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The Holy Fool (a short Russian Rabbinic tale)

During a talk for Biologos about the relationship between faith and science, Dr. Richard Mouw tells a compelling story that was first told to him by a Russian Rabbi run relation to the proper interpretation of Genesis 1 (Mouw told the story in the context of how some Christians debate whether the world is relatively young, as a literal interpretation of the text would seem to infer, or very old, as science shows).

Here’s my edited paraphrase of Mouw’s words;

“A Russian Rabbi once told me that there are a series of stories in Russian Judaism…. about the ‘holy fool’ in a community; they call him ‘Zushya’.

Zushya is kind of a crazy person and people don’t quite know what to make of him, but every once in a while he has a deep spiritual insight that you have to learn from.

The Zushya stories are what on occasion we need to hear from the seeming craziness of the ‘holy fool’. So here’s one of the Zushya stories that I found memorable.

The chief rabbi in a certain region was beginning to take a group of young rabbinic scholars through the books of Moses as part of the first stage of their rabbinic training. It’s going to take several years. So they are gathered in this room and the Rabbi is going to start with Genesis 1:1, and all of a sudden Zushya walks into the room and stands off to the side. The young rabbinic students get nervous, “What’s he doing here? What’s going to happen? I hope he doesn’t do something crazy.” Then the Chief Rabbi begins to read the text, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said…” And at that point Zushya started to yell and dance and chant and jump around, and he just when on and on dancing in ecstasy. And then, after a couple of minutes. he stopped and walked out of the room. The rabbinic students were nervously laughing to themselves and thinking that they were glad that was over. But then the Chief Rabbi spoke, “Don’t laugh at him, he got it all at once. It’s going to take you years to go through the books of Moses and learn what he got all at once. Because for him, the whole of the scriptures is this, ‘And God said…’ The primary message of Genesis 1 is that God speaks!"

Mouw went on to comment, “This is not a silent universe. We have a God who has spoken.”

"By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible." Hebrews 11:3, NIV

(If you want to hear the story from Mouw's lips you can find it at 50:50 in this video).

Image - Surikov_VI Boyarinya Morozova Holy Fool 1887 GTG

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