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The Difference

And the children struggled within her (25:22)

Whenever Rivkah would pass the doorways of Torah study at the academy of Shem and Ever, Jacob would push and wiggle to get out; and when she passed a house of idol-worship, Esau would struggle to emerge…

Rashi's commentary

It was a hot July day during the summer of 1866. The children of Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch, five-year-old Sholom DovBer1 and his brother Zalman Aharon, had just come home from chederand were playing in the garden which adjoined their home.

In the garden stood a trellis overgrown with vines and greenery which offered protection from the heat of the sun. It was set up as a study, with a place for books etc., and Rabbi Shmuel would sit there on the hot summer days.

The children were debating the difference between a Jew and a non-Jew. Zalman Aharon, the elder by a year and four months, argued that the Jews are a "wise and understanding people"2 who could, and do, study lots of Torah, both its 'revealed part' and its mystical secrets, and pray with devotion and 'd'vaikus', attachment to G-d.

Said the young Sholom DovBer: But this is true only of those Jews who learn and pray. What of Jews who are unable to study and who do not pray with d'vaikus? What is their specialness over a non-Jew?

Zalman Aharon did not know what to reply.

The children's sister, Devorah Leah, ran to tell their father of their argument. Rabbi Shmuel called them to the trellis, and sent the young Sholom DovBer to summon Ben-Zion, a servant in the Rebbe's home.

Ben-Zion was a simple Jew who read Hebrew with many mispronunciations and barely understood the easy words of the prayers. Every day he would recite the entire book of Psalms, pray with the congregation, and make sure to be present in the synagogue when Ein Yaakov3 was studied.

When the servant arrived, the Rebbe asked him: "Ben-Zion, did you eat?"

Ben-Zion: "Yes".

The Rebbe: "Did you eat well?"

Ben-Zion: "What's well? Thank G-d, I was sated."

The Rebbe: "And why do you eat?"

Ben-Zion: "So that I may live"

The Rebbe: "But why live?"

Ben-Zion: "To be a Jew and do what G-d wants." The servant sighed.

The Rebbe: "You may go. Send me Ivan the coachman."

Ivan was a gentile who had grown up among Jews from early childhood and spoke a perfect Yiddish.

When the coachman arrived, the Rebbe asked him: "Did you eat today?"

"Yes".

"Did you eat well?"

"Yes"

"And why do you eat?"

"So that I may live"

"But why live?"

"To take a swig of vodka and have a bite to eat," replied the coachman.

"You may go," said the Rebbe.




FOOTNOTES

1. Later to succeed his father as the fifth Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch.
2. Deuteronomy 4:6.
3. Ein Yaakov is a collection of the tales and homiletics of the Talmud, compiled by 16th century sage Rabbi Yaakov bar Shlomo iban Chaviv.

 

 


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