September 13, 2012
Here is an interesting story, which once again highlights Rabbi Yehonassan Eybeschutz’s great command of complex issues and his ability to articulate them in easy to understand examples.
It is known that on many occasions Christian Clergy as well as the reigning nobility questioned Our Great Rabbi. They were always looking to trip him up and try to find fault in Jewish teachings. In this way they thought they would prove the superiority of their religion. Rabbi Yehonassan Eybeschutz always won these battles of wit hands down. Nobody could match wits with him. Period!!!
Our story is based on a section of the Talmud (Chulin), which Rashi (an ancestor of Rabbi Eibeschutz as well as my wife and son) discusses the consumption of forbidden insects. Rashi tells us that if an insect is found within a fruit and has never crawled on the ground then it is not forbidden.
A nobleman attempts to lock wits with Rabbi Yehonassan by pointing out the contradiction of consuming insects. The nobleman points to the Torah and states that if a worm leaves an apple it is considered an insect that has crawled on the ground and in turn is not permitted to be eaten. He goes on to point out to the Great Rabbi Eybeschytz that if the worm is found within the fruit it is permissible to be eaten since it is considered part of the fruit.
How can the same worm be but both permitted and also not permitted he asked Rabbi Eibeschitz? Is there some sort of miraculous worm transformation from permitted to not permitted? He concluded that this proves beyond the shadow of a doubt the Torah, as well as Rabbi Eybeschitz, are both flawed and not to be taken seriously. Which further suggests that the Jewish faith is contradictory and imperfect.
Murmuring could be heard throughout the nobleman’s court. He glanced over to the clergy assigned to his court. They gave him the thumbs up for nailing the point. You could even see a few giving high fives to each other. Cornering the Great Yehonassan Eybeschutz into a place even he could not escape. They looked smug because they fed this argument to the nobleman and he delivered it perfectly. They will all be known throughout the kingdom as the men who took down the Great Rabbi Eybeschutz.
Our Great Rabbi slowly shifted his gaze around the court. Slowly stroking his long grey beard, he looked expressionless, pensive. A long silence overtook the room except the hushed whispers of the confident court.
Besides being a scholar of high esteem, I must make note again that Rabbi Eybeschutz was a supremely gifted pulpit preacher. This was considered an unusual combination. A great scholar and fantastic orator rolled up into one person, it’s like a computer programming nerd being a great public speaker.
The Rabbi knew how to play the crowd. He was the master of building up expectations and then swooping in to deliver the knockout blow. So he quietly and slowly stroked his long beard and let his silence be interpreted to mean he was at a loss for an answer.
After a long silence, this master of many trades felt the anticipation build up to the perfect crescendo. He quietly broke his silence with an unusual request. He asked, “May I have a spoon?” The whispering in the court increased in intensity. The Nobleman felt even more confident and gladly gave orders to supply Rabbi Eybeschutz with a spoon.
The Rabbi then handed the spoon over to the Nobleman and asked him to spit into it, which he did. Then Rabbi Yonassan requested the Nobleman drink the spit off of the spoon. The Nobleman was taken aback and refused to do so. “Why do you refuse to drink you own spit”, ask Rabbi Yonassan. The Nobleman said, “Because that is disgusting”.
Now the court became totally silent. What is the Rabbi up to? This is a ridiculous train of thought. The Rabbi then asked the Nobleman, “Why would you call the spit which was in your mouth just a moment ago disgusting when it is on the spoon? What made it one second acceptable and the next moment disgusting? The only difference is at one moment it was in your mouth, which you considered acceptable and the next moment it is on a spoon and not acceptable once it is out of your mouth. What’s up with that?”
Loud voices from the peanut gallery could be heard from the background court. Tensions ran high. Where is the Rabbi going with this? How will the Nobleman answer? The Nobleman responded to the Rabbi’s query, “When it was in my mouth it was not foul but on the spoon outside my mouth it became revolting.”
“Ah-ha!!!” exclaimed Rabbi Yehonassan. That is just like the worm. When it is in the apple it is acceptable. Once it comes out of the apple it is then considered repulsive and the Torah therefore prohibits it”. Case closed!!!
The court broke out in disbelief and disappointment. The clergy devised the perfect scenario to trip up the Great Rabbi. The Nobleman delivered it with great authority. But alas, to their astonishment Rabbi Yehonassan Eybeschitz once again defended the Torah!
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