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Parshas Mishpatim (5774)

Riddles for Yiddles

This week I would like to try something different. I will share with you “yiddles” (yiddle is an endearing term for a Yid, a Jew) three different riddles you can try on your friends, each with a simple but profound message.

Riddle #1 “Three Frogs on a Log”

Three frogs are sitting on a log. One decides to jump off. How many are left?

Three. The frog made a decision to jump off the log but took no action.

Sound familiar? Ah, indeed there is a notable difference between deciding to do something and actually doing it. It is relatively easy to decide to do something, but to translate that decision into real action is a whole different story.

It is interesting to note that the brain, where all decisions are made, and the legs, which represent action, are so distant from each other, on opposite ends of the body.

The Online Etymology Dictionary writes that the word decide comes from the Latin decidere "to decide, determine," literally "to cut off," from de- "off" (see de-) + caedere "to cut" (see -cide).

This suggests that when one decides on one option, he is, in effect, “cutting off” all his other options, which may be the underlying reason why it is often so difficult to act on a decision.

Riddle # 2 “Ten Birds on the Roof”

Ten birds were sitting on the roof. Along came four hunters and shot at the birds, killing four of them. How many were left on the roof?

Four. Since the guns made a loud noise, six of the birds were scared and flew away. The only birds that were left on the roof were the four birds that were shot dead.

This riddle from the Ben Ish Chai, in his commentary to Parshas Mishpatim, serves to illustrate a fundamental Torah truth regarding the mitzvah to give tzedakah (charity) to the poor (see Exodus 22:24).

A person who gives tzedakah mistakenly thinks that the money that he gives away is lost from him forever – just like those four dead birds that will never come back – and that all that he has left for himself is the remaining money that is still in his possession – represented by the six birds that didn’t die.

The Torah teaches us that just the opposite is true. The only money that one truly “has” is the money he gives away, as he is assured a great reward for this mitzvah in Olam Haba, the World to Come. The rest of his money sitting in his bank account he doesn’t truly “own”, since there is absolutely no guarantee that he or his family will end up benefitting from it in the future.

Riddle # 3 “The Three Friends”

Three friends agreed on a unique plan. Each would travel to a different land, in order to acquire a special knowledge found only in that country. The three did as they promised; and after several years of intensive study, they returned home and met once again.

The first friend learned how to construct a telescope that could see over great distances. The second learned how to build a machine that could travel speedy fast. And the third friend learned about a miracle medicine that could heal many types of diseases.

The first friend pulled out his telescope to show the others how it worked, and began to describe what he saw. He could see a far-away town, and he saw people running, looking very upset. As he described the happenings in the town, the friends decided that apparently an important person in the town had fallen ill, and the local doctors were unable to cure him. The second friend then got his speedy machine ready, and together with the third friend, who had his medicine with him, they rode to the faraway town.

There they discovered that the king's daughter was deathly ill. The third friend gave her the medicine and succeeded in healing her.

The king was beside himself with joy. "I want to reward you," the king announced. "And the reward is to marry my daughter. But she can only marry one of you; which one is most deserving?"

Each friend argued that he was the most deserving. "Without my telescope," argued the first friend, "we would not have even known that she was sick." "But without my machine," interjected the second, "we would have arrived too late to save her." "And without my medicine," said the third, "you would not have been able to help the princess." The friends were at an impasse. Then the princess herself spoke up.

Which of the three friends did the princess choose to marry?

The friend with the miracle medicine. "It is true," she reasoned, "in terms of the past, each of you contributed a critical part in my rescue. But if we consider the future, then it becomes clear who is most important to me." The princess explained. "Will the telescope and the speedy machine be important for me in the future? Probably not. But seeing as I have become weak and frail from my illness, I will likely be in need of the man with the medicine for quite some time. Therefore his part is greatest, and it is he that I will marry."

This riddle (from the Dubno Maggid) teaches an important Torah lesson:

The Torah states: "Every man: Your mother and father shall you revere and My Sabbaths shall you observe – I am G-d your L-ord" (Leviticus 19:3).

What does observing the Sabbath have to do with revering parents? The Sages explained: "Although I have admonished you to revere your father, nevertheless, if he tells you to desecrate the Sabbath, do not listen to him. And this is also the case with all the other commandments." (Bava Metzia 32a; Rashi)

But why do other commandments override revering our parents (which is itself a commandment)?

The Dubno Maggid uses the above riddle to explain why G-d’s commandments take precedence. The Sages teach in Kiddushin 30b that each baby is created from three "partners" – the mother, the father, and G-d (who implants his soul). But this equal partnership is only in terms of the past. In terms of the future, the first two partners, his mother and father, became less important over time, as the child grows and becomes more independent. A person, however, will always need G-d to provide his needs. For this reason, revering God and keeping His commandments overrides revering our parents.

[Ed. Note: This third riddle was adapted from the website: and is based on a parable of the Dubno Maggid in Mishlei Yaakov, pp. 244-245]

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