Sunday, November 22, 2009
Yisrael KhAiMoSh ben ShaZ
Alex M. Schwartzman
Alon ben Qeni
16 Adar I 5768
[A Re-e-publication of Early Works:]
The Rabbi of Kartoshnikye
Once in the small village of Kartoshnikye there was a Rabbi Chaim ben Chutzpah. Rabbi Chaim ben Chutzpah had 4 disciples. His first disciple was Ari Af Gadol. His second disciple was Yitzhak haMensch. And his third and fourth disciples were Zalman ben Yokhanan and Aviv ben Shmuel. Rabbi Chaim ben Chutzpah also had a wife, the Rebbitzin, and a young daughter. Rabbi Chaim ben Chutzpah used to rate his disciples from brightest to most foolish starting with Ari Af Gadol, continuing through Yitzhak haMensch and Zalman ben Yokhanan, to Aviv ben Shmuel. Rabbi Chaim ben Chutzpah used to additionally rate the Rebbitzin as the second most foolish and his daughter as the most foolish of all. Rabbi Chaim ben Chutzpah was in the habit of frequently saying to his disciples "Can it be said, one attains?," in sarcasm, whenever he saw that his disciples were asking foolish questions and not thinking properly, and he wanted to teach them all a lesson. One day Rabbi Chaim ben Chutzpah's brightest disciple Ari Af Gadol said, "Rebbe, can it be said of the man who studies Torah day and night, he shall attain for himself a place in The World To Come?" Rabbi Chaim ben Chutzpah was about to answer when he saw that Ari Af Gadol looked as if he already knew the answer to the question. The Rabbi Chaim ben Chutzpah said, "Ari, is this really your question?" Ari Af Gadol said, "No, Rebbe, I heard it from Yitzhak haMensch as, 'Can it be said of the man who studies Torah every day, he shall attain a place for himself in The World?' So, Rabbi Chaim ben Chutzpah found his disciple Yitzhak haMensch and was about to answer the question when he saw that Yitzhak haMensch looked as if he already knew the answer to the question. The Rabbi Chaim ben Chutzpah said, "Yitzhak, is this really your question?" Yitzhak haMensch said, "No, Rebbe, I heard it from Zalman ben Yokhanan as, 'Can it be said of the man who studies Torah, he shall attain for himself a place?' So, Rabbi Chaim ben Chutzpah found his disciple Zalman ben Yokhanan and was about to answer the question when he saw that Zalman ben Yokhanan looked as if he already knew the answer to the question. The Rabbi Chaim ben Chutzpah said, "Zalman, is this really your question?" Zalman ben Yokhanan said, "No, Rebbe, I heard it from Aviv ben Shmuel as, 'Can it be said of the man who studies, he shall attain?' So, Rabbi Chaim ben Chutzpah found his disciple Aviv ben Shmuel and was about to answer the question when he saw that Aviv ben Shmuel looked as if he already knew the answer to the question. The Rabbi Chaim ben Chutzpah said, "Aviv, is this really your question?" Aviv ben Shmuel said, "No, Rebbe, I heard it from the Rebbitzin as, 'Can it be said of Man, he shall attain?' So, Rabbi Chaim ben Chutzpah found his wife the Rebbitzin and was about to answer the question when he saw that the Rebbitzin looked as if she already knew the answer to the question. The Rabbi Chaim ben Chutzpah said, "My dear wife, is this really your question?' The Rebbitzin said, "No, my dear husband, I heard it from our daughter as, 'Can it be said, one shall attain?' So, Rabbi Chaim ben Chutzpah found his daughter and was about to answer the question when he saw that she looked as if she already knew the answer to the question. The Rabbi Chaim ben Chutzpah said, "Daughter, is this really your question?" His daughter said, "No, father, I heard it from you as, 'Can it be said, one attains?' So, Rabbi Chaim ben Chutzpah found himself and was about to answer the question when he saw that he already knew the answer to the question. All of a sudden, Rabbi Chaim ben Chutzpah turned red in the face, and looked up to see his four disciples, the Rebbitzin, and his daughter all looking at him with amusement. They all said to him, "Foolish Rebbe, that will teach you to rate us from brightest to most foolish again. Clearly, you are the greatest fool among us." However, strangely, Rabbi Chaim ben Chutzpah only smiled mysteriously in response. His four disciples, the Rebbitzin, and his daughter, who were all still feeling smug after having taught Rabbi Chaim ben Chutzpah a lesson, suddenly stopped feeling so smug when they saw that Rabbi Chaim ben Chutzpah was now smiling mysteriously at their having taught him a lesson. The Rabbi Chaim ben Chutzpah then said, "Can it be said, one attains?," as he was in the habit of saying whenever his disciples were asking foolish questions and not thinking properly, and he wanted to teach them all a lesson.
