An Orthodox and a Reform rabbi sit together before Pesach

A few days before Passover, two Jews who had never before encountered one another, found themselves sitting next to each other on a train. This was not unusual in 1933 in Poland. What was unusual was that one was a Progressive Rabbi from Krakow, and the other was a Hassidic Rabbi from Warsaw.

At first they sat next to each other in silence reading Hebrew texts. But after a couple of hours they both felt a need to talk, so they started discussing the meaning and significance of the recent election of Adolph Hitler as chancellor of Germany.

Their discussion went smoothly so they moved on to recent negative developments among some of the political parties in Poland. From there they began to debate both Zionist and anti-Zionist politics in Poland and in the Land of Israel. Finally, they began arguing about religious issues between Orthodox and Reform Judaism. When their passions grew to strong they fell silent again.

After a few minutes the Progressive Rabbi said, “Our conversation over the last few hours reminds me of the four sons in the Passover Hagadah, At first, when we were talking about Anti-semitism in Germany we were largely in agreement and considered each other to be wise. When we discussed how to react to the political and economic challenges here in Poland; we frequently disagreed and saw each other as evil opponents.

In debating the wisdom and chances of success of the Zionist movement, the gap between us grew larger, and we regarded each other as naïve simpletons. Finally, in arguing over religious issues we were so far apart that we were not even able to ask each other intelligent questions or to listen honestly to one another’s answers”

The Hassidic Rabbi thought for a few minuets about what the Progressive Rabbi had said and then he smiled and replied, “You are right and I thank you for a new insight into the nature of the four sons in the Hagadah.

You also reminded me of something my grandfather taught me more than 30 years ago, when I and my younger brother had a big fight about Theodore Herzl. He told us that Psalm 133 says that it is both good and pleasant for brothers to sit together. That it is pleasant is obvious; most families enjoy being in each others company. But why is it morally good?

That part applies to all those occasions when we are able to sit together as brothers, in spite of out differences. Not by ignoring or suppressing our differences; but by respecting them. And then my grandfather told me something his grandfather told him; that came from the mouth of the great Tsadik David of Lelov.

If you want to glue two pieces of wood together so they will become one, you must first shave them down and smooth them out so they will stick together as one. But then you will have lost a lot of the wood.

But if the bumps and humps in one piece of wood fit the grooves and hollows in the other, and vice versa, then no cutting is necessary. You have a good fit and you do not lose any of the wood. This is why when brothers disagree strongly, it is good to find a way to be able to sit together.”

Now the Reform Rabbi smiled saying: That reminds me of of a Hassidic story I learned from Martin Buber when I attended a lecture of his in Germany several years ago. A Tsadik became concerned about the souls of his Hasidim. He overheard them speaking about each other in disrespectful ways.

One Hasid said that he could pray faster than others. Another said that his talit was larger than others, and a third Hasid said that his daily prayers were for a longer time than some rabbis. Many of the Tsadik’s Hasidim looked down on those who did not dress like them or sway the way they did, or used different melodies, or followed other Tsadikim. There seemed to be no end to the negative comparisons the Hasidim could make.

Just before Pasach he called them all together. He told them that he had one very important lesson to teach them. He had assumed that they all already had learned this lesson early in their lives, but it seemed that that was not true. On a large sheet of paper the Tsadik wrote the Hebrew letter Yod. The yod is the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet he said, yet it can be used to stand for the Hebrew word; Yehudi-a Jew.

The Hasidim looked at each other. We all know that, they thought. The Tsadik then wrote another yod next to the first one saying, “two Yudim, one next to the other stand for the name of God”. Now the Hassidim were mystified. Every Jewish child learns this in the first year of heder they thought. Why is he telling us things we have known since we were children?

Now the Tsadik smiled and wrote two yods one on top of the other. “If one yod stands for a Jew, and two yods next to one another stand for the name of God, what does one yod on top of another yod stand for?” The Hasidim were silent. They had no idea what the answer was. Finally, one of them said, “Rabbi I do not think it means anything.”

“Exactly”, said the Tsadik, “when two Jews stand side by side, that indicates the name of God. But when one Jew stands on top of another Jew, it does not mean anything at all.”

Both rabbis smiled and shook hands. Then overcome by a sense of elation they both rose and standing next to each other; hugged one another.

Inspired by FOR THE SAKE OF HEAVEN by MARTIN BUBER p. 269 & p. 39

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 250 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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