of those that hate Me." While the first
   source appears to state that Divine punishment does not cross
   generational lines, the others imply that it does. Many resolutions to
   this apparent contradiction have been suggested.[19]

   This same apparent contradiction is found in Nakh as well.
   Yirmiyahu 32:18 presents an example of intergenerational merit and
   culpability along with the associated reward and punishment: "And who
   recompenses the iniquity of the fathers into the bosom of their
   children after them."[20] Additionally, Yirmiyahu 36:31 states:
   "And I will visit their iniquity upon him and his seed and his
   servants." However, the contrary notion of personal responsibility, as
   expressed in Deuteronomy 24:16, is also found in the prophets.
   Yechezkel expresses it in a number of places, most prominently in
   chapter 18, where he states: "(v.17)... he shall not die for the
   iniquity of his father... (v.20) the son shall not bear the iniquity of
   the father... neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son ...
   (v.26) for his iniquity that he has done shall he die."

   One of the clearest statements of individual accountability
   is a proverb found in almost identical form in Yirmiyahu 31:28-29
   and Yechezkel 18:2-4, and it is in that context that the uncommon
   word "hakheh" appears. Yirmiyahu states: "In those days, they shall
   say no more: `The fathers have eaten unripe (sour) grapes,[21]
   and the children's teeth are set on edge (tik'hena).' But everyone
   shall die for his own iniquity; every man that eats the sour grapes,
   his teeth shall be set on edge (tik'hena)." In Yechezkel, the proverb
   is formulated as a question: "The fathers have eaten sour grapes,
   and the children's teeth are set on edge (tik'hena)?" Thus, in the
   Bible, this unusual word appears as part of a parable to teach that
   there is no intergenerational accountability.

   It seems that the word "hakheh" in the response to the rasha is
   designed to recall for the reader the verses and parables from
   Yirmiyahu and Yechezkel. Seeing that unusual word is supposed to be
   like a hyperlink that reflexively brings to mind the rare Biblical
   occurrences of its use and its meaning in that context. Certainly for
   Rashi, this association is self-evident. In Ta'anit 7b (s.v. kaha
   ha-barzel), Rashi explains the word "kaha" in the verse in Kohelet
   by citing the verse from Yirmiyahu 31 and by quoting the response to
   the rasha from the Passover Haggada!

   The message of the parables is clear - there is no cross-generational
   reward or punishment. Merit and culpability are individually accrued
   and do not get passed down from previous generations, nor is the next
   generation burdened or rewarded with them: "Every man that eats the
   sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge." That is the message
   transmitted to the rasha in the Haggada.

   As noted above, the passage about the four sons in the Haggada is
   taken from the Mekhilta. This is the only occurrence of the root
   Q.H.H. in the Mekhilta and, indeed, it is rare in all of Rabbinic
   literature. The root sometimes refers to its plain meaning of "blunted"
   or "bitter." However, it seems that it is more often summoned from
   obscurity by the rabbis to link the reader to the Biblical parables
   and hint at an intergenerational context, or, more precisely, an
   unsuccessful transfer from one generation to another.

   In Avot 4:2, R. Yossi bar Yehuda compares the disadvantages of
   learning from a young person to eating unripe grapes ("anavim keihot")
   and drinking freshly squeezed wine from the winepress. There are
   many other ways to say unripe grapes that are used throughout the
   Mishna, but the word of choice here is "keha," in the context of an
   unsuccessful intergenerational transfer.

   In Sota 48b-49a, the Gemara analyzes Zekharia 4:10 and suggests that
   the verse refers to the young children of the wicked who died for the
   sins of their fathers. The bereavement over their deaths would spare
   the wicked fathers additional punishment in the World to Come. The
   children petition God that if His intent was to exact punishment from
   the wicked in the future, why did He "blunt their teeth" ("hek'heita
   shineihem")? Here, children being killed for the sins of their fathers,
   i.e., intergenerational transfer of guilt, is termed "blunting teeth."

   Later on the same page, the Gemara relates that R. Huna found a
   special type of date, which he proudly gave to his son Rabba after
   he had established the latter's spiritual purity. Rabba's son Abba
   soon arrived, and Rabba gave the date to him without ascertaining
   his spiritual level. To this show of generosity, R. Huna responded
   that Rabba had blunted his teeth ("hikeita et shinai"), indicating an
   attempt at intergenerational transfer of merit. Generally, however,
   there is no intergenerational transfer of guilt or merit.

