Mike Ditka was the legendary Chicago Bears player and coach, who won three Super Bowls, made five Pro-Bowls, was named AP Coach of the Year twice and was inducted into the pro football Hall of Fame. But his greatest influence on me is the following fourteen word quote:
If God had wanted man to play soccer, he wouldn’t have given us arms.
The idea that all of our faculties were given to us by God for our usage is an important Jewish concept. God only commanded us to refrain from eating for one day every year (and the Rabbis added a few more to commemorate certain tragedies). In contrast, there are approximately sixty-five days a year where it is forbidden to not eat (Every Shabbat, Holiday and Rosh Chodesh). Physical pleasures are not an evil that needs to be resisted and avoided, rather they are meant to be embraced in the proper way in order to serve God. By experiencing God through the world He created, we are fulfilling the verse in Proverbs
In all your ways, know Him… (Proverbs 3:6)
At the Seder we read about the four sons, the smart, the wicked, the simple and the one who doesn’t know what to ask:
The wicked child, what does he ask? “What is this worship of yours?”…and you shall hit his teeth.
Why do we hit the wicked child when he asks a question? And why in the teeth?
In order to understand this puzzling response, first we must understand his question. When he asks “what is this worship” what is he referring to?
In my opinion he was probably sitting at the Seder table, looking at a table full of delicious soups and salads, steaming roast beef and of course, gefilte fish. Multiple bottles of fine wine were being popped open, so that everyone could drink four cups. He pointed to the table and said “this? this is what you call worshipping God?” The wicked son did not have a problem comprehending the worship of Yom Kippur, when we abstain from eating and spend all day immersed in prayer. He couldn’t understand how the lavish feast of the Seder night is just as exalted.
Now the response to the wicked child makes sense. We hit him on the teeth to show him, as Mike Ditka said, that if God had wanted man to abstain from eating, he wouldn’t have given us teeth.
This is also the simple explanation of the story about Yitzhak and his twin sons. The Torah tells us how Yaakov had to dupe his father into giving him the blessing. How could Yitzhak our patriarch even consider giving the blessing to Eisav the hunter, and not Yaakov the scholar?
The answer lies in the content of the blessings. Yitzhak already knew that Yaakov would receive the spiritual blessing, as he did in chapter 28
And God shall bless you, and make you fruitful and multiply…and He shall give you the blessing of Avraham… (verses 3-4)
The blessing that Yitzhak meant to give to Eisav was completely different
And God shall give you from the dew of the heavens and the fat of the land, and plentiful grain and wine (Genesis 27:28)
Yitzhak thought that Yaakov the scholar should receive the spiritual blessing, while Eisav the hunter would receive the physical blessings. Yitzhak thought there was no need for a saint like Yaakov to receive any physical benefits. This misconception was a result of his insulated upbringing (he was never allowed to leave the land of Israel). His wife Rivkah, on the other hand, grew up in the house of Lavan, a house of idol worship. She witnessed first hand what happened to physical blessings that were not accompanied by morality and ethics. She also understood the power of worshipping God with both our body and our soul.Therefore she was the one who encouraged Yaakov to disguise himself to get the blessings.
Many of the ideas in this post were originally heard from Rav Avraham Rivlin, of Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh.