Beard Wearing

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Listen to this conversation.

Jehudah: Shalom!

Reuven: Shalom gam attah!

Jehudah: Hey! What have you done? Where's your beard?

Reuven: Shaven off.

Jehudah: What! Shaven off? Don't you know that wearing a beard is a duty?

Reuven: Yes; at least, I always have been thinking so. But now I see matters somewhat different. I no longer think that having a beard is a duty. I think one is at liberty to wear a beard, or to have none.

Jehudah: How so?

Reuven: Let me tell you my story, that happened to me six days ago.

Early in the morning I intended to settle myself to read the Scriptures according to my custom. And then, Jehudah, I turned up the fifth chapter of the prophet Ezekiel. I read the first verse:

And thou, son of man, take thee a sharp knife, take thee a barber's razor, and cause it to pass upon thine head and upon thy beard.

When I had read this I was put in great amazement. I thought in myself: Lord! Haven't Thou forbidden this to Israel, after all? Leviticus 19:27:

Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard.

And in particular since Ezekiel was a priest. And he wasn't allowed to let it carry out by another, but he was commanded to perform it by his own hands. Yet I find here that he was commanded to shave off his beard. How would this astonish Israel, to see their prophet and teacher walk around without a beard; which was expressly forbidden by Moses. Even larger was my astonishment at the prophet Ezekiel himself, that he was at once satisfied with this order. And that he had no word to bring in against it, like had happened earlier to him, when the Lord commanded him in Ezekiel 4:12:

And thou shalt eat it as barley cakes, and thou shalt bake it with dung that cometh out of man, in their sight.

 For then he answered and said, verse 14:

Ah Lord GOD! behold, my soul hath not been polluted: for from my youth up even till now have I not eaten of that which dieth of itself, or is torn in pieces; neither came there abominable flesh into my mouth.

But here I find nothing recorded of that kind of objections; not even a single word, that he would have brought in against it even the smallest objection. After all, both the one and the other is a ban of the Lord! Yes, this was more offensive than the former. For the above-mentioned event he could have performed more secretly, while this one had to become public for all Israel. And this could give the people an opportunity to ridicule and slander him. Would a prophet and teacher in Israel do such a thing? That's why I already would think, that this would have occurred to him while he was asleep. And that this was not actually performed by him. But then I would be obliged to suppose this also in respect of the command, chapter 4:12, "and thou shalt eat it as barley cakes, and thou shalt bake it with dung that cometh out of man, in their sight." Nevertheless I wasn't content with that solution.

While I was thus reasoning in my astonishment, there came into my heart violent palpitations. It was to me as if my heart cried to me, and as if it admonished me with the same words, which were spoken to the prophet. "And thou, son of man, take thee a sharp knife, take thee a barber's razor, and cause it to pass upon thine head and upon thy beard." I wanted to fight against that, according as my depraved nature involved. But I had no rest nor peace. Every moment other reproving words came up in me. Sometimes: "how long will you not hear to My words?" Then: "how long will you wish to be bound to the law, and not die to it?" And so on. Because of anxiety I fell on my knees before the Lord, and said: O Lord! What wilt Thou that I shall do? But the above-mentioned words knocked again at the door of my heart. "And thou, son of man, take thee a sharp knife, take thee a barber's razor, and cause it to pass upon thine head and upon thy beard." Because of these words again knocking I had to cry out: "Oh Lord! Strengthen me then, that I may have power and strength, to fight against my evil heart, to deny myself, to obey Thine holy will, and to perform it. I have need of help, o Lord! Such a thing can never take place through my own strength." And so on. I stood up and took the scissors (which I had bought in the shop of Mr. Brierd) in my right hand, and I began to shave off my bears with trembling and shivering hand. Here I would have, dear Jehudah, a wide field to give a description thereof. But that is impossible for me. And I will not busy myself with that. Without enlarging myself hereon, these following few words will be enough. I saw my pale and deadly startled face before my eyes in the mirror. I imagined myself that I would look thus, when I once would have died. This brought me fright after fright. Many a time the scissors fell out my trembling hand because of the unutterable fear. Oh! What a struggle was that! I spent two hours in this way, until I had sufficiently shaven off my beard. Then my heart began to calm down a little, and to be still. I went to sleep and to rest for an hour. After I was woken up I knew nothing to say of my previous anxiety. I took the scissors again, and corrected the imperfections caused by my trembling hand. After this I found rest in my heart. I thanked the Lord for His help and aid, which He had given to me, a miserable earthworm, and that He had helped me until now, and strengthened me in my weakness, and because He would help me further. And oh! That I might be granted to believe always and in every circumstance, that He desires to help, and can help. And that I might put my trust in Him only.

This is the story, Jehudah. I hope you understand why I have shaven off my beard.

Jehudah: I understand. From the behaviour of the pious prophet Ezekiel, it appears that there is no obligation to wear a beard.

Reuven. So it is.





This story, as told by Reuven, is a true story. It happened to Christian Salomon Duytsch, who lived from 1734 until 1795. He was a Jewish rabbi in Hungary, began a large wandering to seek the truth, ended up in the Netherlands, became a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church, and died there. This true story is translated from his biography, called The Miraculous Direction of God (reprinted many times, still available).


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