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Story: Parshat Eikev, 8/7/20

08/12/2020 08:37:11 AM


Rabbi Charlie

To see a recording of Rabbi Charlie's Story, please click HERE!

Shabbat Shalom!

Our Torah portion warns us against arrogance - forgetting God and assuming that it’s all about us (Deut. 8:14-17). I did this, I did that, I’m so great… Even the most righteous need to pay attention to that teaching. Especially because it’s far too easy to think that it applies to everyone else and not to us…

Take this story from the Midrash: Rabbi Joshua was very religious and righteous and learned in Torah. Once, in a dream, a voice spoke to him: "Rejoice, Joshua, because you and Nenes, the butcher, will sit side by side in Paradise. You will have an equal reward." When Rabbi Joshua awoke he was confused, "Wait a minute! Even since childhood I have devoted myself to serving God and studying and teaching Torah. For all the good I’ve done, I'm no better than Nenes, the butcher?!”

He shared the situation with his disciples and they agreed that Nenes the butcher must be pretty wonderful. After much searching, they finally came to his village. They asked the people of the town about Nenes, but they replied, "O learned Rabbi!" the townsfolk asked him. "How is it that someone as learned and important as you should be asking about such an insignificant person?"

But Rabbi Joshua asked if he could meet him. So they sent for the butcher and explained, "Rabbi Joshua is here and would like to see you." Nenes was astonished. He thought they were making fun of him and wouldn’t come. So Rabbi Joshua goes to meet Nenes the butcher.

When the butcher saw Rabbi Joshua, he finally believed it was real and he became frightened. "O Great Rabbi!” he exclaimed. "You came all this way just to see me?"

"Please,” answered Rabbi Joshua. "I don’t mean to intrude. I just wanted to understand what good you have done in your life?"

Nenes replied, "I don’t know. I am an ordinary butcher. I have a father and a mother who are old and weak. I wash and dress them and prepare their food with my own hands. That’s really all I have time for."

When Rabbi Joshua heard these words he bent down and kissed the butcher on the forehead, saying, "My son-blessed are you and blessed is your good fortune! How happy am I to have the distinction of being your companion in Paradise!”

Adapted from “A Worthy Companion” in A Treasury of Jewish Folklore, ed. Nathan Ausubel

Now that’s where the Midrash ends. Rabbi Joshua learns that Nenes is also righteous and so there’s a happy ending. But part of me really wants the conversation to continue, with Nenes challenging Rabbi Joshua – “So God has told you that we’re going to spend Paradise together, but that wasn’t good enough for you? You had to come and judge me yourself? I’m glad you approve of me, but what if I don’t approve of you? Um, I say that with all respect, Great and Learned Rabbi…”

My point is not to trash Rabbi Joshua, but in this one story, we’re not seeing his humility. This story demonstrates that we all can get caught up in the idea of what we deserve or what we don’t deserve. There’s a whole lot in our world right now that we didn’t necessarily deserve – explosions, pandemics and disease, racism, violence… and so much more.

It takes humility to set that idea aside – I don’t deserve this! It’s true, we don’t! But if we’re so focused on what we deserve… if we’re so confident that it’s all about me… then we miss out on the part where we come together to cope. If we’re so focused on judging others, we miss out on the part where we work with each other to solve problems. We need that sense of humility so we can stand together to address our world and our lives as they are and not as we wish them to be.

Shabbat Shalom!

Mon, January 25 2021 12 Sh'vat 5781