A Story from the Talmud - Master of the Field


A Story from the Talmud - Master of the Field


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Master of the Field

By Mendel Weinberger

"Boys, please take your seats," called out Rabbi Shwartz from behind his big wooden desk. "We have a lot of material to cover today."

Yisrael sat down heavily in his chair and opened his notebook. He had only been back in school for two weeks and already he was missing his summer vacation. He thought back to the lazy days swimming in the Sea of Galilee, of the sweet taste of ice pops eaten in the late afternoon sun, of the late night soccer games in the park. Now every day was filled with books, paper, and pens, with tests and endless sitting in an airless classroom listening to the teacher drone on and on.

"In just over two weeks the New Year will be upon us," thundered his teacher. "You all know that the month of Ellul is a time of spiritual accounting, of taking stock of your accomplishments and shortcomings. It is a time to make resolutions that you will study with more diligence, pray with more intention, and treat your fellows with greater respect. But you needn't wait for the New Year, you can start right now."

Yisrael listened but he remembered he had heard the same speech last year by his fifth grade teacher, Rabbi Pinkovitch, yet nothing had really changed. He still got bored with the Talmud, he still daydreamed during prayers, and he still fought viciously with his younger brother Shmulik. He sighed a desperate sigh to himself and thought, 'What's the use of all this breast-beating if nothing ever changed!'

"Open up your mishnayos now," said Rabbi Shwartz. "We are learning the Tractate Kelaim (Mixed Species), Chapter eight, Mishna five. Yisrael, please read."

Yisrael found the place and began, "It is forbidden to yoke two mules together to plow a field because we don't know whether their mothers were horses or donkeys. Perhaps they are of two different species. It is permitted to yoke a ramach, or a mule, whose mother is a horse, to another ramach. Adnei Hasadeh is a wild beast. Rebbe Yosi says he causes impurity when he dies in a tent as would a person if he had died in a tent." Yisrael stopped reading and looked up at his teacher. "What is adnei hasadeh, rabbi?"

"Well, literally it means master of the field, but why don't you read the Bartenura's commentary, Yisrael."

Yisrael looked down at his book and read: "He is a wild animal that lives in the fields and a type of root growing out from the earth is attached to his navel. His form is similar to that of a man, with a face, arms and feet. No creature can come close to him for he is viscious and will kill them if they come near. Those wishing to hunt this creature shoot arrows at the root until it snaps in half. Then he cries out a bitter scream and dies."

Yisrael looked up fromt the page. "Rebbe, where can I find the Adnei Hasadeh ?"

The whole class cracked up. Yisrael's two friends Shimi and David were laughing so hard that their sides hurt. Rabbi Shwartz's face turned a deep red. He rose from his chair.

"Yisrael Eisenbach, the Torah is not something to joke about! You cannot find the Adnei Hasadeh because he has disappeared, along with the tachash whose hide was use to cover the sanctuary, and the hilazon, the fish whose blood was used to make the blue dye for tzitzit. They have all gone and will not return until the coming of messiah. Now that's enough of your foolish questions. Finish the Mishna and let's get on with our studies."

Yisrael finished reading the Mishnah and commentary. Then everyone closed their books and took out their Talmuds. As Rabbi Shwartz began explaining the fine points of the law in a case when a bull gores a neighbor's cow, Yisrael looked out the window. He saw a pine forest in the distance, his eyes dropped shut, and his mind drifted far away….

Yisrael was walking down a well-worn path through the woods, his footsteps echoing softly through the air. He heard the love song of a dove from up above, hoo - hoooo, hoo - hoooo. He looked up to see that dove fly overhead from one tree to another. Perhaps it was searching for its mate, he thought. He lowered his eyes again as he followed the path around a bend. Then he saw him. There was a man clothed in white sitting on a large flat rock by the side of the path. Yisrael moved closer and the man looked up at him. His hair was long and white as was his beard. The only color Yisrael saw in him was his sparkling blue eyes.

"Hello," said Yisael.

"Hello young man," replied the man in white. "I have been waiting for you."

"You are waiting for me!? Well, who are you anyway and who sent you here?"

"My name is Eli and I was sent by the One who makes the sun rise in the east and set in the west, who brings the rain and snow and who makes the wind blow. I was sent by the One who gave the birds their song and man the heart to know right from wrong, by the One who hears every word you say and wants to help you on your way."

