My Zaida and the Rabbi with Horses

When my Zaida (grandfather) was alive, one of the things that I noticed about him, was that in spite of him never having Smicha (Rabbinic ordination) he always found spare time to learn Torah, and oftentimes he tried to drag me as a child into learning with him. While I was, at times, bored to tears at the poor English the occasional spit that accidentally emitted from his mouth when he spoke, in retrospect the sheer effort he put into learning Torah and trying to transmit some of that bespoke volumes. Not only that, he conducted himself in a sweet, genial manner. When I wanted to play, he would always loosely quote a phrase he learned while in the labor camps: “What work you have for tomorrow, do today. What eating you have for today, eat tomorrow.” He would rephrase that as “what learning you have for tomorrow, do today. What playing you have today, play tomorrow.”

It was no wonder, then, that as a child I always asked him why he never became a Rabbi. He always replied with the following story.

Once there was a Rabbi who taught cheder to twenty students, most of whom let the information go in one ear and out the other. He did this for a number of years. One day, this Rabbi quit his post, shaved his beard, changed his clothes, and became a “balagula” (Yiddish short form for “ba’al-‘agala” – horse-and-wagon driver). An old friend of his was passing by and was shocked to see this former Rabbi in that state.

He asked him, “what happened? Why did you leave the relatively lofty post of cheder Rabbi to tend to a mere horse?” The former Rabbi replied, “זאָגן מיר, וואָס איז בעסער, צו טענד צו איין פערד, אָדער צו טענד צו צוואַנציק האָרסעס?” (Tell me, which is better, to tend to one horse, or to twenty horses?)

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