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Are You the Fifth Child?

“Perfect Hand” by Ron Maijen, Wikicommons

One of the most familiar motifs of the Pesach (Passover) Seder is the number four:

Four Cups of Wine
Four Questions
Four Children

There are numerous interpretations of this number, with layers of Biblical and mystical meaning.

But there’s one small problem with all these interpretations: according to Rambam (Maimonides), there were originally five questions. And according to Rabbi Tarfon there are supposed to be five cups of wine.

Others have expounded the details of these two sets of five. But what about our third set of five:

Is it possible that there is also a fifth child?

The easy answer is: Sure, that’s the one who didn’t come to the Seder.

But there is another approach that has been mentioned by commentators and most commonly attributed to the Alshich (Rav Moshe Alshich, 1508-1593):

The gematria (numerical value) of rasha (רשע – wicked one) is 570 and of sheinav (שניו – his teeth) is 366. When we “blunt his teeth” — i.e., we subtract 366 from 570 — we are left with 204, which is the gematria of tzaddik (צדיק – righteous one).

In other words, the goal of responding to the Second Son is not to win the argument nor to belittle him — it’s to help him become the righteous child that he has the potential to be.

Now I would like to add one small idea. Each of us has a bit of each child in us. Sometimes we’re the wise child who wants to know the details of how to live a meaningful life. Sometimes we’re the simple child who simply asks, “Why?” Sometimes we’re the too-young child who simply needs to be told. And yes, sometimes we’re the wicked child who puts himself outside of the community.

The wicked child is the one who says, “I’m Jewish enough, I don’t want to do any more than I’m doing right now, that’s for others to do.”

Whenever we’re in such a mindset, we need our “teeth knocked out” – we need to be told, “No, you are as much a part of the Jewish People as any other Jew – time to step up to the plate. Time to pull your weight. Time to learn a little Torah. Time to start giving tzedakah. The Torah belongs to you as much as to anyone else and your Torah and mitzvot matter as much as anyone else’s.”

Two weeks ago, we all witnessed an open miracle when Iran launched its long-avowed massive attack. This week our enemies brought major universities to their knees in order to broadcast their hatred. What’s next? What will it take to wake up this sleeping giant of a Jewish People? Isn’t the writing on the wall?

Fun fact: “The writing is on the wall” is a Biblical expression (I mean our Bible, not theirs). How many Jews that you know know this? How many can name the book of Tanach where it’s  found?

When you decide to become the Fifth Child, you are drinking from the Fifth cup.

Something to think about as you chew matzah and eschew chametz.

About the Author
Rabbi Alexander Seinfeld PhD is the Executive Director of Jewish Spiritual Literacy, Inc (JSLI.org), a nonprofit organization dedicated to revitalizing Jewish education at all levels. He is the author of Body & Soul: The Torah Path to Health, Fitness and a Holy LIfe; The Art of Amazement (available in Hebrew as Omanut Ha’Hitpa’alut); and the Amazing Jewish Fact-a-Day Calendar iPhone app. His weekly Torah Health podcast may be heard on TorahAnytime.com.