Rosh HaShanah’s Jewish Pluralism lesson for a Shanah Tovah

Each Rosh HaShanah I am reminded of a Hassidic story I learned from Martin Buber. Once, a great 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 Hasid said that his talit was larger than others and a third Hasid said that his daily prayers lasted longer than most 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.

The day before Rosh HaShanah the Tsadik called all his Hasidim together. He told them that he had one very important lesson to teach them before the new year began. He had assumed that they all already had learned this lesson early in their lives, but it seemed that this 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”.

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 small 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.”

One of the greatest of all our blessings is rarely said, when it should be said at least once or twice a week:

“One who sees a crowd of Jews should say: Blessed is the Sage of Enigmas; for their opinions are not similar one to another, and their faces are not similar one to another.” Talmud Berakhot 58a

Thank God for Jewish Pluralism as often as you can in the New Year, and we will have a better new year.

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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