I was jogging in Jerusalem on Rehov Yaffo on Saturday night when I was harassed by a hasid. Well, I’m not sure if it was really harassment proper (by which I mean harassment improper), but it was an unwelcome comment. The man, who was wearing a long robe and a streimel, called out to me, “Why do you have to do this here? Where are you running to?” grunting disapprovingly. I was modestly dressed in long pants (to the extent that pants can be modest) and a long-sleeved T-shirt, and I even had my hair braided underneath a kerchief. And yet my presence still disturbed him.
I was about to quote to him from Pirkei Avot and ask him why he was talking to a woman (which is discouraged by R. Yossi ben Yochanan), but I had a better idea. Having recently completed a masechet of the Talmud, I knew by heart the formula for the Hadran, the prayer traditionally recited upon completing a significant unit of text study. Much of this prayer compares “us” to “them” – “we” study Torah, while “they” engage in idle pursuits:
*We express gratitude to you, God, that You have established our portion with those who dwell in the study house, and have not established our portion with idlers. For we arise early and they arise early; we arise early for words of Torah, while they arise early for idle words. We toil and they toil; we toil and receive a reward, while they toil and do not receive reward. We run and they run; we run to the life of the World to Come, while they run to the Well of Destruction.*
“To the Well of Destruction” in Hebrew is “l’ve’er shachat,” which is what I hollered over my shoulder to the Hasid who asked me to where I was running. I wish I could have seen his face, and I wonder if he shared this story when he arrived, surely less breathless, in the World to Come.