Like his father and grandfather before him, the villager was himself an ignoramus. But he hired a melamed to teach his young son how to read Lashon Kodesh, primarily so that his son would be able to say Kaddish for him when he would pass on.
Much to the chagrin of the melamed, the boy had no interest in his studies and, despite his teacher’s best efforts, his student’s mind was elsewhere. Frustrated, the melamed told the father what was transpiring.
The villager proposed that each week the melamed would test the boy in his presence. In his hand he took a thick stick, assuming correctly that this would motivate his son.
“What is under the alef,” the melamed asked the boy, his finger on the vowelized letter.
“A pasach” the boy answered.
“What is under the gimmel?” the melamed asked further, pointing at another letter.
“A segol,” the boy answered.
“And under the hei?” The melamed asked further.
“I am not telling,” the boy said.
“Say immediately!” The father firmly instructed, lifting the stick.
“But father….,” the frightened boy stammered, “I should say?”
“Say!” yelled the father.
“Under the hay is the calf my father stole from the neighbor,” the boy revealed. (Like in English, the Yiddish word for hay is pronounced the same as the letter hei.)
This tale was used by Harav Chanoch Henoch, the Rebbe of Alexander, zy”a, in a somewhat different context and subsequently published in Chassidim Mesaprim, by Harav Leibel Levin, z”l.
It came to mind after the Knesset voted on Wednesday to apply criminal sanctions against full-time yeshivah students who don’t enlist in the army.
The politicians in the Knesset who voted for this atrocious piece of legislation, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, willfully ignored the fact that the army neither wants nor needs chareidim, and that in the United States and other western countries, even when a universal draft existed during wartime, Rabbinical students received deferments.
Though many of the immediate implications of this law are deeply troubling in and of themselves, the criminal sanctions won’t take effect for another four years.
Even more troubling is what lies under this law.
For within this putrid haystack isn’t a hidden stolen calf, but a barely disguised feverish attempt at social engineering, at getting chareidim to abandon their cherished way of life, one that Jews have faithfully practiced since we stood at Har Sinai.
May Hashem have mercy on our nation.