From story teller Peninnah Schram’s book “Tales of Elijah the Prophet” comes this incredible story entitled “The Agunah, the Rabbi, and the ‘Sheep'”.
It’s such a powerful story. The main protagonist is somebody who doesn’t even enter the tale until the halfway point, not the childless Rabbi at the start but a different Rabbi who makes an extremely controversial decision.
Our protagonist has to deal with the consequences of his decision, he is cursed, physically assaulted, shunned, unable to go to the synagogue even for prayers. At the same time the Rabbi has no way of really knowing if he has truly made a correct decision or not. The uncertainty together with the agonizing societal opprobrium utterly upends his life.
What saves our hero is an animal, the ‘Sheep’. The non-human ‘Sheep’ reminds the reader that caring and kindness enables one to maintain humanity at those moments of unhappy isolation. And, of course, it is the ‘Sheep’ that is the agent of his redemption because this is no ordinary ‘Sheep’. Just as it takes all the moral strength of the Rabbi to make an unpopular decision in the first place, so it takes him all his moral strength to bring the ‘Sheep’ to a position where the ‘Sheep’ can demonstrate the correctness of the Rabbi’s original decision. This effort in fact is so great, it consumes the life of the Rabbi.
When we make decisions we use our best judgement, often we have no idea if we are correct or not. We all want to be in the right but how far do we need to go to validate our theories for others? Is it a duty we should to devote our lives to? Is it even possible to act in isolation, to communicate without interlocutors? How does one deal with the searing impact of social alienation without being dejected and depressed? There is a Yiddish phrase “May you be the only wise man in a world of fools” and it is indeed a curse.
I have copied the story for website readers to enjoy. Readers can click on each of the thumbnails in order to get an enlarged version of the text.