The Rabbi of Polzhoi
Once in the village of Polzhoi there lived a Rabbi Yitzhak Sifrutho, who had 7 disciples. He had among his seven disciples a favourite. This favourite disciple was named Sabje.
One day Rabbi Yitzhak Sifrutho and his disciple Sabje were walking down the oldest lane in Polzhoi, discoursing on the Torah. As their discourse tapered to a silence at one of its many joints, for both Rabbi Yitzhak Sifrutho and his disciple Sabje were accustomed to pausing momentarily to think quietly as they walked, the disciple Sabje asked his rebbe, "Rebbe, how do I know that you exist?" Hearing this, Rabbi Yitzhak Sifrutho turned to his disciple Sabje and slapped him in the face. As soon as he recovered, the disciple Sabje began to apologize to Rabbi Yitzhak Sifrutho for such a rude question, but the Rabbi interrupted him mid-sentence, slapping him in the face again. By now, the disciple Sabje was very confused. Rabbi Yitzhak Sifrutho said, "Sabje, did you feel pain when I slapped you the first and second times?" His disciple Sabje replied, "Yes, Rebbe, I felt pain." Rabbi Yitzhak Sifrutho continued, "Sabje, did you desire that pain such that you would inflict it on yourself and slap yourself in the face?" His disciple Sabje responded, "Surely not, Rebbe, I did not myself desire any pain, and nor therefore did I slap myself in the face; you slapped me in the face." Rabbi Yitzhak Sifrutho said to his disciple Sabje, "Sabje, who else then could have slapped you in the face?" His disciple Sabje said, "No one." Rabbi Yitzhak Sifrutho explained, "Sabje, that's how you know that I exist. Anytime you are in doubt about my existence, forgo your silly question and just ask me to slap you in the face, so you can be sure of my existence again."
Once there was a traveling bookseller who would traverse between the two villages of Oblik and Turinsk in his humble, wooden wagon. Whenever the bookseller was in Oblik, all the children would run to the sides of his wagon, followed by their mothers and older siblings, then their fathers, and then their grandparents. In fact, the entire village of Oblik would surround his wagon, excited to see what new books he had brought with him. The villagers of Oblik would excitedly demand a new cookbook here, the latest almanac there, or the best new collection of talltales for the children over here. However, never on any occasion did a villager of Oblik ever ask for a Sefer Torah, Chumash, or TaNa’’Kh. The villagers of Oblik became avid readers of all books other than those of their fathers. So, the bookseller would prepare his old donkey, Khaver Tov, and set off for the village of Turinsk. When the bookseller arrived in Turinsk, no one came running to the sides of his wagon demanding this or that book. The children of the village remained learning, the men and women working, and the elders studying. Eventually though, the very old Rabbi Herzog would stumble on his cane from the small shul and limp up the muddy road to the bookseller's wagon. Earnestly and quietly, Rabbi Herzog said to the bookseller, "Bookseller, I want to make an order of 50 Sifrei Torah and 10 copies each of every other volume of Judaica you have." The Rabbi Herzog of Turinsk having completely bought the bookseller out of all his religious volumes, save the bookseller's own personal Sefer Torah, he bade the bookseller, "Baruch HaShem," and whistled as loudly as he could muster. The whole village of Turinsk turned out in a single mob to help the rabbi carry the good volumes back to the village.