   The Gemara in Sanhedrin 109b engages in exegetical analysis of Korach's
   name, as the Torah refers to him as Korach ben Yitzhar ben Kehat. As
   he was a descendent of Kehat,[22] the Gemara explains that his
   name characterizes him as a son who set the teeth of his ancestors on
   edge by embarrassing them through his actions. Again, the word is not
   merely used as an expression of upset or disappointment, but rather
   in the context of a perceived intergenerational relationship.[23]

   The Ramban suggests that this same root is actually found in several
   other Biblical verses. Commenting on Bereishit 49:10, "ve-lo yik'hat
   amim," the Ramban understands the word "yik'hat" differently than
   Rashi, connecting it to Yirmiyahu 31:29,where it means weakness or
   breaking. The Ramban explains the verse to mean that the scepter
   of kingship will not leave Yehuda until his son (i.e., the messiah)
   comes and defeats the nations. This understanding of "yik'hat" adds
   a multi-generational component that is not explicit in the verse.
   The Ramban does not explicitly explain the appearance of the root
   ק.ה.ה. in Mishlei 30:17, "tavus lik'hat eim," but he alludes to the
   same explanation as Menachem ben Saruk (s.v. kuf heh), writing that
   the phrase means something like "He scorns the mother when she is
   weakened," i.e., in her old age. In this case, the verse itself uses
   the word "keheh" to describe an intergenerational process.

   What is the significance of this association between the word "keheh"
   and intergenerational relationships in the Haggada? Possibly this:
   The rasha excludes himself from all of the Passover rituals, yet he
   is seemingly not concerned about his fate. Surely, he thinks, if all
   of the ritual that he rejects is truly required, he has no cause for
   worry. After all, the people around him are his family, and they are
   all engaged in performing God's commandments. In his way of thinking,
   some of that merit would transfer to him.

   The compiler of the Haggada therefore instructs, "Blunt his teeth!" In
   other words, remind him of the "sour grape" verses. Remind him of the
   message of those parables. Neither guilt nor merit crosses generational
   lines. The code-word "hakheh" reminds him (and us) of the Biblical
   parables that teach that there is no intergenerational transfer.

   Based on this, the logical conclusion is exactly what the compiler
   of the Haggada writes next. If the rasha were in Egypt and had not
   behaved properly, he would not have been redeemed. The merit of his
   family would not have helped. The universal message is that there is
   no transfer of merit.

   The prophets in the books of Yirmiyahu and Yechezkel stressed personal
   accountability. Each person is responsible for his own deeds and is
   capable of teshuva. The burden of one's sins and the suffering that
   one might endure as a result of them cannot be attributed to previous
   generations. Neither can one sin in the anticipation that the burden
   of guilt will be borne by subsequent generations or that he will get a
   free ride on the backs of meritorious previous generations. Jews cannot
   rest on the laurels of righteous ancestors; rather, each generation
   must establish its own merits and legacy. This is the meaning of the
   keyword "hakheh" and the Biblical parallels associated with it.

   It might be suggested that there is one exception to the rule
   of individual accountability - the concept of community zekhut,
   merit. That is why, for example, tefilla be-tzibbur is so important.
   Someone who falters can continue to be supported by the community
   that surrounds him. This is why we stress to the rasha that this
   merit will be of no avail to him, because he has removed himself from
   the community.

   In 1985, I was fortunate to spend the Passover seders in
   Odessa, Ukraine at the home of some real Jewish heroes, the
   Nepomnaschys. Yehudit, a courageous young woman whose father and
   fiance were both rotting in Soviet prisons, explained to me and
   Baruch Sterman, my traveling partner, what was an important concept
   for these returning Jews of the Soviet Union. Although they were
   now practicing Jews, many of their close friends and relatives
   were not. She emphatically stated that in Judaism, almost no one is
   beyond the pale of hope. At the seder, one of the sons is labeled a
   rasha, an evil son, which is not a trivial designation. And yet he
   is given a seat at the table and even dignified with an answer to
   his insolence! We invite all "children" to the table and respond to
   their questions in an appropriate manner.

   The new understanding of the blunting of the rasha's teeth makes
   Yehudit's insight even more meaningful. We answer the rasha in a
   seemingly harsh manner. However, in reality, it is a subtle yet
   powerful reminder of his personal responsibility. This individual
   accountability has the potential to doom him, as he is explicitly
   told, but it can just as readily rescue him, because he is judged on
   his actions alone. We tell him that he is not beyond hope, but it is
   up to him to rescue himself.

   The message to the rasha is a powerful message to us as well - each
   person is given free choice and sinks or swims on his own merit.


   [13] For support for this theory, see the Be'er Miriam commentary in
   the Haggada of R. Reuven Margoliot. This also may be what the 18^th
   century Moroccan paytan R. David ben Chasin (1727-1792) had in mind
   when he wrote, "It is the Pesach, and the teeth of the resha'im will
   be blunted when they do not have a portion in it."

