Thursday, November 15, 2012

Parable parallels: weddings and guests

In this Yiddish folktale (courtesy of last year's Nitzavim edition of Reform Voices of Torah), a man giving a wedding has to go to extreme measures to compel his guests to join him in his joy.
Marc Chagall - Russian Wedding, 1909.
Reb Yitzchak Berkover is the richest man in town. His youngest daughter is soon to be married. Everything is arranged. No expense is spared. Everyone is invited, including the poor folk from the neighboring town of Lipovitch. On the morning of the wedding, three wagons are sent for them. Everything is going according to plan. The feast is prepared; the chuppah goes up, when suddenly a horseman arrives out of breath to deliver the blow. "They aren't coming." "What do you mean they aren't coming!?" asks Reb Yitzchak. "They say they are already full from a wedding this morning, so they will only come to your daughter's wedding if each is promised a ruble." The family and friends who have gathered burst into laughter, but Reb Yitzchak flies into a rage. "You fool, why didn't you bargain with them? The nerve! Forget it! I'll get along without them. They'll see. Fiddlers, strike up a tune! Let's begin!" But with the sound of the first note, Reb Yitzchak changes his mind; he mounts the horse and takes off in the direction of Lipovitch. After a weak attempt at negotiation and an impressive speech from the lead-beggar, Reb Yitzchak Berkover relents: "Get in the wagons! A ruble for each of you!" Twenty minutes later, the father-of-the-bride takes his place under the chuppah; the poor gather around.

When the feast is served, Reb Yitzchak and his closest relatives fulfill the mitzvah of serving the poor with their own hands. One poor man raises his glass for a toast. "To your health, Reb Yitzchak! We wish you long life and happiness from your daughter the bride!" He replies, "And to you, brothers, L'chayim! May God bless you among the whole congregation of Israel!"

After the meal, the musicians begin to play. Reb Yitzchak dances to the center of the hora circle; his satin coattails fly like the wings of an eagle. His eyes gaze upward; his thoughts soar higher than the seventh heaven. He locks arms with the poor and shouts: "Brothers! Let us be joyful as only Jews know how to be joyful! Fiddlers! Play something a little faster, louder, livelier, stronger!" They begin to spin. And the rich man cries big joyful tears.
It is interesting to compare this story to a parable nearly two thousand years older:
On hearing this, one of the people at the table with Yeshua said to him, "How blessed are those who eat bread in the Kingdom of God!"  But he replied, "Once a man gave a banquet and invited many people.  When the time came for the banquet, he sent his slave to tell those who had been invited, `Come! Everything is ready!'  But they responded with a chorus of excuses. The first said to him, `I've just bought a field, and I have to go out and see it. Please accept my apologies.'  Another said, `I've just bought five yoke of oxen, and I'm on my way to test them out. Please accept my apologies.'  Still another said, `I have just gotten married, so I can't come.'  The slave came and reported these things to his master. "Then the owner of the house, in a rage, told his slave, `Quick, go out into the streets and alleys of the city; and bring in the poor, the disfigured, the blind and the crippled!'  The slave said, `Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.'  The master said to the slave, `Go out to the country roads and boundary walls, and insistently persuade people to come in, so that my house will be full.  I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet!'"

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