Two companions walking in the desert

Once there were two friends, Mr. White and Mr. Grey. These two friends were on a long journey and they were crossing a vast desert.

The first companion – who was all in white, long beard flowing freely – moved in open strides. The second – in long grey robes and dark beard braided down his chest – moved along beside, walking with a great stick, measuring each step as they moved forward. It was mid-day and the way was hot, the sun merciless. Both were equal to the task before them, but both were weary, when they came upon a great tree, the ground in the shade beneath covered in cool green grass.

“Perhaps we should rest for a short time,” said the first. The companion in grey nodded in agreement and they took shade under it’s great branches. The one in white spread a blanket in the shade and began setting out a light meal while the one in grey set his staff against the great tree and sat back against it’s trunk.

“Tradition dictates we should discuss important questions,” the grey one stated.

“So be it,” smiled his companion as he poured two cups of wine and said a prayer. “You begin.”

Mr. Grey looked up at the sun and thought as the light filtered down through the leaves and branches, breaking into fragments and multicoloured rainbows before offering them it’s life giving warmth. “I am wondering about the problem of conversion,” he said finally.

“Or the blessing. Some would say that it is a great blessing for a non-Jew to convert to Judaism, a blessing for the convert and a blessing for the community.”

“This is true. Some would also say that everything in the universe is already in it’s place and it is a greater blessing for a person to keep his place and shine in his his own space rather than to try to move mountains.”

“This is also for the best,” agreed Mr. White and passed his friend a tuna salad sandwich.

“Thank you,” said Mr. Grey accepting the sandwich. “And we must define terms. What do we mean by ‘problem’ or ‘blessing’ or ‘keep his place’?”

“Well, yes, this is a serious question,” Mr White grinned, the filtered light glittering and dancing on his beard.  “What different values do all those terms hold?” Mr. White smiled suddenly, seeming to scatter fragments of lights before him. “I’m reminded of an Chassidic story,” said Mr. White and he began:

“A devout, scholarly man strong in the practice of prayer went to an Chassidic master. He explained that he was dedicated to knowing G-d and bringing that light into the world, that he had done much good work, but he felt he had come as far as he could on his own and needed the Chassidic Master to teach him Kabbalah if he was to continue further. The master looked him up and down for some time. ‘So, you would like to ascend to the higher level of G-d awareness?’

“‘Yes, Rebbe,’ answered the devout scholar.

“The Rebbe pondered for a while more, looking into his soul. ‘Alright,’ he said finally, ‘but you must answer two questions before we begin.’ The devout scholar nodded. ‘What if I were to compliment you, and called you a learned, G-d fearing man worthy of praise?’

“The devout scholar puffed up, full of pride. ‘I-I would feel wonderful.’

“‘And what if I insulted you?’ the Rebbe asked.

“The devout scholar looked very serious. ‘Well, I would feel badly, but I would do my best to understand what you meant and I would do my best to change.’

“‘You must go away from here. Unless you can feel the same about an insult as a compliment you will never be able to ascend to a higher level of G-d awareness.’”

Mr. Grey nodded. He had some cheese and bread. The sun moved in the sky. The sunlight and shadow danced playfully on his head and shoulders.

“I have heard this one,” said Mr Grey. “So, what was the insult?”

“Why does it matter what the insult was?”

“You are relating this story to the assignment of value to things of the world, of course,” Mr. Grey explained. “As for the compliment, the man is a devout scholar and he is proud of these things so that this is a matter of status with him, and those are the things which bind him to this Earth.”

Mr. White nodded. “And what about the insult?”

“Since the initial question of this discussion relates to conversion,” Mr. Grey continued, “The insult must be that the devout scholar is a non-Jew.”

Mr. White nodded. “It is true that in this version of the story the devout scholar was a non-Jew. But he was not rejected by the master because he wasn’t Jewish. Many non-Jews study Kabbalah,” Mr. White pointed out.

“And in many places it is pointed out that the non-Jew should not study Kabbalah. I, for one, am very strict about non Jews studying Torah.”

“The freedom of the Nations to pray has been established since Solomon’s Dedication of the First Temple. They were encouraged to praise the True G-d. As for the Oral Law it was established with Adam, well before Sinai, so the question of the non Jew studying Kabbalah should not be ‘if’ but ‘how’. Restrictions that you site against a non-Jew studying Torah applies in the case of a non-Jew who would intentionally use that knowledge to defile Torah,” Mr. White pointed out.

“This is all very correct,” Mr. Grey agreed. “And we are a persecuted people who have been forced to travel, our ways and lives are threatened wherever we go. We belong to Torah and it is our responsibility to preserve and protect It.”

“And to share It.”

“Yes, of course,” agreed Mr. Grey. Mr. White began gathering the lunch. “But it is not our right to scatter It with no discretion. Those with whom we share must measure up.” He stood and picked up his staff and moved it about, mapping out huge areas in the invisible air. “It is a big diverse planet full of varied ways. It’s all connected but it is not whole, none of it. We are a broken planet dedicated to make our world whole. But to do that we must look into our own hearts. Everything we need is in it’s own proper place. A fish should not yearn to fly. An eagle should not desire to swim the ocean deep. Wouldn’t this world be better if those damaged parts of the world tried to fix themselves rather than turn themselves into something foreign to themselves?”

Mr. Grey threw his staff on the ground in frustration. Mr. White smiled. “I think sometimes fish get stuck inside the bodies of eagles.” He bent down and picked up the staff and handed it gently back to him. “I believe I am kinder than that,” Mr. White smiled putting his arm around his friend. “Perhaps too kind for my own good sometimes. Where would I be without you?”

Mr. Grey smiled back. “I think we should continue on.”

And arm in arm they continued their journey.


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