Never Speaking of Worldly Matters

Martin Buber Tales of the Hasidim: The Early Masters translated by Olga Marx (New York: Schocken Books, 1947) pp. 216-217

When Rabbi Levi Yitsak came to Nikolsburg to visit Rabbi Shmelke who had taught him the way of fervor when he was young, and whom he had not seen in a long time, he went into the kitchen, covered with his prayer shawl and with double phylacteries on his forehead, and asked Rabbi Shmelke's wife -- on this very first morning -- what dishes were being prepared for the noonday meal. His question, though rather surprising, was answered. Then he went on to ask whether the cooks had really mastered their art, and other things of the same sort. Rabi Shmelke's disciples, who heard of this, took him for a veritable glutton. He, however, now entered the House of Prayer and -- while the congregation prayed -- began to talk to an utterly insignificant man, despised by all, on quite unimportant worldly subjects, as those standing near could determine. One of the disciples could not bear to observe such behavior any longer and said roughly to the stranger: "Silence! Idle chatter is forbidden here!" But the rabbi of Berditchev paid no attention to him and continued his conversation.

At the midday meal, Rabbi Shmelke greeted him joyfully, bade him sit at his side, and ate from the same bowl as he. His disciples, who had heard of the curious manners of the visitor, marked these signs of favor and friendship with sullen surprise. When the meal was over, one of them could no longer suppress his annoyance and asked his master why he showered honors on so empty-headed and impudent a man who had behaved in such and such a way. The zaddik replied: "In the Gemara we read: 'Rab (Abba Areka), for all the days of his life never spoke of worldly matters.' Is this praise not strange? Does it indicate that the other masters spent their time in wordly talk? Can nothing worthier be told of Rab? The meaning is this: Whatever worldly affairs he discussed with people in the course of the day, each of his words was, in reality, filled with secret significance and a secret purpose, and made itself felt in the higher world; and his spirit remained steadfast in such service all day long. That is why our sages have accorded him praise of which none other was found worthy. what others could do for only three hours, after which they sank from this level, he could do throughout the day. And the same is true of Rabbi Levi Yitzak. what I can do for only three hours, he can do the whole day through: concentrate his spirit, so that it makes itself felt in the world of Heaven, even with talk which men consider idle."
Being neither devout nor agnostic, I still find this story enlightening. It shows a path of being present in the delivery of words and equally attentive in the hearing.

And so for day 1000