The Rabbi of Chelm
(Adapted from various folktales)
WORKERS 1, 2 & 3
Scene: Stage right there a synagogue in which RABBI made his office and space for worship. In the synagogue is found a desk, chair and lectern, facing two rows of seats. A bespectacled RABBI is seated at desk with a large book, studying contents. Center stage is a house with a long table for eating with bowls and spoons enough for 11 places, a chair for sitting, a fireplace and a bed downstage big enough for FARMER and FARMER’S WIFE. Stage left is the outskirts of town. Here, men are busy digging, carrying rocks, etc. to construct the new synagogue.
Enter stage left, FARMER. In house already are FARMER’S WIFE, GRANDMOTHER, GRANDFATHER, SEVEN CHILDREN, and BABY in a CRIB, being carried around house by two of the SEVEN CHILDREN.
FARMER sits down to eat dinner with family. Various members are yelling, GRANDFATHER snores on through racket, other members laugh, others fight, and baby cries. WIFE attends to baby. GRANDMOTHER chases children. FARMER is visibly perturbed.
FARMER: It is too noisy in here! I want quiet!
EVERYONE stands in montage for a beat, then continues what they were doing, at TWICE the volume.
FARMER stands up, visibly discouraged, and walks out the door, stage RIGHT.
FARMER: I will visit the Rabbi and see if he can bring peace to this house. The Lord knows I can’t!
FARMER walks to synagogue, knocks on door.
RABBI: Yes? Please enter!
FARMER: Rabbi, Rabbi, excuse me for disturbing you; I realize you are busy with the plans for the new synagogue, but I have a question for you.
RABBI: (gently) Well, what is it?
FARMER: Rabbi, Rabbi, my house is full of people. It is too noisy! Tell me what to do!
RABBI: (closing his eyes and stroking his beard in thought). Here is what you do. Bring your rooster and your chickens into your house.
FARMER: That is a funny thing to do.
RABBI: Do you want to solve your problem or do you want to debate points of comedy? Take it or leave it. I have work to do (gesturing to his desk).
FARMER: Yes, Rabbi. Of course. The rooster.
RABBI: And the chickens.
FARMER: And the chickens.
FARMER races back to his house, grabs rooster and chickens from back yard, and brings them into the house.
WIFE: Dear, WHAT are you doing?
FARMER: Do not worry, my love. It is for our own good. The Rabbi said as much.
FARMER sets rooster and chicken loose in house and sits down to soup. Same ruckus as before, with added noise of rooster crowing and chickens clucking.
FARMER: (Throws down spoon) It’s STILL too noisy in here!
Brief montage as before and then noise commences. FARMER rises and saunters back to synagogue. RABBI has taken a seat outside synagogue, whittling wood or some other activity.
FARMER: Rabbi, Rabbi, I have done what you asked. I put the rooster and the chickens in the house. But the noise – it is worse than ever!
RABBI: (Without looking up from his woodworking) Then you must put your horses and your sheep in the house.
FARMER: (repeating Rabbi) Horses and sheep in the house.
RABBI: (stops abruptly) Take it or leave it.
FARMER: (More confused than ever but turning to leave, still facing RABBI) Take it…or….leave….it.
FARMER returns to house, fetches horse and sheep and herds them indoors. MOTHER has incredulous look on her face.
WIFE: Now what? Don’t tell me –
FARMER: Yes, the Rabbi said so.
FARMER lets horse and sheep loose in house and sits down to warm himself by the fireplace. Same ruckus as before with added noise of horse whinnying and sheep baaing.
WIFE: (To FARMER over his shoulder) And how is this helping, please explain?
FARMER: (Sighs and stands up). It is STILL too noisy!
With slow, discouraged steps, FARMER returns to RABBI, who at this point is gardening a plot, hoe in hand, outside the synagogue.
RABBI: (Now looking up from his row of radishes and feigning surprise) You are back!
FARMER: (Ignoring RABBI) Noise! Noise! Noise! I cannot stand it anymore!
RABBI: Now, your donkey and your cow.
FARMER: What was that again, dear Rabbi? I am going deaf, I think, from the noise. I thought I heard you say, “Donkey and cow.”
RABBI: (Looking up from garden) In fact, you did hear me say that. Let me say it again. (More slowly this time) Now put your donkey and your cow in the house.
FARMER scratches his head, shrugs and walks back to house with look of resignation.
FARMER: Well, I can’t be any more crazy than I am already.
RABBI hears FARMER talking to himself and laughs silently to himself. FATHER returns home and brings donkey (who fights him the whole way) and cow in house.
WIFE: Let me guess.
