Stories We Tell: The Two Who Studied Torah

Judaism has a deep and rich tradition of storytelling, of passing down stories from one generation to the next. To carry on that tradition, Stories We Tell, from, will share a new story with you every Thursday. Whether you listen while driving to work, preparing Shabbat dinner, or taking your kids to school, each episode will give you a new story to reflect on and discuss with the people in your life. Stories We Tell is a project of the Union for Reform Judaism, a leading voice in the discussion of modern Jewish life.

Aaron and David love studying Torah, and even want it to be their livelihood. But a truth-telling rabbi may send them down a different path. Join Rabbi Leora Kaye as she tells a story which reminds us that we can sometimes reach our dream destination by traversing an unexpected path.

Three ways to listen:


Welcome back to Stories We Tell, a podcast from Judaism has had a deep and rich tradition of storytelling, passing our stories down from one generation to the next, and each week here on Thursday, we share a new story with you to carry on that tradition. This week I'm going to share a story with you. My name is Rabbi Leora Kaye, and I'm the Director of Program at the Union for Reform Judaism. And the story is "The Two Who Studied Torah."

There's a story of a man and his husband who had studied together for such a long time, it was how they had come to know each other. Years and years and years ago, Aaron and David had first met through friends, learning Parashat HaShavua, the Torah portion of the week, together, each realizing how much they loved Torah learning and how much they loved the pilpul, that back and forth of delving into text, just trying to see something magical or different or beautiful in the wisdom. And they went on to study Talmud and Mishnah, the mystical books as well, all of the commentaries and deepest books of Jewish thought, and it was over these books that they pored and they pored that they began to fall in love and eventually marry and eventually become fathers, when they also taught their children Torah as well.

But they came on slightly hard times and they wished that they could find a way to have Torah study be their livelihood. They were quite honestly just so good at it, they were each able to appreciate it and approach it in a most specific way, and the people that studied with him always praised them, but it seemed that this was not to be their lot. They decided to go to a rabbi one day that was going to be in town who was known to be a bit of a truth-teller, able to see into the future, some said. So Aaron and David figured they may as well go see what this rabbi thought about the chance of their future being Torah study.

But with a long line of people waiting to hear the rabbi's fortune-telling, when they got to the front of the line and asked what they should do, the rabbi looked them squarely in the eyes and said, "Open a store in the center of town."

"Open a store?" they said incredulously.

"Open a store," the rabbi said, and the next people behind them started shoving because they too had waited a long time.

And so Aaron and David had to walk away. But how could this be? How could the rabbi, whom everyone knew really could see truths that others could not-- how could the rabbi think that they would be best suited not by studying and teaching Torah but by opening a store? They asked their friends what they should do, and they all said the same thing. "Go back to the rabbi tomorrow and wait in that line again and see what happens."

And so they did. They went back the very next day, and they waited in that long line again. Ironically, they studied Torah even while they were waiting.

And then, when it was their turn, the rabbi looked at them and said, "Didn't I see you just yesterday? Didn't I tell you to go open a store?"

They said to the rabbi, "You did, you did. But that's why we're so confused. How can it be that the two of us, some of, well, quite honestly the greatest Torah students around-- even, some might say, some of the best teachers. How can it be that you think we should open a store? There's nothing wrong with being merchants for people who are best at it, but would we not be best suited to being scholars and teachers?"

"Ah." The rabbi looked at them and said, "You do not quite understand, so let me tell you a little story that may clear it up. You know, not far from here there's a town where the merchants buy and sell their wares all year long. They sell and they trade from each other until they have their wagons all loaded up ready to bring home to sell in their own hometowns. And many of the merchants themselves live far, far away, some as far as a month's travel. So to travel to the town, it takes a month, and to travel home, it takes a month. And for nine months they are here, buying and selling, so that they are at home for only a month, but a month which is full of riches. And when people ask where they are from, though they are gone for 11 months of the year, they still say their hometown, because that is where the real heart of their life is spent, sharing everything that they have gotten over the prior 11 months. And that is how it will be for you as well. You will open a store, and it will be very successful. And it will mean that you can study more Torah than you ever might have been able to otherwise. And you will always remember then that the Torah that you teach is the heart of how your life is spent."

And so they opened a store. And they and their children studied Torah from then on.

After hearing the story, "The Two Who Studied Torah," I guess I'm wondering-- when did you learn what is really at the heart of your life? And if you want to share that with us, we'd love to hear about it on social media. You can find us at On Twitter, our handle is @reformjudaism.

And thanks for listening to Stories We Tell. If you enjoyed this week's story, then please subscribe and rate and review us on Apple Podcasts or Google Play or Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. You can always find new episodes every Thursday on, and don't forget to visit to learn a little bit more about Jewish rituals, our culture, our holidays, and more. Stories We Tell is a project of the Union for Reform Judaism, a leading voice in the discussion of modern Jewish life. And until next week-- Lehitraot.