Top Ten Jewish Folktales: The Rabbi From Pinsk

Note: This is an adaptation of a classic tale that I wrote for a friend's son's bar mitzvah...it is one of my favorite tales. 

The Rabbi of Pinsk and the Wise Wagon Driver

The Rabbi of Pinsk was a man of moderate wealth, so he had enough money to hire a servant to drive his horse and buggy to Pichniev. The servant was a very poor man, who dressed only in rags, his feet wrapped with burlap because he had traded his shoes for food during a moment of destitution. The servant was hungry, and the rabbi noticed that he had nothing to eat for the long journey. Most wagon drivers would sing or hum a tune to pass the time, but this wagon driver was quiet, a sad look on his face.

When they pulled over to give the old horse a rest, the rabbi shared his bread and jam with the servant. The servant began to weep. “Thank you for your kindness,” the servant said, “It has been so long since I have been treated with dignity.”

The rabbi thought for a moment and then said: “I have an idea!”

The rabbi took off his fine coat and hat and gave it to the servant. Then he took off his shoes and gave them to the servant. When the servant removed his rags, the rabbi donned the rags, even wrapping his feet. “Let’s switch places” said the rabbi.

The rabbi of Pinsk drove the wagon into Pichniev. When he got to Pichniev he announced that the great rabbi of Pinsk had arrived to provide counsel to the Jewish community.

The townspeople greeted the servant, who they all thought was the rabbi, with a feast. The servant had soup, fish, and even chicken, something he hadn’t eaten for years.  He even had a nice piece of rugelach.

Then the townspeople began to tell the servant about a very difficult dispute in the town. One man began to argue that he was right because of a particular Talmudic passage, the other man said that he was right because of a passage in another section of the Talmud – it was a bitter argument and it divided the entire town.

The servant stroked his chin and closed his eyes. Then he said:

“My friends, the questions that you ask, they have been asked before in other towns. You may think that they are complicated, but actually they are very easily understood. In fact, I believe that even a lowly wagon driver could answer these questions for you!”

At that point, the rabbi, disguised as the wagon driver, walked in and began to answer the questions of the townspeople. They liked the answers so much that they invited him to join in the feast. 

In the morning, the servant and the rabbi left Pichneiv and switched clothing. But now, the servant began to sing as he drove the wagon.