Yisrael listened to the strange man's words in silence. Then he asked, "But why have you come to me?"

"You asked a question today in school. Everyone laughed at you and your teacher became angry. But the One above did not laugh. He liked your question and sent me to help you to answer it."

"You mean the question about the 'master of the field'?" said Yisrael. "Have you come to show me where he is?"

I am here to help you to find him," he said. "Are you ready to follow my directions?"

Yisrael looked around him. He was alone with this strange old man with the light in his eyes. "Yes," he said. "I will follow you."

Eli stood up and began to walk quickly along the path towards the west. Yisrael was close behind him. The path soon became steep and the trees farther and farther apart. Small green shrubbery grew thick around them interrupted by outcroppings of pale gray granite. The way became steeper still and Yisrael had to struggle to keep up with his guide. As they broke the tree line, Yisrael stopped for a moment to catch his breath turning around to look at the view. The entire green valley stretched out in front of him and he gasped at the beauty of it. He had never been up this high before. When he turned back to look for Eli, he was gone. Yisrael raced up the path calling out for his new friend.

The path leveled out and a great open field appeared before him. Wild flowers of red, yellow, and blue filled the scene. Yisrael scanned the field and saw a figure in white at the far end sitting under a tree. He shouted Eli's name and began running across the field. About halfway across, Yisrael stopped in his tracks. He saw someone else standing about twenty yeards away from Eli. He looked like a man but he wore no clothes and his body was covered with hair. There appeared to be a thick cord hanging down from his waist to the ground. Yisrael moved cautiously closer and

circled around the strange creature. His face was almost all covered with hair except for his nose, around his eyes and mouth. When Yisrael reached within twenty feet of the man-beast, the creature made a grunting noise and jumped at him. Yisrael stepped back out of his reach and Adnei Hasadeh stretched his root to its limit. His eyes looked wild and angry, but Yisrael also detected a hint of sadness in them. He ran over to where Eli was sitting.

"Why did you leave me on the mountain?" he said. "I nearly lost you."

"I didn't leave you," said Eli. "You stopped following me."

"Is this Adnei Hasadeh that I read about in the Mishnah?"

"This is he," said Eli. "Would you like to meet him and speak to him?"

"What!?" said Yisrael. "He's dangerous and could easily kill me if I got too close. He has already tried."

"He does look frightening, doesn't he? But that is just his external appearance. Behind his act is a wise and gentle creature who can teach you things about life."

"But how?" asked Yisrael. "How can I get close to him?"

"You can't," said Eli. "But together we will go to meet him."

Eli stood up and walked towards Adnei Hasadeh and Yisrael followed close behind. Eli seemed without fear as he approached him. The creature stood with his legs apart, his gaze intent on Eli's face. When Eli reached within an arm's length the beast lunged for his neck with his two hairy hands. Eli caught him by the wrists before they reached him and held him fast as the creature groaned and strained to break free. When he failed, the creature shrieked and collapsed on the ground. He then buried his head in his hands and sat in silence. Eli and Yisrael sat down next to him and waited. After several minutes passed, he removed his hands from his face and looked at them.

"Why have you come?" asked Adnei Hasadeh in a voice so timid, it was hard to believe it came from so violent a creature.

"Eli answered him, "Yisrael, the boy who sits before you, wanted to find you. I was sent to help him."

The man-beast turned to look at Yisrael, this time a look of serenity and wisdom radiated from his eyes. Yisrael met his gaze then looked away.

"Why do you seek me," asked the creature.

"I was curious," replied Yisrael. "I was curious about a beast that looked like a man, acted like an animal, and was rooted in the earth like a tree. What does it feel like to be stuck in one place all day every day? Don't you ever wonder what goes on down in the valley?"

Adnei Hasadeh looked at Yisrael, his head tilted to one side. "My life force comes from the earth. Every moment I feel that power surging through my veins. I don't need to eat or drink so I have no need to search for food. I know that if I was to break from the earth, my life source would be severed and I would die. I wonder about the sun, the moon and stars, and whether there will be enough rain this winter, but what goes on beyond my line of vision is of no concern to me."

"Do you ever get lonely?" asked Yisrael.

"Does a tree feel lonely?" countered the man-beast. "Your question shows where your thoughts are. One whose whole being is bound up in G-d's light never feels lonely, though he may be alone. This awareness of the Creator's constant presence is one that gives a person a sense of security, power, and great happiness. I wish I could share it with you, but your mind is so full of yourself and your own schemes that there is little room for anything else."

