Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Rabbi Joseph Karo and the 32 Paths of Wisdom


Last Friday morning, when our "Rambam Nutrition Seminar" went on a tour through the old city of Zfat, Rabbi Mordechai Siev from the Chabad hostel ASCENT also took us to the Synagogue and Beit Midrash of the famous author of the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law), Rabbi Joseph Karo (1488 - 1575).

And here we are, in the courtyard where Rabbi Joseph Karo used to live and have his Beit Midrash (see the blue door on the picture below). 

There is a very famous story about the Rabbi:
Once he was teaching and one of his students asked him a very difficult question. As Rabbi Karo didn't know the immediate answer to the question, he promised his student that he would look it up at home. The Rabbi went home, sat over the Talmud and just couldn't find the answer. In the end, he locked himself up until he finally found the answer. As a matter of fact, Rabbi Joseph Karo claimed that an angel had eventually taught him the right answer to the student's questions. 

After a few days and knowing the answer, the Rabbi returned to his Beit Midrash and wanted to tell the student the proper answer. However, somewhere on his way he overheard a conversation where another student, only a beginner at his Beit Midrash, provided the student with the particular answer. The Rabbi got very upset and didn't know what to think. How can it be that he, Rabbi Joseph Karo, has to sit at home and study for a few days in order to find the answer to this difficult question ? On the other hand, a beginner in Judaism just shows up and knows the answer right away.

Rabbi Karo went to one of the Kabbalists in Zfat and asked for a solution. The Kabbalist, however, told him the following:

"There are 32 Paths of Wisdom in this world and every Jew has his own path of wisdom to explore. Each one of us has his or her particular path. So did Rabbi Joseph Karo and so did the beginner student. 
Because everyone of us has his individual path of wisdom, my task may be that I understand something and teach it but this doesn't mean that you must understand and teach it first. Maybe it is my individual goal in life to use my path of wisdom and teach something to another person whereas someone else goes along a different path and has to understand and teach something completely different. 
In this case, it was the beginner student's task to teach the answer and not the Rabbi himself".

Photos: Miriam Woelke

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