   [14] The Ramban cites a similar explanation from Shir Ha-Shirim Rabba

   [15] I originally heard this idea many years ago from my good friend,
   R. Reuven Halpern.

   [16] See Sefer Ha-Chinukh, mitzva 16 (the prohibition to break bones of
   the korban Pesach), where he first presents his important principle of
   "adam nifal kefi pe'ulatav" - people behave based on their actions. In
   other words, a person develops a certain personality and attitude based
   on the activities that he engages in. The Sefer Ha-Chinukh reiterates
   this fundamental tenet again in mitzva 40 (not to cut the stones for
   the altar with metal), mitzva 95 (to build the Beit Hamikdash, albeit
   with a slight change in the phrase), mitzva 99 (the special garments
   for the priests), mitzva 263 (the obligation for a Kohen to become
   tamei for relatives), mitzva 266 (a korban must be unblemished),
   mitzva 270 (korban musaf on Pesach), and mitzva 285 (lulav). In
   mitzva 264, he suggests that observing the rules of mourning leads
   to the emotion of tza'ar, pain, once again invoking the principle
   of adam nifal kefi pe'ulotav. The Sefer Ha-Chinukh emphasizes the
   idea that humans require physical activities via other principles as
   well. For example, in mitzva 265 (the Kohen Gadol must marry a betula,
   virgin), he writes, "acharei ha-machshavot yimshakh ma'aseh ha-gufot,"
   and in mitzva 275 (prohibition of a Kohen with a blemish performing
   the avoda), he explains that a person is influenced by external
   actions, "lefi she-rov pe'ulot bnei adam retzuyot el lev ro'eihem
   lefi chashivut oseihen." This idea, which is beyond the scope of
   our present discussion, is central to the Torah view of mitzvot.
   Rather than actions that express existing emotions, mitzvot are
   intended to instill within us proper ideas. Thus, for example, Chazal
   instituted the recitation of Asher Yatzar not because every time one
   says it, he feels inspired to acknowledge the wonders of the creation,
   but rather because that is an opportune moment in which to remind the
   person who has just relieved himself that he should now be aware of
   God's magnificent world.

   [17] Note that the root used here, ח.ר.ק., is relatively rare,
   appearing in only 5 places in Tanakh: 3 times in the psalms cited here,
   in Iyov 16:9, and in Eikha 2:16.

   [18] It is unclear whether the Haggada's author expected a similar
   familiarity with Rabbinic literature. For example, is a phrase such as
   "kol dikhfin" meant to trigger an association with a similar phrase
   found in the last line on Ta'anit 20b? There, one of the praises of R.
   Huna is that when he would sit down to eat, he would open his door
   and declare, "whoever is in need, let him come and eat." Regardless,
   it is fairly certain that the Haggada assumes familiarity with Tanakh.

   [19] For a survey, see Ari and Naomi Zivotofsky, "Inter-Generational
   Accountability in the Torah Judicial System," Young Israel of Cleveland
   Torah Journal, vol. 2 (May 1995).

   [20] This verse is a paraphrase (with some important variations) of
   Exodus 20:6: "Who shows mercy to the thousands and pays the iniquity
   of the fathers into the bosom of their children."

   [21] See Rashi, Sanhedrin 39a.

   [22] The Torah Temima (Bemidbar 16:1, note 2) similarly notes that
   the verse that states that Korach was ben Kehat, the son of Kehat,
   means that with his actions he blunted the teeth of his parents.

   Note that in later generations, the word may have lost its Biblical
   and Talmudic meaning. Hence, the Shela posits that the names of Levi's
   three sons are intended to show the empathy that the Levites felt
   for their oppressed brethren. Gershon indicated that they felt like
   strangers, Merari that their lives were embittered, and Kehat that
   their teeth were blunted (kehot) by the misery of the exile. (Cited
   in Torah Lodaas, vol. 4, p. 156, commenting on Shemos 6:14-16.)

   [23] The Gemara (Ta'anit 7b) analyzes Kohelet 10:10, where the
   word "keheh" appears, but none of the suggested exegeses relate to
   intergenerational issues. Rather, it explains that the verse is either
   ascribing lack of rain to a degenerate generation, as describing
   a student who struggles because he has not organized his studies,
   or as referring to a student having difficulty because his teacher
   does not encourage him.

Tir'u baTov!

Micha Berger             "I think, therefore I am." - Renne Descartes
micha at aishdas.org        "I am thought about, therefore I am -
http://www.aishdas.org   my existence depends upon the thought of a
Fax: (270) 514-1507      Supreme Being Who thinks me." - R' SR Hirsch

More information about the Avodah mailing list