Thursday, December 6, 2007

A Jewish Story

As long as we seem to be stuck in a Judaica rut likely brought on by an overindulgence in latkas, I'll share one of my favorite stories. It is vague since I only remember the high points and couldn't find a link on the web so here goes:

A famous rebbe is lost in the woods while traveling. He had hoped to make it to the next town, his destination and the place he is to be the new rabbi, before nightfall since it was Friday and he feared violating the Shabbat. He is found by a rude peasant with thick beard, a stocky frame and few words. This peasant has little use for rebbes, famous or otherwise, but invites him back to his cabin. The rebbe accompanies the man back to his hovel. Despite the fact that the peasant is obviously uneducated, the rebbe thinks he might stop to light candles, or say kiddush, or something to acknolwedge the Shabbat. Instead, darkness falls, the peasant lights a lamp without a blessing, he sits down for his meal and opens a bottle of whiskey. He proceeds to finish the bottle of whiskey and fall into a drunken sleep. He has done nothing for the rebbe except offer him a roof and some meager portion of his meal of black bread and potato soup. In the morning, rather than refraining from working, the peasant gets up and returns to the forest to cut wood. The rebbe spends Shabbas in the peasant's hut in prayer and contemplation. Saturday evening is a repeat of Friday; certainly there is no havdalah service. On Sunday morning, the rebbe thanks the peasant for rescuing him and offers him some money. The peasant refuses, but is not especially gracious suggesting the rebbe was something of a fool for getting lost and then doing nothing for an entire day. The rebbe has to ask his host why, if he is a Jew, he is so insensible to all religious precepts, perhaps he does not believe in God. The peasant replies that he certainly believes in the Almighty, but he sees no reason to follow all these rules that seem arbitrary and capricious (although he uses much different language). The rebbe asks him if there is a God, then why would you ignore his commandments? The peasant tells the story of his brother who was killed by the Cossacks at prayer during a pogrom when the shtetl's shul was burned. He says the fire was fast and nothing remained. This peasant rose to his full height and thrust out his enormous gut. He said when the Cossacks come for him and ask him to curse God or spit on the Torah, he will be martyered - kiddush ha-shem. He will first take his axe and inflict as much pain on them as possible; something he practices every day. Then when he can no longer fight, he will bolt himself in the cabin and wait for them to light it on fire, but he wanted to make sure that his enormous girth would add fuel to the fire and cause it to burn long and hot. When the rebbe got to the his destination, he was given a great welcome. All the town was relieved since he had not arrived before Shabbat, but he told them that he was not worthy to be their rebbe and that there was one far more holy in the forest through which he had traveled.

Sorry for the errors in retelling and some may not like the story's concept even if it had been told with skill. I don't know what it means that I love this story, but I do. Happy third night of Hanukah.

1 Comments:

At December 6, 2007 at 10:43 PM , Blogger woolywoman said...

Hopefully, it means that you don't mind that your wife holds a grudge....and plans to go down fighting. More latkes tomorrow?

 

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