As the years passed, the villagers of Oblik became very knowledgeable in the ways of the contemporary world, learning agricultural calculations from almanacs, new recipes from cookbooks, and even novel talltales on which to raise their children. Meanwhile, in the village of Turinsk, the villagers knew very little about the contemporary world, but became very well-versed in the Mitzvot of the Torah.
One day it came to pass that a horrible pogrom swept the land, and it just so happened that both the villages of Oblik and Turinsk were caught up in the terror. However, the villagers of Oblik and the villagers of Turinsk reacted differently. The villagers of Oblik greeted the marauding bands of murderers and pillagers, trying to impress them with their knowledge of contemporary agricultural calculations, new recipes, and talltales, but the marauders only laughed at them and spit at them, saying, "Stupid Jews, you will never understand; our ways are not for you---you can never be like us." At that, the entire village of Oblik was set aflame and burnt to the ground. When the marauding band of murderers and pillagers reached the village of Turinsk, they were unaware that the old Rabbi Herzog, who used to study Torah so much that it was rumoured he even studied it while he was sleeping, had had a strange dream a week before the pogrom. He had dreamt of Noah and the flood and how HaShem had ordered him to build a great ark lest he, his family, and other selected animals perish with the rest of an evil-doing humanity beneath the waters. Next, the rabbi had dreamt of his very own village of Turinsk. Then, the dream had abruptly ended. For a long time, old Rabbi Herzog only sat up in bed, trembling. He thought and thought and thought about the meaning of his dream. The next morning, he was convinced. He called the entire village to his heels and said, "Anashim v'nashim of Turinsk, I have had a dream. I dreamt of Noah and the flood and then of our very own village of Turinsk. We must build an ark that shall grant us safe passage under a great flood that shall overcome Turinsk." Soon, the whole village was whispering that the old rabbi must have lost it and was now trying to impose his crazed delusions on the villagers. First of all, the old fool was comparing Turinsk and Noahidic times. Second, the old fool had declared they should find safe passage under a great flood that shall overcome Turinsk. Everybody knows, they thought, that Noah's ark granted Noah and those in his charge safe passage over the great flood. So, right as the whole village was about to abandon the crazed old rabbi and go back to their various routines and chores, one of the brightest young women of the village,Yonah, stood up next to Rabbi Herzog. The old rabbi was taken aback to see a woman defending him. Yet, his doubt would soon prove foolish and subside, and never again would he doubt a woman any more than a man. Yonah addressed the whole village of Turinsk with the sweetest voice that any of them had ever heard, such that no one could turn away. She asked them all, "Who among us has studied Torah more than he, our great Rabbi? Who among us is thought to study Torah even in his sleep? You shall bear your guilt, villagers of Turinsk for your insolence before Rabbi Herzog. For even if he has gone mad, you at least owe him a last request." The villagers of Turinsk all stood in a mixture of awe, guilt and annoyance. Albeit, they were at a loss to do anything other than exactly what the rabbi decreed. So, Rabbi Herzog said to the villagers of Turinsk, "Each Noah among you, gather your sons, your wives, and your sons' wives, 7 pairs of each sacred book and 1 pair of each secular book that you have among you, that we preserve the seeds of our knowledge, for in 7 days a great flood will come and swallow up Turinsk." So, muttering and grumbling, the villagers of Turinsk did as the rabbi said.
