Jewish

Rabbi Akiva and His Questions

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Rabbi Akiva was walking home one night on the same path he always traveled, except that this night was incredibly foggy and he missed his usual turn off the path.

Soon he encounters a massive fortress.

At the gate the Rabbi hears the voice of a guard yelling to him from the wall, “Who are you and why are you here?”

Upon hearing those words, the Rabbi asks: “How much are you paid for your work?

“Two shekels a day,” the guard responded.

Rabbi Akiva then looks up at the guard and says, “I will pay you twice that if you follow me to my home and ask me those very same questions every single morning.”

Can You Solve This Jewish Riddle?

This is an old Jewish joke/parable that you can find all around but in case you have not read/heard it, here is a parable of men going down a chimney. Can you solve it? 

A young man knocks on the door of the Rabbi. The man says, “I would like to study the Talmud.”

“Do you know Aramaic and Hebrew and have you studied the Torah?” the rabbi asks.

“No, Rabbi. But don’t worry. I graduated summa cum laude in philosophy, and just finished my doctoral dissertation on Socratic logic. I believe that I am ready to study the Talmud.”

The rabbi says, “If you wish I am willing to examine you in logic, and if you pass that test I will teach you Talmud.”

The young man agrees.

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The Rabbi holds up two fingers. “Two men come down a chimney. One comes out with a clean face, the other comes out with a dirty face. Which one washes his face?”

The one with the dirty face washes his face,“ he answers wearily.

“Wrong. The one with the clean face washes his face. Examine the logic. The one with the dirty face looks at the one with the clean face and thinks his face is clean. The one with the clean face looks at the one with the dirty face and thinks his face is dirty. So the one with the clean face washes his face.”

 “I cannot believe I did not think of that!” the young man says. “Give me another test.”

The rabbi again holds up two fingers. “Two men come down a chimney. One comes out with a clean face, the other comes out with a dirty face. Which one washes his face?”

 "The one with the clean face washes his face, you just said.”

 “Wrong. Each one washes his face. Examine the logic. The one with the dirty face looks at the one with the clean face and thinks his face is clean. The one with the clean face looks at the one with the dirty face and thinks his face is dirty. So the one with the clean face washes his face. When the one with the dirty face sees the one with the clean face wash his face, he also washes his face. Therefor they each wash their face.”

“I didn’t think of that, but now I understand. Test me again.” says the young man.

The rabbi holds up two fingers. “Two men come down a chimney. One comes out with a clean face, the other comes out with a dirty face. Which one washes his face?”

 “Each one washes his face."  

“Wrong. Neither one washes his face. Examine the simple logic. The one with the dirty face looks at the one with the clean face and thinks his face is clean. The one with the clean face looks at the one with the dirty face and thinks his face is dirty. But when the one with the clean face sees the one with the dirty face doesn’t wash his face, he also doesn’t wash his face. So neither one washes his face.”

The young man presses on. “I am qualified to study Talmud. Please give me one more test.”

The rabbi groans as he lifts two fingers. “Two men come down a chimney. One comes out with a clean face, the other comes out with a dirty face. Which one washes his face?”

 “Neither one washes his face.”

 “Wrong. Do you now see why Socratic logic is an insufficient basis for studying Talmud? Tell me, how is it possible for two men to come down the same chimney, and for one to come out with a clean face and the other with a dirty face? Don’t you see? The whole question is  foolishness! If you spend your whole life trying to answer foolish questions, all your answers will be foolish, too.”

A Chef and A Rabbi Help Explain Preaching

Not long ago I was eating with a chef and it reminded me of a Jewish Rabbi. Here is what happened. 

The chef and I were eating and she began to talk about how she would have prepared the dish differently. She had comments on the quality of ingredients and the role of salt at different stages of cooking. Due to her training and love of food, she could see and taste things that I could not. While she was talking about the brilliant use of the kalamata olives to balance the dish, I was thinking about why some olives are sold in cans while others are in jars. 

She and I were on different levels. And then I recalled Rabbi Joel Nickerson's interview by Rob Bell

In the interview Rabbi Joel said that in his tradition there is a way to do exegesis of the scripture and it has four layers: 

  • simple
  • hints
  • commentary
  • mystery

Here is a quick breakdown of these layers as I understand them (which is limited as I am not Jewish): 

The simple layer is just that. When you read a text there is a simple (literal) understanding. It is when you read the story of the good Samaritan and hear God saying it is good to take care of those in need. 

The "hints" layer is what many preachers do in their sermons. The preacher will then go though the scripture then point out all the other scripture that is "hinted" at in the particular preaching text. So when you hear about John the Baptist, the text hints at the story of Elijah. For many, this is the essence of what passes for "biblical preaching."

The commentary layer is that layer where one finds their own voice in the text and contributes to the story. It is the layer that some fear as "diverging" from the Word and is sometimes met with resistance with phrases like, "where in scripture do you read that?" or "The Bible says ..." Commentary is something that we all do, but not every tradition values as commentary.

Let me tell you a mystery...

The mystery layer is that layer that needs the Spirit of God to breathe upon us in order to expose. It is that layer that we get glimpses of at and it is this layer that makes Scripture the inspired word of God. It is a layer that is hidden in plain sight but we are often looking for other things or just plain blind to being able to see it. It is this layer that Jesus exposes the world to when he says, "you have heard it said... But I say..." or "Blessed are the poor..."

When I listen to a preacher, much like the chef I ate with, I too am busy analyzing the sermon, commenting on the delivery, making note on the way the "salt" was used. I am constantly in search of the preachers who expose the mystery. And too often I find myself frustrated at my own inability to expose the mystery as I only stay at the other levels. 

And so, for those who are feasting on the word of God in Christ it is my prayer that we may all find ourselves exposed the the deep mystery and not just fill up on the simple, hints and commentary.