Tam- The Simple Child ? We are all familiar with the simple child in the Pesach Haggadah’s Four Questions. Tam in this context is normally interpreted to mean simple, perhaps a little derogatory? So the child asks a simple open question : What does this mean ? Mah Zot ? He expresses a desire for information but perhaps an inability to target what information he wants. Rabbi Naftali Brawer in his Passover shiur highlighted the following : the Hacham (wise son) asks a complex directed question, to which an answer exists, and he is informed as are the other sons. The simple son, asks a question with an infinitesimally large answer, what does this mean? For a parent this is the most difficult to answer as there is no easy answer, how do you extract the essence and break down all of the maggid, the seder, yom tov, pesach in one answer. The first experience or knowledge of pesach comes with your answer, thus a great responsibility lays on the parents’ shoulders.

In the tam we see an infinite desire to learn with unconstrained horizons. The questions posed by the Tam is one that we should all remember, and aspire to ask, one that breaks everything down to the core meaning, or at least striving for that meaning. Interestingly Jacob is described using the word tam, surely a bit rude? Tam is also used to say “straightforward, no agendas, honest” being described as tam is far from derogatory. Here we see that perhaps the simple son is not so simple after all. If we insert the alternative meaning of tam what happens to the questions.

My opinions is that perhaps, it would indicate that he is asking with the sole purpose to gain knowledge. Sometimes people ask elaborate questions to embarrass their teacher, or parent. Asking in the knowledge that the person can not answer can lead to embarrassment. So perhaps the tam is free from other agendas, his simplicity is in his wholesomeness. Often the wise sons question is given more attention than the others, he is asking “the best question”, this redefinition of tam, would seem to flip this idea on its head. The tam is asking the question for the right reasons, to be informed to widen his knowledge and is welcoming knowledge, as much as possible and on practically any subject. The wise son, asks a directed question, but perhaps this shows a lack of breadth of knowledge, the wise son could be construed as asking a difficult question just to plague the answerer. There is so much to learn that we need the best attributes of the tam (simple son) and hacham (wise son), to optimise our learning.

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