Two Men and a Chimney

The story goes that after a prolonged search the young man finally finds a suitable rabbi and asks if the rabbi would be willing to tutor him. But upon seeing this youth the rabbi simple smiles and says “You are too young and have too little life experience for the lessons I have to teach. Come back to me in ten years”.

But the young man is full of a confidence that borders on arrogance and so responds, “I may be young but I have already mastered Aristotelian logic and symbolic logic. Test me. Ask me any question you want and I will prove to you that I am ready.”

The rabbi thinks for a few moments and then chooses a question: “Two men descend a chimney. When they get to the bottom, one man’s face is covered in soot. Tell me, which one washes his face?”

In response the young man immediately says, “Why, that is easy. It would be the one with the soot on his face”.

In response the rabbi turns to leave saying, “Of course not. What are you thinking? It is the man without the soot who washes his face, for he sees his friend’s complexion and thinks that he too must be dirty”.

“Please don’t send me away” replies the young man. “Test me again. Any question at all”.

And so the rabbi thinks for a moment and then says “OK, listen carefully this time. Two men descend a chimney. When they get to the bottom, one man’s face is covered in soot. Tell me, which one washes his face?”

“Why the man without the soot on his face,” replies the young man.

Again the rabbi shakes his head, “You are not listening in the right way. It is obvious that it is the man with the soot on his face who washes. He sees the reaction of his friend upon reaching the ground, can taste the soot from his lips, and can feel it stinging his eyes. Now leave me in peace”

“Please”, replies the young man, “test me one last time, as I think I have it now”.

“One last time” replies the rabbi. “This time I want you to really listen. Two men descend a chimney. When they get to the bottom, one man’s face is covered in soot. Tell me, which one washes his face?”

“The first answer I gave” shouts the young man, “but for different reasons”.

“No, no, no” says the rabbi and he leaves. “They both wash their faces. How could someone descend a chimney and not think that their face would be covered in soot?” – from The Orthodox Heretic, by Peter Rollins

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3 comments

  1. melanie-pearl

    (doh!) what better lesson could be learned? at least he was wise about the teacher being the a wise one from which to learn.

    earlier today i told Jill that i remember one of my MCC professors saying the more he knew about God the more he understood how little he actually knew.

    there is such beauty in authentic humility.

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