The Rabbis said to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi: Young students came today to the bais medrash and said things the likes of which were not said even in the days of Yehoshua bin Nun! (Shabbos 104a)
Why mention that the children came today?
It appears to me, b’Siyata d’Shmaya, that the Rabbis said today to emphasize that if children in earlier generations had said such insights we would not have been so surprised and impressed. But today, b’dor zeh sh’nismaatu ha’lvavos, in our times of spiritual insensitivity, we are surprised and impressed to hear such insights from children. (Ben Yehoyada on Shabbos 104a)
What did the children say? They said the hidden meanings of the Hebrew alphabet, the middos tovos they imply.
The children said:
Alef, beit: learn [alef] wisdom [bina].
Gimmel, dalet: give to the poor [gimol dalim].
What is the reason that the leg of the gimmel extends toward the dalet? Because a benefactor runs to the poor.
And what is the reason that the leg of the dalet extends toward the gimmel? So that he [the poor person] will make himself available to him [the benefactor].
And what is the reason that the dalet faces away from the gimmel? that one should give discreetly so that [the poor person] will not feel embarrassed by him..
Heh vav: That is the name of Hakadosh Baruch Hu.
Zayin ches, tes yod, kaf lamed: And if you do so, Hakadosh Baruch Hu feeds [Zan] you, and shows you favor [Chain], and bestows goodness [meiTiv] upon you, and gives you an inheritance [Yerusha], and ties a crown [Kesser] for you in the World to Come [l’oLam haba].
Open mem and closed mem imply [that the Torah contains] open statements, and closed statements. (There are matters that may be taught and others that you are not to teach. Rashi)
Bent nun and straight nun allude to Ne’eman bent and Ne’eman straight.
Rashi translates ne’eman as adam kosher, a kosher person. Such a person must be bent and humble. In the end, he will be straight and upright in Olam Haba.
Samech ayin: Support the poor [Semoch Aniyim]. Another version: Make mnemonics [simanim] in the Torah and acquire it.
Bent pei and straight pei: an open mouth [Peh pasuach] and a closed mouth [Peh sasum]. (An open mouth when there are recipients. A closed mouth when there is a speaker greater than you. Rashi)
Bent tzadi and straight tzadi allude to Tzadik bent and Tzadik straight.
Isn’t that identical to ne’eman kafuf, ne’eman pashut? This adds the bending [of the tzadik beyond] the bending of the ne’man. From here it is derived that the Torah was given b’mnoed rosh. (B’mnoed rosh: with a sense of awe and extreme humility. Rashi)
Kuf: Holy [Kadosh].
Reish: A wicked person [Rasha]. Why is the kuf facing away from the reish? Hakadosh Baruch Hu said: I am unable to look at a wicked person. (This is a euphemism. It is the back of the reish that is toward the kuf because Hakadosh Baruch Hu does not want to look at the face of a rasha. Rashi)
And why is the crown of the kuf turned toward the reish? Hakadosh Baruch Hu said: If [the rasha] turns [from his evil ways] I will tie a crown for him like My own.
And why is the leg of the kuf suspended (not connected to the top: Rashi)? Because if [the rasha] returns [from his evil ways] he can enter through that opening...
Shin: Falsehood [Sheker]. Sav: Truth [emeS].
Why are the letters of the word sheker sequential [kuf, raish, shin] while the letters of emes are far apart [first, middle, and last letter of aleph-bais]? Because falsehood is common, truth is uncommon.
And why does each letter of the word sheker stand on one foot, while each letter of the word emes stands on a brick-like base? Because the truth lasts, falsehood does not last.
One might ask why the allusion to emes comes from the last letter of the word [sav] and the allusion to sheker comes from the first letter [shin]? It appears, b’Siyata d’Shmaya, that the power of falsehood exists only at the beginning, in the end it will be nullified. Whereas the power of truth comes at the end. (Ben Yehoyada)
How did these children come to be so wise?
Not only out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, but out of the mouths of fools and cheats, we may often get our truest lessons. (Oliver Wendell Holmes, The Professor at the Breakfast Table, chapter 1)
The distinguished jurist echoed the words of Chazal.
Rabbi Yochanan said: From the day that the Temple was destroyed, prophecy was taken from the prophets and given to fools and children. (Baba Basra 12b)
True lessons that were divinely inspired? Not according to the Maharsha.
The concept that prophecy was taken from Neviim and given to fools does not mean that Hashem or a Malach gives prophecy to them. Rather, fools and children receive inspiration by way of a shehd. A similar distinction is made in Perek haRo-eh [Brachos 55b] between dreams that come by way of a Malach and dreams that come by way of a shehd. (Maharsha Baba Basra 12b)
The Maharsha refers to this gemara: Rava pointed out an apparent contradiction between I speak with him in a dream (Bamidbar 12:6) and the dreams speak falsely. (Zechariah 10:2) It is not a difficulty. The pasuk in Bamidbar refers to a dream that comes by way of a Malach. The pasuk in Zechariah refers to a dream that comes by way of a shehd. (Brachos 55b)
A shehd is a demon. I am not able to elaborate.
The Anaf Yosef takes a different approach to explain the enigmatic statement of Rabbi Yochanan regarding children, fools, and prophecy.
One who wishes to gain knowledge should refrain from unnecessary speech and minimize necessary speech. He should see himself as a child and an unlearned one who has nothing useful to say. In this way he will retain the Torah he has learned as [Chazal] have said, Torah is acquired by minimizing speech. This is the meaning of From the day that the Temple was destroyed, prophecy... was given to fools and children. The term prophecy is used here to mean Torasainu haKedosha. One who learns it is on the level of a prophet, as it says here [Baba Basra 12a] a chacham is greater than a navi. This type of prophecy is given to one who conducts himself like a child and an unlearned one. (Anaf Yosef Baba Basra 12b)
Teach your children the hidden messages of the Aleph-Bais and be impressed when they live by them.
Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor with specialties in marriage, dating, and parenting.
He is the author of Confident Parents, Competent Children, in Four Seconds at a Time Available at bookstores and on Amazon.
He can be reached at 718-344-6575.