Saturday, January 05, 2008

The way I heard it ...

I was a student at McMaster University and our prof for the Gospel portion of the New Testament course was the brilliant scholar Dr Adele Reinhartz.

One afternoon she told the story of Hillel and the young man who came to him seeking wisdom and counsel ... the story as she told it went something like this:

A young man decided that he needed to learn more about the Torah, so he went to his Rabbi to ask. But the young man was impatient, and didn't want to waste much time on matters like the Torah, so he approached his Rabbi and said - "Sir, I would like you to teach me the whole of the Torah ..."

The Rabbi was pleased at his young charge's question and smiled as he listened.

"But Rabbi," the young man continued, "I would like you to teach me this lesson while I stand here on your door step on one foot."

"What??" shrieked the rabbi with rage, "to learn the Torah take years of study and devotion. I can't possibly teach you the Torah while you stand on my door step on oe foot ... it's impossible ..." With that he slammed the door and left the young man standing on his door step.

The young man then began wandering from town to town in search of an answer to his question ... in time he stood before many of the great and learned Rabbis across the world and each one in turn rejected the young man and his query ... some took their brooms and drove him away, some slammed doors in his face, some grew enraged, and some threw rocks at the young man as they drove him out of their town ... all of them spoke of a life time of devotion and study to begin to understand the Torah, some said that even after a life time of study you can only know a tiny portion of the Torah.

After many months of searching the young man found finally himself in the village of the great Rabbi Hillel. Rabbi Hillel was the last Rabbi left that the young man could ask ... the young man was battered, dirty, and very very tired. Nervously he knocked at the door of the great Rabbi ...

The door opened and Hillel stood before the young man, "Yes?" the old man said.

"Rabbi, I have come seeking your wisdom," said the young man, "they say you are among the wisest Rabbis, and that you will be able to answer my request ..."

The Rabbi nodded and said, "What is your request young man?"

The young man smiled weakly, "Rabbi, I would like you to teach me the whole of the Torah while I stand before you on one foot ..."

The Rabbi's face grew serious. His hand stoked his white beard, then he spoke, "Young man, this thing you ask of me is easy. But before I answer I would like you to make me the promise that when I answer your request you will devote your life to the study of the Torah."

The young man agreed as he lifted one foot and stood on the door step on the other.

"The whole of the Torah is simply this," said the wise Rabbi, "That which is hurtful to another, you do NOT do. Ever. ALL the rest is merely commentary ... NOW go and learn it ..."

This remains one of my favourite stories ... one I've ALWAYS tried to model my life after ...

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