One of the greatest disciples of the Maggid of Mezritch, Reb Pinchas, had begun life like many of his contemporaries, far from the ways of Chassidism. When rumors reached his city concerning the new path of Divine service the Maggid was paving, Reb Pinchas was inspired to investigate.

Before he visited the Maggid, he prepared a difficult Talmudic question to ask him, through which he could test the Maggid’s scholarship. When Reb Pinchas finally merited an audience with the Maggid, he did not get a chance to speak. The Maggid immediately told him, “I suggest you go speak to my pupil, Reb Zusia. You will surely benefit.” Reb Pinchas was dismissed and went to meet Reb Zusia.

Reb Zusia did not look like much of a scholar. Most of the day he did not study, but sat and recited Psalms. When Reb Pinchas asked Reb Zusia to learn with him, Reb Zusia replied that he was incapable of teaching the scholar. “However,” Reb Zusia said, “I have a Torah question that perhaps you might help me with.”

Reb Zusia brought out a volume of the Talmud and, opening to a certain page, he read aloud, “Rav Huna said: ‘Nine can combine with an Ark.’ If there are only nine Jews and a minyan is needed, the Ark may be counted as the tenth person. The Talmud asks: ‘But is an Ark a person?’ The Talmud then phrases the law differently.

“My question,” Reb Zusia continued, “is as follows: Doesn’t the Talmud already know that an Ark is not a person? What is the Talmud teaching us?”

Reb Pinchas was speechless. He had never encountered such an unusual question, so he turned to leave. Reb Zusia said, “Pardon me, Rabbi, but perhaps the Talmud is trying to impart a very important lesson indeed: A Jew must not think that just because he is an ‘Ark full of Torah Scrolls’ – he has learned much Torah – this automatically makes him a ‘person.’ In fact, it’s quite possible that this ‘case full of Torahs’ may not be a ‘person’ at all.

“This is what we learn here in Mezritch,” Reb Zusia concluded, “how to be a mensch, a ‘person.’ The objective is not only for a person to learn Torah, but to have the Torah teach one to be a ‘person.’”

Reb Pinchas understood why he had come to Mezritch and what he had been missing. He remained in Mezritch and eventually became one of the Maggid’s greatest disciples.

—Adapted from Rabbi J.J. Hecht

Chassidus is Divine intelligence that shows man how small he is, and how great he can become.”
Hayom Yom, 19 Iyar

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

“To become different from what we are, we must know who we are.”