Seeing or Believing

Reb Meir was a Hasid of Reb Mordechai of Lechovitch. He was also the occasional business partner of Reb Gershon, who was a devout misnaged (An opponent of Hasidism).

Reb Meir was always inviting his partner to join him on his many visits to his rebbe, but Reb Gershon’s hatred of Hasidism was so strong that he could never consent to visiting his partner’s rebbe. Not wishing to hurt the feelings of his friend, he would find many reasons to explain why travel to Lechovitch was out of the question.

It once happened, however, that separate business matters brought both men to Lechovitch on the same day. Discovering that his friend would be in town at the same time as himself, Reb Meir once again invited Reb Gershon to visit his rebbe. Seeing no way out that would not be offensive to Reb Meir, Reb Gershon agreed.

When the two men arrived at Reb Mordechai’s house, they were ushered into the rebbe’s dining room, where he was just beginning to eat his dinner. Reb Meir urged his partner to speak to the rebbe, to ask a question, to say something, but Reb Gershon was clearly in a state of pure ecstasy. After a few minutes they left the rebbe’s house.

Reb Meir said to his friend: “What happened to you in there?”

Reb Gershon said, “I saw the rebbe eating with the holiness of the Kohen HaGadol!”

Shocked, Reb Meir turned from his partner and ran back to the rebbe. When he arrived he said, “Rebbe, here I come to see you as often as I can, and never have I seen the way you serve the Holy One, Blessed Be He. And yet my misnaged partner comes for a minute, under duress, and he sees the miracle of your eating. Is this fair?”

Reb Mordechai said, “it is not about fairness, my friend. Your partner is a misnaged; he has to see the truth with his eyes. You, on the other hand, are a Hasid; you have to trust.”



Misnaged: An opponent of Hasidism.

Kohen HaGadol: High Priest. The first High Priest was Aaron (Exodus 28:1), and all subsequent High Priests were required to be descendents of Aaron. After the fall of the Temple (70 c.E.), the Rabbis taught that the sanctity of the sacrificial altar shifted to the dinner table. Preparing and eating meals with the required prayers before and after eating, and focusing table talk on words of Torah, elevated eating to a spiritual discipline equivalent to that of a High Priest serving in the Temple.

What did Reb Gershon see? He saw Reb Mordechai eating with an awareness of God’s Presence equal to that of the Kohen HaGadol, the High Priest of ancient Israel. What did Reb Meir see? He saw the same thing but did not recognize it as anything out of the ordinary. It is not that Reb Meir didn’t see what Reb Gershon saw, but, unlike Reb Gershon, he saw nothing unusual about it. When his partner was so moved by what was for him an everyday event, Reb Meir began to doubt the quality of his own seeing. His rebbe then shifted Reb Meir’s attention from seeing to trusting.

Trust is about the unknown; seeing is about the known. If you see a bus coming down the street, you do not say, “I trust the bus is coming.” You say, “Look, here comes the bus.” It makes no sense to trust what you know. Trust matters only in relation to what you don’t know. And that is what makes it a higher spiritual quality than sight, but also a more dangerous one.

Albert Einstein said there is one fundamental question we must ask of the universe: Is it friendly or not? We cannot answer that question once and for all. All we can do is take life as an experiment.  All good experiments begin with a hypothesis. In this case, the hypothesis is that the universe is friendly, that it is conducive to human life, love, and meaning. To test this hypothesis, you have to live as if it were so and see what happens. You have to trust that your hypothesis is true, and then risk the consequences of its being false. This is what makes spiritual life so dangerous. It is life on the edge of trust.

Published in: on November 21, 2009 at 12:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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