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The Mysterious Rabbi

By Barbara Becker Holstein

Once long ago, in Central Europe , there was a Jewish boy, Joseph, who went off to live in a Yeshiva to study. His days were filled with prayer and learning. He particularly enjoyed his time studying with his favorite Rabbi. Oftentimes when he was daydreaming he would think that he wished he knew more about this Rabbi. "What did he do with his time when he wasn't with the boys?" he would muse.

Every day the youngster had a study hall in an upstairs room of the big old building that served as the Yeshiva. He would gaze out of the window daydreaming. Gradually he noticed that his Rabbi, the very one that he wished he knew about, walked away from this building and left the premises at exactly the same time every day. He could see him going off in the distance and then returning thirty or forty minutes later. He left the premises rain or shine regardless of how cold it was.

Joseph became fascinated. Where did the Rabbi have to go at exactly the same time every day? He certainly didn't have time to get back and forth to his home and to have a meal with his family. Joseph tortured himself. After all, it was really none of his business but then again, he so admired and respected his Rabbi. Didn't he deserve to know more about his life?

One day his ruminations got the best of him and he snuck out of the study hall waiting for the Rabbi to leave the campus. Sure enough, at exactly three ten , the Rabbi left. There was Joseph, following him from well behind. The Rabbi went up one hill and then down a hill and through a neighborhood. Finally he stopped and stood at the bottom of the busy street on the curb.

The Rabbi just stood as if he had stopped dead in his tracks. He appeared to be waiting. Joseph was perplexed. What was going to happen now? The moments began to tick by. Nothing was going on here except push carts and horses and buggies were going up and down this busy business street.

Suddenly a peddler pushing a very large heavy cart appeared down the end of the street. Joseph noticed the Rabbi insistently waving until the two of them made eye contact and the peddler came nearer to him. As the peddler came very near with his heavy cart, he moved from the center towards the left of his cart so that his hands were now on the left pushing side. He had left a space at the right and to Joseph's amazement, what happened next was something of which Joseph never would have dreamed.

The Rabbi moved in effortlessly next to the peddler and put his hands on the right hand side of the bar. Together, with great effort exuded by both of them, they pushed the peddler's cart up the steep hill. Then at the top of the hill, just as effortlessly, the Rabbi moved away from the cart, simply waving goodbye.

The peddler again moved into the middle to balance his cart and the Rabbi came down the hill. The Rabbi's face was flushed as he came back towards campus. He wiped his forehead with a handkerchief where the perspiration was still pouring off of him. Joseph thought as he watched him that he had a glow of a person who has been helpful. A couple of minutes later he was back in the building preparing for his next class.

Joseph thought to himself, "So that's what the Rabbi does with his forty five minutes off campus everyday. He goes and waits for a peddler, and ordinary man, a stranger who has a heavy burden and he helps that man up the hill." Joseph was amazed and even more in awe of his Rabbi.


This story adapted from the Mussar movement in Jewish history is a beautiful example of an earth angel. It always amazes me how good I can suddenly feel when I've been truly helpful. But perhaps I have an even more heightened sense of joy if I can get a chance to be helpful in a capacity that is not part of my normal repertoire. That's what this Rabbi is doing. A very learned scholar, he was now offering his arms and his brute strength in a simple way, repetitively every day to a stranger.

After September 11th, a lot of earth angels appeared. Many gave in ways that were part of their repertoire. Many stretched themselves. Some gave blood. Some offered time; some money and many gave combinations of gifts. I shared with my e-group recently how impressed I was with earth angels interviewed on 'Sixty Minutes'. One was a woman who comes down to Ground Zero every evening after a full day's work and provides many of the daily supplies that the workers and volunteers need, such as saline solution, hand lotion and sweat shirts. Another is a masseuse who gives free massages to workers at the site. A group of men came up from Texas , with thousands of pounds of meat and barbeque pits and have been offering barbequed ribs at the site ever since. They are recovering addicts and alcoholics looking to give back.

I bet if you think about it, you also know some earth angels working to create comfort since September 11th. I personally know that the New York Restaurant School has given away thousands of meals at Ground Zero. I also have a psychologist friend who has accompanied those who lost loved ones back to the site.

However, being an earth angel does not necessarily mean that you must be responsive at the charity level. Sometimes it means NOT giving charity. The Rabbi in the above story became an available stranger to the man with the heavy wagon. He was just 'there' at the right moment. If he had offered charity, my hunch is the arrangement would have been refused. So for many of us, being an earth angel means looking for positive ways to act, respond and behave as life's moments hit us.

Maybe it means listening carefully to an older relative on Thanksgiving and not looking distracted or bored. Many it means just walking in with a fresh baked pie, or picking up the telephone and saying hello to that friend or relative who was supposed to call you! Maybe it means not taking phone calls when you can spend some time with your child. Maybe it means getting enough sleep and being good to yourself! Being your own earth angel is also very important.

Dr. Barbara Becker Holstein , originator of THE ENCHANTED SELF®, a method of bringing delight and meaning into everyday living, invites you to view her new line of ENCHANTED WOMAN products, downloadable e-books, and free gifts at


from the January 2004 Edition of the Jewish Magazine




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