Congregation Ohave Shalom - Young Israel of Pawtucket

Haggadah: Give Him Vinegar

by: Anschel Strauss

The Haggadah that the "wicked son," of the "Four Sons," asks his family, "What are these Mitzvos to you?" He excludes himself, and he is not considered to be a part of the Jewish People.

We answer him with the statement that we should blunt his teeth. We say that if he had been in Egypt with us, he would not have been liberated. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, in his Haggadah, explains that we blunt his teeth by giving him something sharp, like vinegar.

The Talmud (Shabbos 111a) notes that there are two types of vinegar. There is vinegar made by fermenting ripe grapes, and there is vinegar made by fermenting unripe grapes. The one that is made from unripe grapes "blunts the teeth," and tastes bad.

The wicked son says, "Why are you celebrating? You were in Egypt for 210 years under slavery - why didn't you revolt and leave earlier?" Therefore, says Rav Ovadia Yosef, we give him vinegar made from the "early grapes" to blunt his teeth. He would have wanted to leave before the time HaShem had appointed for leaving. He would have left early, as one group actually did - they went to the town of Gas. He would have been killed, as they were, and he would never have seen the actual liberation from Egypt.

I would like to suggest that giving him vinegar has additional significance. The Hebrew word for vinegar is "Chometz." (It is spelled with the same three letters as "Chametz," although it is pronounced differently, and it emerges from the same root word.)

Our rabbis tell us that Chametz is a symbol of arrogance. Although the classic explanation for this is that the dough rises, and this is like a person who is risen and full of himself, I also believe that it applies to all fermentation, including that of vinegar. If one takes wine and leaves it in a bottle, with a balloon attached to the top, the balloon will eventually fill with the gas given off by the fermenting process, and the wine will become vinegar. This rising is the same type of rising which occurs in dough, as the rabbis' classic example of arrogance.

The fact that the wicked son would have left of his own accord, and not waited for HaShem's plan, would seem to indicate his extreme arrogance. Therefore, as a lesson for his arrogance, we give him a "taste of arrogance," blunting his teeth with vinegar.

The fact that vinegar is sour and sharp-tasting may suggest another idea. When we taste raw vinegar in our moths, we tend to spit it out and to make a sour face. Perhaps this suggests that arrogance, like vinegar, is something that we should now even want a little taste of. It's not sweet and good.

Perhaps this can help us understand that which our rabbis teach us, that when a person is filled with arrogance, there is no room for Torah. Since Torah is sweet, it cannot exist in a person who is completely sour and arrogant.

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