FARMER and WIFE: The Rabbi said so.
Again, FARMER takes seat by fire. Ruckus as usual, with added sounds of cow and donkey. In utter despair now, Father stands, walks over to his soup, which has grown cold, and then surveys the chaos in the room. He retires to his bed where WIFE is already fast asleep. Ruckus continues (LIGHTS OUT) until morning (LIGHTS ON) and sound of rooster perched on bestead wakes WIFE. FARMER hasn’t slept a wink. FARMER drags himself from bed, takes another look at ruckus, still in a white heat from night before, and drags his feet from house over to synagogue, where the RABBI is poring over plans for new synagogue.
FARMER: (Yawns, stretches, irritable) Rabbi, Rabbi! My house is like a barn! I cannot stand it!
RABBI: (Turns and feigns surprise at FARMER’s appearance) Oh, my good man. Here is what to do. (Looks around to see if anyone else is hearing the great demonstration of wisdom he is about to impart to FARMER). Take all the animals out of the house.
FARMER waits a beat – for it to sink in – and runs home and one by one removes the barnyard animals from the house – chickens, rooster, donkey (still fighting), sheep, horse, & cow, almost putting GRANDMOTHER out with them, until he realizes what he’s doing. After returning to the house with GRANDMOTHER, he sits down before the hearth. Same ruckus as before – without animal noises. Manipulate to show it is not quite as noisy as the last scene. GRANDPARENTS dancing; some children playing; others fighting; etc. All activity takes place within arm’s length of FARMER, a contented smile on his face.
FARMER: (Standing) Let us all take breakfast out in the pasture today.
FARMER’s family exits stage left. During the previous scene, WORKER 1, WORKER 2, and WORKER 3 return with shovels, digging foundation for new synagogue, and MRS. DISHER takes up her position lower stage right, just in hearing of WORKERS.
WORKER 1 suddenly stops digging. Straightens his back with a groan and suddenly strokes his beard in thought.
WORKER 1: (To no one in particular) What are we going to do with all this earth we’re digging up?
WORKER 2 (Suddenly stops digging). I never thought about that. (Turning to WORKER 3). What, indeed, are we going to do with this dirt?
WORKER 3: (Now no longer working either, but stroking his beard in thought): Ah! I know. We weill make a pit and into it we’ll put all this earth we’re digging up for our synagogue.
WORKER 1: But wait a minute. That doesn’t solve the problem at all. What will we do with the earth from that second pit?
WORKERS dumfounded for a moment – then in moment of inspiration WORKER 2 puts a finger up.
WORKER 2: I’ll tell you what. We dig another pit, twice as big as the first, and into it we’ll shovel all the earth we’re digging now and all the earth from the first pit!
WORKER 1 and WORKER 3 congratulate him and return to their digging with WORKER 2.
MRS. FISHER and MRS. LISHER enter stage left. MRS. DISHER turns to MRS. FISHER and MRS. LISHER as they walk by. After a while, WORKERS exit stage right.
MRS. DISHER: Well, did you ever hear of such bumble-headed foolery?
MRS. LISHER looks at MRS. FISHER and both nod to one another.
MRS. LISHER: What is it now, Mrs. Disher?
MRS. DISHER: Well, I was just about to tell you, Mrs. Lisher. But it seems you’re not interested in what I have to say, so perhaps I’ll tell about the lunacy coming from the mouths of these men instead to Mrs. Fisher.
MRS. FISHER: It may come as a surprise to you, Mrs. Disher, that neither Mrs. Lisher, nor myself (gesturing to the rest of the village) nor Mrs. Hisher, Mrs. Bisher, Mrs. Kisher, Mrs. Pisher, Mrs. Gisher nor Mrs. Epstein, have any interest in your latest gossip. So we bid you a good day, Mrs. Disher.
(MRS. FISHER AND MRS. LISHER exit stage left.)
MRS. DISHER (brought to the point of tears) Oh, why is it no one will speak to me anymore?
RABBI: (Overhearing Mrs. Disher) Were you talking to me, Mrs. Disher?
MRS. DISHER: Oh, Rabbi, Rabbi! Why is it no one wants to hear my gossip anymore?
RABBI: (With tape measure out, measuring desk, podium, etc.) Well, perhaps you’ve answered your own question, Mrs. Disher.
MRS. DISHER: (Suddenly contrite at realization of RABBI’s words) It’s true then. I’ve heard rumors. But now you stand here and tell me to my face that I am a gossip?
RABBI: (Gentle bit firm) Which is more, my good woman, than you’ve done for anyone else here in Chelm.
MRS. DISHER: Oh, Rabbi! Rabbi! What shall I do? How can I change my ways?
