Stories We Tell: Who is Your Teacher?

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 ReformJudaism.org, 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. 


This is the tale of a rabbi who spent his whole life studying and teaching Torah.  As he became a well-known and beloved teacher, he started to think highly of himself. One day he had a dream that he was visited by an angel, who predicted that, in the “world to come,” a local baker would be appointed as his heavenly attendant. Disappointed in what he perceived as her lowly status, he sought out the baker… and made a surprising discovery. This story, retold by Rabbi Leora Kaye, will make you stop and think about who your teachers are, and how you see yourself and others.  You can find a version of this story in The Jewish Story Finder, entitled, A Worthy Companion on page 83.

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Transcript

[URJ Intro”] Welcome back to "Stories We Tell," a podcast from ReformJudaism.org. Judaism has always had a deep and rich tradition of storytelling, passing our stories down orally from one generation to the next. And here each Thursday, we'll share a new story with you to carry on that tradition. This week, I'm going to share a story. My name is Rabbi Leora Kaye, and I'm the Director of Program for the Union for Reform Judaism. The story I'm going to share is "Who is your teacher?"

[Rabbi Leora:] There once was a rabbi who had spent his whole life studying and teaching Torah. From the time he was very young, he learned as much as he could, and as a child he studied the early stories of the Tanach -- the Bible. As he grew older, he moved into the codes of law, the Mishnah and the Talmud -- and even into the intricacies that were hard for others to learn. And further and further he dove into all of the Jewish texts. And as he learned, he taught.

He had so many students -- some young, some old. People questioned whether there was anyone who had not learned something from him somewhere along the way! He did not start out haughty. In fact, he really started out just with the intention of learning. But as sometimes happens, when he became so beloved, it was hard not to think, well...a bit highly of himself. He was a good teacher. He did, it seem, have a way with words -- and with people too. But somewhere along the way, he had a dream.

He was a bit older, but not too old, when he had this dream. And he dreamed that he was visited by an angel. And the angel, while they spoke, told him of who his heavenly attendant would be -- the person with whom he would spend the most time once he had gone to the olam haba, the world to come. "It would be," the angel said "a baker from just the next town over. Just a woman who was a mother and a baker. She went by the name of Rochel." The rabbi woke up and was not happy. Again -- he certainly didn't think of himself as conceited, but hadn't he done enough in his life that was impressive, that his companion in olam haba should be something-- someone more than just a baker and a mother of four?

He decided to go look for this Rochel. He asked around. Did anyone know of her? He found that not only was she not a person at his level, but that no one even seemed to know who she was until he arrived in her town. He went to try to find her to meet her, and when he arrived, nearly every person he asked had something beautiful to say about this Rochel.

"Ah, Rochel, Rochel -- we never would have been able to have challah on Shabbos for a whole year -- for free! -- had Rochel not given us challah the year I was out of work," said one.

"Ah, Rochel, indeed, she helped me fix the seam on my wedding dress the very morning of my wedding when no one else could help -- and she's not even a seamstress!" said another.

"Ah, Rochel," said a third. "Rochel. She is a woman who has cared so deeply for her parents, that over the years, they have lived longer than almost anyone else of their generation because of how well she watched over them."

And more, and more, and more, until the rabbi finally arrived at Rochel's door. He knocked and she opened it, and he explained the whole story to her, including how highly he had apparently thought of himself. And then he looked at her and said, "How fortunate for me that when we arrive in olam haba, in the world to come, it sounds as though I will have the most heavenly teacher. I hope only that there is anything I might be able to teach you."

[URJ Outro:] After hearing the story "Who is your teacher?," I'm wondering if you've ever been in the position where you thought you knew the most, and it turned out someone right near you could teach you even more? If so, we'd love to hear about it on social media. You can find us at Facebook.com/ReformJudaism, and on Twitter our handle is @ReformJudaism. Thanks for listening to "Stories We Tell." If you enjoyed this week's story, rate and review us on iTunes. And you can always find new episodes every Thursday on ReformJudaism.org, where you can also go to a little bit more about Jewish rituals, or culture, or 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.

Until next week -- l'hitraot!