Return Again: You’ll Never Know

I am prone to rush to judgment.  I also know that doing so is almost always a bad idea that comes with bad results.

My bad judgments are almost always around pieces of information.  Never about the complete information.  What I learn, again and again, is that I can never know all that I need to know from bits and pieces of information.  Bits and pieces forever call me to ask more questions, to be curious, to practice inquiry.  I return again, and again, and again to this lesson.  First judgments based on pieces of information about anyone or anything are inevitably wrong.  I had no idea.  I could never know all of this.  Why did I rush to judgment?

Rebbe Shlomo Carlebach, the author of our beloved hymn, Return Again, tells a story about a tailor who lived in a village.  He was deemed by everyone to be the worst Jew of the place.  Then, word came that he had died, and the holy rabbi of the village was giving a grand funeral for him. He told this story.

When the rabbi was planning the marriage of his daughter, he borrowed money from every Jew in town to pay for it.  The husband-to-be of his daughter came to him and said that he did not have a new prayer shawl for the wedding, and the rabbi had promised him one.  The rabbi went wandering in the street wondering what he would do.  He decided he would go to the first house with a light on.  And so he did.  He knocked on the door, and the tailor appeared.  The rabbi explained that he needed 10 rubles for a new prayer shawl for his soon to be son-in-law.  The tailor said that he could give one ruble.  As the rabbi was walking down the street wondering how he would find 9 more rubles, the tailor came running and shouting to him.  “Rabbi, what if I give you the whole 10?”  And he did.

That day of the funeral, the rabbi walked behind the coffin of the tailor, and he wept.  He wept, and he knew that the soul of the tailor was wrapped in the the prayer shawl that he had bought for the rabbi’s new son-in-law.

We can never know–all the pieces that go into another’s soul.  We can never know.  And so, let us return, again, to that truth.  And practice no judgment.

Bob Patrick

*Listen to Rebbe Shlomo Carlebach’s telling/singing of this story here.

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