RABBI: Ah, it is not for me to change your ways – but you must want to change them yourself.
MRS. DISHER: Oh, I do! I do! What should I do first?
RABBI: First, you must buy me a chicken.
MRS. DISHER: (Taken up short) How’s that again?
RABBI: Go down to the market and buy a chicken. Do it as quickly as possible, and return to the synagogue. On your way, pluck off every single feather from the chicken as you run back. Not a single feather should remain. Do you understand?
Nodding, MRS. DISHER runs off at once, exit left, and a few moments later returns in a run, entering exit left, throwing chicken feathers everywhere plucked from a rubber chicken. MRS. DISHER hands bare chicken to RABBI.
MRS. DISHER: Here you are, Rabbi. Just as you asked.
RABBI: (Taking the chicken from MRS. DISHER) Oh, you’re not done yet. Now, you must go back and pick up every single one of the feathers you dropped along the way to the synagogue.
MRS. DISHER: (Dumbfounded) But…but….but that’s impossible. The wind must have carried every single feather all the way into the next kibbutz by now. I could never recover every single one of those feathers as you ask.
RABBI: (Returning to his measuring the furniture) That’s true. And that’s how it is with gossip. One rumor can fly to many corners, and how could you retrieve it? Better not to speak gossip in the first place, it seems to me…
MRS. DISHER: (Burying her face in her hands, sobbing) Oh, Rabbi, what shall I do now?
RABBI: Well, I would start by asking for the forgiveness of your neighbors here in Chelm.
MRS. DISHER: Yes, Rabbi. I will. Right away. (She turns to leave, but stops.) Well, all except for Mrs. Lisher. You know, of course, what I heard is that she’s…
RABBI: (With one hand wagging his finger and with the other holding out a feather, letting it drop). Uh uh uhhhh…. Remember. Feathers. (He lets it drop and they both watch it fall to the ground.)
MRS. DISHER: Yes, of course, Rabbi. All my neighbors.
(As MRS. DISHER exits stage left, WORKER 1, WORKER 2, and WORKER 3, enter stage right, carrying heavy loads on their backs.)
RABBI: Ah, my good men, these must be the rocks for the mortar?
WORKER 1: They are indeed, Rabbi. Where do you want them – over here?
RABBI: Oh, my kind sir, did it not occur to you that you could have rolled these rocks, so large and round as they are, rolled them, I say, down the mountain from which you retrieved them. How much simpler it would have been for you!
WORKER 1 (scratching his head and then looking at WORKER 2 and WORKER 3, nods): And that, Rabbi, is why you are the Rabbi and we are not! Thank you, Rabbi. By my grandmother’s hat pin! That is a most excellent idea!
At signal from WORKER 1, WORKERS turn on their heels, and begin returning in the direction from which they came, rocks still on their shoulders.
RABBI: (With a look of disbelief, pushing his spectacles up on his forehead) Wait, my good sir. What about the rocks?
WORKER 1: Oh, don’t fear. We have them snug. They won’t get away from us – at least not until we get them back to the mountain top to give them the big roll down. (Laughing with other WORKERS) Thanks again, Rabbi – you’re a real lifesaver!
(WORKERS exit stage right and RABBI shakes his head. He then begins a search for his eyeglasses which are still perched atop his head – searches podium, desk, behind desk, behind podium, etc.)
RABBI: Where are my glasses? (Then, straightening up into formal posture as if about to deliver a lecture.) Indeed, where are my glasses. (More formally still) Let us assume they were taken by someone. They were taken either by someone who needs glasses or by someone who doesn’t need glasses. If it was someone who needs glasses, he has glasses; and if it was someone who doesn’t need glasses, then why should he take them?
(RABBI looks around room again before returning to formal lecture posture again.)
Very well. Suppose we assume they were taken by someone who planned to sell them for gain. Either he sells them to one who needs glasses, or to one who doesn’t need glasses. But one who needs glasses has glasses, and one who doesn’t need them, surely doesn’t want to buy them . . . So much for that.
(RABBI looks around again, this time, in other places, under the door, under the desk, etc. before again returning to his formal lecture posture.)
Therefore . . . this is a problem involving one who needs glasses and has glasses, one who either took someone else’s because he lost his own, or who absentmindedly pushed his own up from his nose to his forehead and promptly forgot all about them!
(Pause a half a beat.)
For instance . . . me!
(Triumphantly, RABBI sweeps thumb to forehead, signaling the end of his lecture and the recovery of his spectacles in one gesture.)
Praised be the Lord, I am trained in our ancient manner of reasoning. Otherwise I would never have found them!