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They Didn’t Have Any Philosophical Questions,
So Why Should You?
By E. Lesches

Though the logging industry brought considerable income to those who worked it, the labor was extremely exhausting. There were no shortcuts, and those involved knew just how arduous the procedure could be. A certain Chassid of the Tzemach Tzedek was very involved in the logging business. He had bought a large forest in the region of Polotsk and spent most of his time there, managing and supervising the work.

The bulk of the labor took place in the winter months. Heavy winter snows would blanket the region, creating a smooth solid surface for transferring heavy logs. After felling the large trees, the smaller branches were cut off and the logs assembled together. Teams of able-bodied men then worked on sliding the logs carefully along the frozen ground, until they reached the rivers shores. Once there, the men returned and repeated the procedure, continuing through the winter months until all the logs sat gathered along the river.

As months passed and winter turned to spring, the grounds warmed and the ice thawed. This was the perfect time for transporting the logs down the river to their final destination. Those who worked so hard on bringing the logs to the water now formed them into rafts, skillfully guiding the logs through the current. After reaching their destination, the logs were sold to the general public, generating ample income to sustain all involved.

The Chassid spent most of his time outdoors, supervising and guiding the workers in their labor. At night, after the workers dispersed to their homes, the Chassid frequented a shul in the vicinity, where he davened Maariv with the congregation and then remained behind to learn. Others spent their nights learning there as well. Generally, groups of pairs studied together, but the Chassid learned by himself.

In the corner of the shul sat an elderly gentleman who also sat alone. "My learning far surpasses the others here," he often said to himself. "I only come so I can learn Torah in a place of prayer, not to socialize with others. It doesn’t befit my stature to learn with these common folk, but what is with that fellow who sits alone night after night? He must be a real ignoramus, probably afraid to learn with anyone lest it reveal his ignorance."

Curiosity soon overcame his arrogance, and the elderly scholar approached the Chassid, presenting a few simple questions in learning. The Chassid answered lucidly and to the scholar’s surprise, seemed equally comfortable discussing the most complex parts of Torah. As the discussion progressed, the elderly gentleman realized that the Chassid was a prolific scholar in his own right. "Would you like to learn together?" he inquired. The Chassid agreed and a deal was struck. Every night, after the Chassid returned from supervising the logging, he and the elderly scholar would sit and learn late into the night.

One night as they learned together, the Chassid noticed something amiss with his partner. The elderly Jew was clearly upset about something. It seemed to the Chassid that his friend wanted to ask something but seemed ashamed, even embarrassed, to mention it. "Is something bothering you?" the Chassid finally ventured to ask. "Can I help you out with something? Ask whatever you want; don’t be afraid."

"I’ll tell you the truth," sighed the elderly Jew. "Something has been bothering me for quite some time now. I have been reading philosophical books, not necessarily Jewish ones, and many questions torment me as a result. I have no one I can trust to turn to with these questions. Would you be able to hear me out and respond to my problems?"

"Ask whatever you want," answered the Chassid. "I’ll do my best to answer you."

And so, a new routine developed. After they had finished their daily study, the elderly Jew would pose a deep philosophical problem to the Chassid while the latter, being well versed in Chassidus, answered the question to the complete satisfaction of his partner.

Months passed and soon winter gave way to spring. Hundreds of logs had been dispatched down the river, and the Chassid could look back at a productive season. For him, however, the changing season signaled a change of deeper significance: he was free to return home. No longer would his day constitute the supervision of long, heavy logs, of ordering workers around, of lonely nights away from family. With Pesach fast approaching, it was time to start out for home and hopefully spend the Festival of Freedom back home.

After finishing his nightly learning schedule, the Chassid turned to his partner to inform the elderly Jew of his upcoming departure. "I’ll be leaving any day now," said the Chassid. "I will miss these sessions very much."

The elderly Jew burst into tears. "How will I survive without you?" he cried. "Your leaving is very difficult for me. We studied so well together, but my philosophical dilemmas — who will answer those? You solved all my questions and restored my faith, but what will be now?"

"No matter," replied the Chassid. "Listen, I’ll give you good advice. Travel to my Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek. He will resolve all your problems and answer your questions. As for me, I must return home."

They took leave of each other and the Chassid set out for home. A few weeks passed, and the Chassid resolved to travel to the Tzemach Tzedek in Lubavitch for Shavuos. After all, he had spent most of the year away in Polotsk, and this seemed the perfect opportunity to see the Rebbe. He hired a horse and wagon, traveled to Lubavitch, and took up residence in the home of an acquaintance.

On the following day, the Chassid went out onto one of the dirt roads of Lubavitch. He had hardly walked a few minutes when a hand was clamped firmly over his eyes. "Can you resolve this riddle?" a familiar voice teased. "Who am I?"

"My old friend from Polotsk!"

The hand disappeared and there stood the elderly scholar, beaming with joy. The pair embraced and the Chassid commented how much happier his partner appeared. "I listened to your advice," he said. "I came to Lubavitch right after Pesach and the Rebbe got rid of all my questions."

The Chassid looked at him in openmouthed wonder. He thought back to the lengthy discussions in the warm synagogue on those long wintry nights. He thought of the complicated questions, of the unresolved doubts that had nagged his partner’s mind and heart for so long. "What exactly happened?" he asked.

"I entered yechidus somewhat after my arrival," said the elderly Jew. "When I entered, I unloaded my heart. ‘Rebbe,’ I said, ‘I have many philosophical questions.’

"The Rebbe studied me carefully. ‘Look here,’ he said. ‘The great Talmudic Sages Abayei and Rava didn’t have any philosophical questions, so why should you?’"

Concluded the elderly scholar: "All my question disappeared after hearing that sentence and I am now deeply involved in the study of Chassidus…"

The Chassid listened in amazement. He had firsthand knowledge of the damaging effect these philosophical works had wrought on the elderly scholar; he had spent hours upon hours in debate and explanation — and now one solitary sentence uttered by the Tzemach Tzedek had cured a spiritually tortured person.

(R’shimas Dvarim)



"I entered yechidus somewhat after my arrival," said the elderly Jew. "When I entered, I unloaded my heart. ‘Rebbe,’ I said, ‘I have many philosophical questions...’"


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