In the shtetl of Vaysechvoos, Jewish boys are like Jewish boys everywhere. They start their education with a taste of honey from the pages of Chumash (pentateuch) when they are four years sole. By the time they are either, they are already studying Gemara (rabbinical commentary).
Nine-year-old Yonkel protested to his father. He pointed out that Sascha, the sona of a peasant family that lived at the edge of the shtetl, didn’t have to go to school. He got to work with his father on the job, Yonkel was not allowed to enter his father’s trade. Instead, it as cheder every day. Sascha went to school, too, but his school only lasted a half day except during the planting or harvest or when the snow was too deep.
“Papa,” began Yonkel, “Why can’t I work with you like Sascha works with his father?”
“Because,” answered the father, “Your work is to go to school, to be in cheder every day, to learn the laws of our people.”
“But,” protested, Yonkel, “I’m not going to be a lawyer. I’m not going to be a rabbi. I’m going to be a shoemaker like you.”
“Surely, if you study Torah and learn the Talmud, you’ll be a good shoemaker like me.”
“But,” said Yonkel, “I not only have to go to cheder which lasts twice as long, I have the same shores as Sascha and less time to play. Why is that we Jews must study twice as much to live half as well?”
“Because,” said this father, “When the Almighty fashioned our nation, He knew how proud we were, so He made us less intelligent. Now, there are some wicked Jews who will tell you that we are wiser, but you are old enough to know the sorry fact that all Gentiles are more intelligent than us. Because we are so stupid, we have to study twice as hard.
“Furthermore, the Almighty gave us not the same religion, but a complex religion because, as a people, we are so clumsy and awkward that if we tried to live as Gentiles do, even our rabbis would be only shoemakers and us shoemakers wouldn’t be intelligent enough to be bath attendants.”
“But,” protested Yonkel, “If we are such a stupid people, why then does everyone say that we are intelligent?”
“Ah.” said the father, “Because besides blessing us with plainness, the Almighty has put upon us the illusion so that when others see us, we appear to be wise.”