Yisrael nodded as the words of Adnei Hasadeh sunk into his mind. How different this creature was from his teachers in school. They also spoke words of wisdom from the Torah, but he was living it.

"When I first came here, you tried to hurt me," said Yisrael. And when Eli approached you, you tried to attack him as well. Why?"

"Many come to see me," said the master of the field. "They do not come seeking wisdom or truth, they come to stare, to photograph, and to laugh at me. However they leave the same way as they came, stupid and egotistical. I attack those who come close only to keep the crowds of curious tourists away."

Yisrael drank in his words like a glass of cold water after a long trek in the sun. He decided to ask the one question that had been plaguing him for many months.

"Every year before Rosh Hashana, I make resolutions to study harder, to pay more attention during prayers, and to fulfill the mitzvot in a more beautiful way. But every year nothing ever changes and I remain the same as the previous year. What must I do to change?"

"This field is the place where I live my life and I am the master over it, not a victim of it. The way I have achieved this is by wiping out the 'I' in me. As long as you are learning, you are praying, and you are doing a mitzvah, your own self-importance gets in the way of feeling G-d work through you. Focus on G-d and what you can do for your fellow Jew and you will begin to change."

Adnei Hasadeh then sat in silence looking at Yisrael. The boy couldn't meet his gaze so he looked at the ground thinking about his words. He felt their truth penetrate his heart.

Eli tapped him on the shoulder. "It's time for us to go but you may return another time if you wish."

Eli and Yisrael stood up. The master of the field remained sitting. Eli bowed to him and said, "Goodbye, my friend. May G-d bless you and protect you."

The master of the field nodded and then looked at Yisrael and smiled. "You have many treasures within you," he said. "Don't let anyone take them away from you. Be courageous and shine your light to everyone you meet. You will see it come back to you."

Yisrael looked in his eyes and smiled back at him. Then Eli took Yisrael's hand and led him back to the path down the mountain. They traveled for a long time in silence until they came to the rock where Yisrael had first seen him. Eli stopped walking and turned to face his young friend.

"You must go on alone from here," he said. "But you may see me again if you wish. The choice is yours."

"Yes," he said. "I will come back….and soon. Thank you Eli, thank you so much for showing me the way."

Yisrael turned around and started down the path through the forest. When he was about fifty meters away, he heard his name being called, "Yisrael…….Yisrael." He thought it was Eli so he turned around to look, but the old man was gone.

"Yisrael Eisenbach, are you daydreaming again?" screamed Rabbi Shwartz.

Yisrael opened his eyes and saw his teacher standing over him. He knew what would come next.

"Tell the class," said his teacher. "What is the difference between a tam and a muad according to the opinion of Rebbe Meir?"

Yisrael looked down into his Talmud, but all he could see were the swarms of black letters swimming before his eyes. The boys in the class began snickering behind his back. He closed his eyes and whispered to himself, 'Eli, please help me.'

The old man's face suddenly appeared in his mind's eye telling him the answer to the rabbi's question.

Yisrael opened his eyes and smiled at his teacher. "According to the opinion of Rebbe Meir, a muad is an ox that has gored three times. A tam is an ox that even if small children bother him, he will not gore them."

Rabbi Shwartz's face dropped and for a moment he was at a loss for words. There was absolute silence in the classroom.

"Very good, Yisrael," he said. Let's hope that you continue to pay attention like that throughout the year."

The bell rang signaling the end of the first learning period and the boys jumped out of their seats and bolted for the door. Yisrael stayed behind and when all of them were gone he walked up to the front of the classroom and stood before Rabbi Shwartz's desk.

"Rabbi, I'm glad you are my teacher this year," he said. "I'm sure I will learn a lot from you."

Rabbi Shwartz's face softened and he smiled at the boy. "I'm glad to have you as a student, Yisrael. I expect great things from you. Now go outside and join the other boys."

Yisrael turned around and started for the door but before he could open it, Rabbi Shwartz called him. "Tell me, Yisrael, how did you do it? How did you answer my question?"

"That's a secret, Rabbi," he replied. "Maybe when we get to know each other better, I will tell you. But I will tell you one thing; sometimes you can see more with your eyes closed, than with them open."

Yisrael winked at his teacher and flew out the door.


from the October 2001 Edition of the Jewish Magazine




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