In this week’s Haftorah, King David explains that G-d deals with people according to people’s natures. G-d, so-to-speak, communicates with mankind in the language they know. That is why for this week’s Chassidic story, I chose a more light-hearted one that brings home this point.
One of the great Chassidic masters back in Europe needed to travel with a group of his Chassidim to a neighboring shtetl. There was an uncouth wagon driver who had a wagon big enough for all of them. The Chassidim went over and began negotiations with him. The wagon driver set a price for the hauling of rabbi and students to the next village, the Chassidim agreed to the price, the wagon was set up and all clambered aboard.
With a crack of the whip, with a creaking of the axles, with a joltidy-jolt, the merry band of travelers sailed forth down the dirt road. Soon the shtetl was far behind, as the wagon wended its way down a rural road into the highway that snaked through a dark forest. Rabbi and students were immersed in study, not much noting the passing scenery. Bumpity, bump, joltidy, jolt, the wagon rocked and bounced its way, swaying and moving forward in a reassuring way.
And then a “woa” called out, a quick lurch and a stop. Some chassidim fell forward, some back, some kept their balance. All looked baffled. A quick look around and it was noted they were nowhere near their destination. In fact, they were stopped in a remote, inhospitable part of the forest. “Is there a problem?” asked one of the Chassidim to the wagon driver.
The wagon driver came off his high seat and stated his intent. He had not intentions of budging another inch along the way unless the Chassidim paid him double the fee that he had agreed upon. It made no sense. He had set a price. What was he doing, hiking up the price mid-journey? They argued, they begged, they cajoled. Nothing would move the lout. He would be paid his ransom money or they could jolly well stay here in the forest. One rabbinical student after another tried his reasoning skills on this oaf. They talked about justice. They talked about fairness. Nothing moved.
That is when the rebbe spoke up. He told the students he wanted a private conversation with the wagon driver. The students stood aside and the rebbe strode up to the wagon driver. They saw some gesticulating from the rebbe, a nod from the wagon driver, then a wave for them to all clamber aboard again…and, in no time at all, the wagon set off again.
The students wondered, what amazing insight and logical argument finally had won over the wagon driver. They finally asked. The rebbe explained, “You guys tried talking justice and fairness to him. That he didn’t understand. It wasn’t his language. So I told him, ‘you are one lone person. We are a band of over ten men. You want to drive on, great, we paid you for driving us. You don’t want to, we’ll beat you up, tie you down and drive ourselves.’ That was language he understood. And, so here we are, driving onward.”
Funny story, for sure. Yet, one with two messages. When dealing with the world around us, you must know how to navigate it right. When Yaakov had to deal with a Lavan, he had to learn to outsmart him and undo Lavan’s trickery in a tricky way. You cannot be sweet to a swindler, nor gentle with a rogue. To get a message across, you must ‘speak the language they understand.” The other lesson is far more important. And that is that G-d will deal in YOUR manner to you. So if you are kind, He will be kind to you, for that is the language you “understand.”
May we all merit to be spoken to lovingly and with mercy!