Roland B. Vendeland

Warmth, wisdom, and wit.

Roland B. Vendeland

Naftali's White Trousers

The entire community waved as Chaim left the village for the first time in his life. He was the best student in the town. Everyone admired him and contributed money so he could study at the Yeshiva.

Chaim stepped from the coach at the Yeshiva of Reb Naftali of Ropshitz. Before him stood Reb Naftali and all the boys of the school. They wore full beards and looked like grown men to Chaim. Chaim's high-pitched voice had not yet changed.

The youthful Chaim resolved to prove himself to the other students and his teacher.

"They will recognize me as the best of the best," uttered Chaim under his breath.

In class, Chaim listened to Reb Naftali's every word and watched his every movement. Reb Naftali was a great scholar and a righteous man. His black beard specked with gray hid his face. He spoke in a soft but strong strong voice. Naftali's eyes shown with wisdom.

Three weeks passed before Chaim realized something important. Reb Naftali always wore white trousers. Not sometimes. Always. Even on Shabbos. Reb Naftali was a man of precision. Chaim knew the white trousers held a hidden meaning but what secret they possessed he did not know.

"Students," said Reb Naftali, "Often we want to know more than we are ready to know. Do not seek to eat from the forbidden trees. Ask only about that which you are prepared to understand."

Chaim interpreted these statements as a warning regarding the study of the Kabballah, Jewish mysticism. Naftali might as well have said, "Chaim, you may not study Kabballah. You are too young." Chaim could debate Talmud with the older students. He bristled at the thought that Reb Naftali did not respect his talents.

Chaim began to study mysticism on his own. He found his answer in the Zohar, the most important book on mysticism. On the first day, G-d created the Light, the Zohar. With the Light, Adam saw from one end of the world to the other. The Light passed from one generation to the next.

Moses possessed it. Noah took the Light into the Ark. G-d removed the Light when the wicked generation of Enosh came into the world. G-d hid the Light only to return It to the possession of righteous individuals.

Chaim knew Naftali's secret. G-d had given the Light to Reb Naftali, a righteous man. This was the message of his white trousers. Chaim was convinced of it, but he must hear it from Reb Naftali's own lips. "Reb Naftali, why do you always wear white trousers?" asked Chaim. "This I may not tell you," answered Naftali. Chaim knew he was ready to understand the Zohar even if Reb Naftali did not think so.

Chaim returned to ask, "Oh master, pray tell me why do you always wear white trousers?"

"It is a secret I must not reveal," replied Naftali.

"The secret, the secret of the Zohar," whispered Chaim. The next day Chaim asked, "What must I do to learn your secret, Reb Naftali?'

"Pray and fast for three days," he responded. Chaim had never fasted for more than one day. Four days later, a pale Chaim stood before Naftali. He leaned on a chair so as not to faint. "My teacher, I am ready to learn your secret," said Chaim.

"First you must promise never to tell another living soul what I am about to tell you." replied Naftali.

Chaim had hoped to brag to his fellow students. If he promised, he could not. They would, however, see the glow on his face just as the Israelites saw the glow on Moses' face when he descended from Mount Sinai. Chaim promised.

"Come with me." Naftali ordered.

They entered a room. Naftali locked the door. He looked around the room and walked into a second room. Chaim followed. Naftali locked and bolted the door. He searched the entire room. Naftali entered a third room. Chaim followed. Naftali locked, bolted and chained the door. He inspected every inch of the room. He walked to the center of the room. Chaim followed. Naftali bent down. Chaim beamed with expectation as he prepared to learn the most important secret of the universe. With this knowledge he would join the most elite scholars. He would be the envy of his classmates, his neighbors and the greatest rabbis.

Naftali whispered, "The reason I always wear white trousers is because I only own one pair of trousers."