Recrafted with permission of the author, Francis Dorff, O. Praem, of the Norbertine Community of Alberquerque, New Mexico, from his story, "The Rabbi's Gift," which is copyrighted by The New Catholic World magazine.
Mr. Cohen was the teacher of the most quarrelsome third grade class you could ever imagine. The kids in that class argued about everything. They argued about who should stand in front of the lunch line. They argued about what games to play during recess. They argued about who was the best reader in the class. And if Mr. Cohen asked them whether it was sunny or rainy outside, they even argued about that!
Mr. Cohen was at his wits' end. There was so much arguing going on that no one was learning anything. When they tried to do multiplication problems, Janie and Stan argued about whether "two times two" was the same as "two plus two," or not. When it was time for spelling, Carmen and Ling began to quibble about who should get the first turn in the spelling bee. In music class, Carlos and Beth each tried to grab the tambourine and Carlos ended up in the nurse's office when the tambourine hit him on the head.
Mr. Cohen tried everything. He promised the class an ice cream party if they could get through just one day without an argument. No sooner had he made this offer than Charles and Bobby began to argue about whether they should get chocolate chip ice cream or cookie dough.
Mr. Cohen threatened the kids. He told them he'd send anyone who was arguing to the principal's office. That didn't work either. The principal, Mrs. Sanchez, pulled Mr. Cohen aside at lunch time and politely but firmly told him that 15 students in one morning was quite enough, thank you, and she hoped to be able to get some work done that afternoon.
Mr. Cohen called parents. He tried very politely asking the kids to stop. He kept the class in at recess. Nothing worked. There was only thing left to do. Mr. Cohen went to his synagogue on the Sabbath and prayed. His rabbi noticed his look of despair and went to sit by him. The rabbi listened to Mr. Cohen's tale of the most difficult, argumentative third grade class in history. When she had heard it all, she simply said, "Stay home from work on Monday, and leave it to me."
That Monday, the kids walked into their classroom and found the rabbi sitting at Mr. Cohen's desk. Of course, they immediately began to argue about whether Mr. Cohen was sick or whether Mrs. Sanchez had finally gotten so tired of the steady stream of arguing children that showed up at her office every day that she'd fired him.
The rabbi sat and listened. She didn't yell or try to interrupt them. She didn't plead or scold. She simply sat quietly at Mr. Cohen's desk. After a while the kids began to wonder what was going on. The arguments gradually died down as the kids watched the rabbi to see what would happen next.
When the classroom was finally quiet, the rabbi slowly stood up. "Mr. Cohen will not be here today. I am your substitute teacher but I have only one thing to teach you. Listen carefully for I will not repeat it."
The kids were too surprised to argue. The rabbi's voice rang out in the stunned silence. "Last night in my dreams, God told me a messiah is among you."
(Leader: Ask, "What do you suppose happened next?" Wait until someone says "fighting" or "arguments.")
They argued, of course! Pandemonium broke out in the classroom as the kids argued about who might be the messiah.
It couldn't be Charles; he was always getting into mischief. But on the other hand, Charles could always be counted on to help a friend or share his lunch. And Ling was clearly too bossy to be a messiah. But, then again, Ling went to church every single Sunday and prayed every night before bed. What about Janie? She always did her work so carefully and neatly.
The arguing didn't stop overnight. When Mr. Cohen returned to school on Tuesday morning, the first thing he heard was Stan's angry voice. "I'm telling you Carmen, Bobby is the messiah! Just the other day I saw him comforting a little first grader who had scraped her knee. Isn't that the sort of thing a messiah would do?"
Soon, however, the arguments began to disappear. When Janie began to argue with Charles that she should be the line leader, she suddenly offered to stand behind him in line. After all, Charles might be the messiah.
And in music class, Carlos and Beth took turns using the tambourine. After all, one of them might be the messiah.
All that year the kids kept trying to figure out who might be the messiah. They began to think about each other differently. They noticed all of the good things about each other. Stan was a great artist with a huge imagination. Ling was passionate and strong. Carmen was the most loyal friend you could ask for. As for Mr. Cohen, he was a gentle, kind teacher. Maybe he was the messiah.
The kids also began to think about themselves differently. Each child wondered: Could I be the messiah? The children were inspired to try to be the best people they could be.
Soon the kids in Mr. Cohen's class had a reputation for treating one another well. Teachers came from far and wide to visit the class and ask Mr. Cohen for teaching tips. The year ended and the kids in Mr. Cohen's class graduated having learned a very important lesson they would never forget: Everyone around you is special, and anyone could be a messiah.
The next fall, Mr. Cohen looked at his brand new class of third graders. Already, Jon and Anna were arguing about whether or not alligators were the same as crocodiles. “Good morning, children,” he began. “Has anyone here ever heard of a messiah?” He lowered his voice to a whisper, so everyone had to be quiet and listen, and he said, “I have been told there is a messiah in this class.”