Next, the rabbi ordered every villager to retire to their homes, relinquishing all their usual routines and chores. Each family should as quickly as it could begin digging a secret underground tunnel leading from an inconspicuous corner of its home to the point under the center of Turinsk. The rabbi concluded his order with the following command, "You shall all work, every single one of you---without exception---and not cease until Shabbos." So, every single man, woman, and child in Turinsk did nothing for a whole week but dig a secret family tunnel towards right under the center of Turinsk. Finally, by a miracle of days, the villagers' family tunnels converged under the center of Turinsk a minute before Shabbos eve. Every family of Turinsk brought with it 7 pairs of each sacred book and 1 pair of each secular book, that the seeds of their knowledge be preserved. That night, a great flood swept over the village of Turinsk. But it was not a flood of water. It was a flood of fire. That night, the marauding murderers and pillagers of the pogrom reached Turinsk and looted every store and every home, never discovering the secret tunnels beneath each. After their looting the marauders set Turinsk aflame and it burnt to the ground in a non-descript pile of ashes and tinders. Thinking that the absent villagers had heard of their coming and fled to the next village, the marauders mobbed out across the fields to the next village. That morning the rabbi sent out the young scholar Orev to scout the situation above. The flames had not yet subsided and he circled around and around the village, trying find water to put out the ceaseless flames. When Orev did not come back, Rabbi Herzog sent out the beautiful and sweet voiced Yonah, whom he trusted now more than any other in the village. Yonah also saw that the flames had not yet subsided and were spread out all over the village and returned to Rabbi Herzog. Rabbi Herzog waited for 7 hours and again sent out Yonah. This time she returned with a jar of olives which had miraculously survived the inferno. She distributed the olives out to the hungry children of Turinsk, who huddled with their mothers and fathers in the subterranean pit, shivering and frightened. Not long thereafter, the flames wholly extinguished and left behind only ash. Rabbi Herzog and the villagers of Turinsk emerged from their secret compartment beneath the village center. Every man, woman, and child wept, for their village had burnt to the ground. But Rabbi Herzog, even amidst his own tears, admonished them all and said, "Anashim v'Nashim of Turinsk, do not weep so, for we still have what is important: we have ourselves, our loved ones, and the seeds of our knowledge, all with which we will repopulate a new village." Just then, the bookseller rode into the village on his wagon pulled by his trusty donkey Khaver Tov. He had seen that Oblik had been burnt to the ground earlier and wept profusely (and not merely for the loss of his best customers). Still weeping, now arrived at the ruins of Turinsk, the bookseller fell over doubly into heaving convulsions of tearful blubbering. That is, until Rabbi Herzog and the villagers of Turinsk covered in dirt and worms emerged before him. The bookseller exclaimed in ecstasy, "Todah la-kEl!---you live!" Because they knew that they could not stay where they were safely they hatched a plan to leave as secretly as they could. Dressing up the bookseller in the clothes of a goy and shaving his pe'os and beard and burying his books, Rabbi Herzog bade him transport as many villagers as he could fit into his wagon and his donkey Khaver Tov could haul. The destination would be Palestine. Taking 40 roundtrips from the ruins of Turinsk to right over the border of their country, the bookkeeper was able to transport every villager just over the border, where the pogrom had not reached. Then, the bookkeeper, Rabbi Herzog, Yonah, and the other villagers of Turinsk set off on the long journey towards Palestine. Never again did any one of them take a dream lightly, nor put little creedence in the power of books, the seeds of their knowledge. The Torah was for them a beacon, a thread of light leading from This World to The World To Come.
Once At A Siberian Crossroads
Once, on a dusty dirt highway in a remote part of Siberia, four travelers far from home convened. A priest, an Ostyak shaman, a vodka drunkard, and a Jewish rabbi happened upon each other at a crossroads. When they met, the priest said to each stranger, "Zdrastvuitye." The shaman said, "Joltash em-wlak!" The vodka drunkard said, "Ya yedu vMoskvu." The rabbi said, "Baruch HaShem." None of them knew any of the others' languages. The priest spoke Russian, the shaman spoke Mari, the vodka drunk spoke a drunken babble Russian that only other vodka drunkards could possibly understand, and the rabbi spoke Yiddish. The priest said in his own language, "I take it as a sign of the holy cross that we all have happened upon each other at a crossroads." The shaman said in his own language, "I take it as a sign of the sacred bird spirit---beak, left wing, right wing, and tail feathers---that we have all happened upon each other at a crossroads." The vodka drunkard said in his own language, "I take it as a sign that I should plop my dizzy self down in the steppe grass that we have all happened upon each other at a crossroads"---and as sure as day, the vodka drunkard plopped himself down on a patch of green and his alcohol-infused body came to rest on the ground in the shape of a T. The rabbi then said in his own language, "Oy Vey---I take it as a sign that I have run into a priest, a shaman, and a vodka drunkard that I have run into a priest, a shaman, and a vodka drunkard!"