Over the course of Jewish history there have been few with the depth and genius of Rav Yonason Eybeschutz, whose keenness and sharpness of mind are legendary.
Rav Yonason, who was to become rav of the great cities of Prague and Altona-Hamburg, was born in Poland. His father was Rabi Nasa-Nate of Krakow who later served as spiritual leader of the city of Eybeschutz. From a very young age it became clear that Rav Yonason was a very special and gifted child.
When he was three years old, his father wrapped him in a tallis, as was the custom, and happily brought him into the cheder, where he was to begin the study of Torah.
The rebbe took the little boy into his arms and began reading the Aleph Beis to him from the chart that hung on the wall. First he went in order, and then he began to say it backwards.
How astonished and happy both the teacher and father were, as the little child repeated the letters perfectly after just one time.
The next day the little boy was in cheder again, sitting among the other children, some of whom were already four years old and “veterans” of the class.
The rebbe now began to go over the nekudos and the children repeated them with him.
Then the rebbe put the nekudos together with the letters and tested the children. When he came to the letter Pey he asked the children: “Children, when we have Pey and we place the tzaray under it, what sound to we have?”
All the children raised their hands and answered, “Pey.”
The rebbe smiled and asked: “That is very good. But does not anyone have a question that bothers him about this?”
All the children sat quietly not knowing what the rebbe meant. Only little Yonason raised his hand and said: “I know. Why do we need the tzaray under the letter Pey?” [Editor’s note: the Pey with the tzaray makes the same sound as the Pey without it.]
The rebbe beamed with pleasure at the clever mind that the child possessed and then turned to the class and said: “Aren’t you ashamed of yourselves? This little child, who only came to the cheder yesterday, is smarter than the rest of you.”
Later on the brilliant little Yonason pointed out to the rebbe that this question about the Pey and the tzaray should actually have been asked regarding the letter Hey.
By the time Yonason was four years old he already knew Sefer Bereshis by heart.
Takes The Afikoman
One seder night, his father noticed the afikoman was gone. He asked Yonason: “Where is the afikoman? Did you take it?”
“Yes,” said Yonason, with twinkling eyes. “I took it and I will not give it back until you promise me that you will buy me a new suit after Pesach.” The father agreed, as the seder would not be completed without the eating of the afikoman.
No sooner did his father get the afikoman back, however, when he turned to little Yonason and said: “Very well, it’s true that I promised you a present but now I will not let you have a piece of the afikoman to eat until you release me from my promise.”
The boy did not say anything but opened the Haggada and read: “Hineni muchan umizuman… I am prepared and ready to fulfill the commandment of eating the afikoman.”
And without further ado he reached into his pocket and took out a piece of the afikoman that he had broken off earlier.