A great master, Zusiya, went to suffer the exile in Germany. He came to a city of Reform Jews. When they saw his ways, they mocked him and thought he was crazy. When he came into the synagogue, some of them poked fun at him, and when the children saw their parents ridiculing him, they thought he was crazy and began to pull at him and tug at his belt. Then he beckoned to the children and said, “My dear children, gather round and I will tell you something.” The children thought he would show them a trick. They all stood around him and he in the middle. And he said to them, “My dear children, look well at me, do not take your eyes off me.”
The children, because they thought he was going to show them something, looked steadily at him and he also looked steadily at each child separately. After that he told them to go home.
When the children came home and were given their food, they refused to eat. One said that the meat must not be eaten. Another asked how one could eat unclean meat. And so all the children refused to eat. They said the dishes were unclean and the food was unclean.
Then, as women do, one went to another and told her that all of a sudden her son came home from the prayer house and refused to eat; whatever was given to him, he said it was unclean. Then her neighbor said that her son too refused to eat and shouted that everything was unclean and that one could not pray in her house because her hair was uncovered. Then another neighbor came in and also told such things about her son – the whole town was amazed! Then they each learned that their sons were not the only ones who suddenly became pious. They said that the visitor whom they had ridiculed and thought crazy was none other than a saint. By looking at the children, he had instilled in them something of his being. The parents became afraid that they had shamed him and went to beg his forgiveness.
Zusiya laughed and forgave them all. He wanted to look in their eyes too, but they escaped as fast as they could.
In this beautiful anecdote, what happened? The children were innocent. They were ready to look into the eyes of this strange master. They became connected! For a moment they were lost into the vastness of the master; for a moment the master flowed in them. There was a meeting and a merging, a communion.
Just looking in their eyes for a few moments, something was transferred – the purity of the man, the holiness of the man. Something of his being spilled into the eyes of the children. They were no more the same. Their vision changed.
But the grown-ups escaped. They were afraid to look into the eyes of the master. What was their fear? They were cunning, clever, knowledgeable. They must have thought, “It is a kind of hypnosis or something. This man is a magician or something.” They must have thought of a thousand and one things: “The time is not ripe for us. We cannot go on this faraway journey. The moment has not come. We will have to wait. We have to do a thousand and one other things, then….”
They were not innocent. Even their apology was out of cunningness; it was not out of love and understanding. They were afraid: if the man is so strange and powerful, he may do something wrong to them. Hence the apology. Not out of understanding, not out of humbleness, but out of fear.
But the children? – they simply got in tune with the master!