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Two Men and a Chimney

a retelling of a Jewish parable

A young man went to a Rabbi and said, "I wish to study Talmud."

The Rabbi asked, "Do you know Hebrew or Aramaic?"

"No," replied the young man, "But I wish to study anyway."

"Have you studied Torah?"

"No, but I graduated summa cum laude from Berkeley with a philosophy degree, and got my master's from Harvard. I'd just like to study Talmud to round out my education."

The Rabbi looked the young man in the eye for a moment, then said, "I do not believe you are ready to study Talmud. But I will give you a test, and if you pass I will teach you.

"First question: Two men came down a chimney. One had a clean face, the other had a dirty face. Which one washed his face?"

"That's easy," said the young man, "The man with the dirty face."

"Wrong," said the Rabbi. "The man with the dirty face saw the man with the clean face, and assumed his face was clean as well. The man with the clean face saw the other man's dirty face. He assumed his face was dirty as well. The man with the clean face washed his face."

"Very clever," said the young man. "I see how this works."

"Next question: Two men came down a chimney. One had a clean face, the other had a dirty face. Which one washed his face?"

"That's easy. You already answered it: The man with the clean face," the young man replied confidently.

"Wrong. They both washed their faces. After the man with the dirty face saw the man with the clean face wash, he washed his face as well.

"Next question: Two men came down a chimney. One had a clean face, the other had a dirty face. Which one washed his face?"

The young man hesitated before answering, "They both washed their faces, I think."

"Wrong," said the Rabbi. "Neither one washed his face. The man with the clean face saw that the man with the dirty face did not wash his face, so he did not wash his either."

The young man said, "This is more difficult than I thought."

"Next question: Two men came down a chimney. One had a clean face, the other had a dirty face. Which one washed his face?"

"I do not know," answered the young man.

"Now you are ready to learn," said the Rabbi. "What you should have said is, 'How could two men come down the same chimney, and one stays clean while the other gets dirty?' The whole question is foolishness. If you spend your life answering foolish questions, you will end up with foolish answers."

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