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The Prodigy Under The Bed

The Prodigy Under The Bed

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Rabbi Hillel of Paritch (1795–1864) was one of the many scholars of his day to join the Chabad Chassidic movement. For many years he was a devoted disciple of the second and third rebbes of Chabad, Rabbi DovBer and Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch.

As a young man, Rabbi Hillel heard of the founder of Chabad Chassidism, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, and sought to meet with him. But the opportunity seemed to forever elude the young prodigy: no sooner did he arrive in a town that Rabbi Schneur Zalman was visiting, than he was informed that the rebbe had just left. Finally, he managed to locate Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s lodgings before the rebbe was due to arrive. In order to ensure that he would not, once again, somehow miss his opportunity, Rabbi Hillel crept into Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s appointed room and hid under the bed, determined to at last make the acquaintance of the great rebbe.

In anticipation of his encounter with Rabbi Schneur Zalman, Rabbi Hillel had “armed” himself with some of his achievements in Talmudic study. At that time the young scholar was studying the tractate Erachin, or “Appraisals,” the section of the Talmud which deals with the laws of how to appraise the value of one’s pledges to the Temple. Rabbi Hillel had a scholarly question on the subject, which he had diligently rehearsed in order to discuss it with the rebbe.

From his hiding place, Rabbi Hillel heard the rebbe enter the room. But before he could make a move, he heard Rabbi Schneur Zalman exclaim: “If a young man has a question regarding ‘Appraisals,’ he had best first evaluate himself!”

The prodigy under the bed fainted on the spot. When he came to, Rabbi Schneur Zalman was gone . . .


The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, told this story, and then asked: How are we to apply this story to our lives?

The tractate of “Appraisals” discusses the laws presented in chapter 27 of Leviticus: if a person pledges to give to the Temple, but instead of citing a sum he says, “I promise to give the value of this individual,” we are to follow a fixed rate table set by the Torah, in which each age and gender group is assigned a certain “value.”

But why employ a flat rate which lumps together so many diverse individuals? Should not an accomplished scholar be considered more valuable than a simple laborer? The Torah states that we all stand equally before G‑d, “from your heads, the leaders of your tribes, your elders . . . to your woodchoppers and water-carriers.” But can a person truly view his fellow as his equal when he is so obviously superior to him in talent and achievement?

This is the meaning of Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s remark to Rabbi Hillel: If you have a question regarding “Appraisals,” if you find it difficult to relate to the Torah’s evaluation of human worth, you had best take a long, hard look at yourself. An honest examination of your own character and behavior will show how much you can learn from every man, how much there is for you to emulate in those who are supposedly “inferior” to yourself.

Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson; adapted by Yanki Tauber.
Originally published in Week in Review.
Republished with the permission of MeaningfulLife.com. If you wish to republish this article in a periodical, book, or website, please email permissions@meaningfullife.com.
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Sientje Seinen chilliwack , Canada May 16, 2012

re the prodigy under the bed. Just wondering what is meant by a fixed rate table. Why would an accomplished scholar be more worthy in the eyes of the Lord than a simple labourer, maybe the simple labourer never had a chance to become a scholar, and does the Lord G-d not weigh the hearts of mankind? Now if the scholar looks down on the simple labourer, there is o charity in his heart as simple labourers also have a function in life. if we were all scholars, then who would gather in the grapes.? or built fences? Reply

Mark Baron Seattle, WA May 15, 2012

value As a construction worker who has managed to make my way to management, I would say that there is much that the scholar can learn from the laborer, if they only can open their eyes. It flows both ways, one requires the other. If the scholar must spend all his time at prosaic tasks how can he truly find time to study, but the laborer should also strive to learn more as opportunities present themselves. Reply