Three Jewish parables
The Portion of Happiness
At supper one of the guests broke a glass.
“Mazal Tov!” (good luck!). everyone sitting at the table said. They all knew this omen.
“Why is this considered a good omen, by the way?” the rabbi asked.
“I don’t know,” said the pilgrim’s wife. “Perhaps it is an old way to ensure that a clumsy guest doesn’t get embarrassed.”
“No, that’s not an explanation,” the rabbi replied. “According to Jewish legend, every person has a certain portion of happiness which he uses throughout his life. He may waste it to no purpose, or may increase it – under the condition that he will only use what he really needs. We Jews also say “good luck” when something breaks. But for us it means: how good that you did not waste your happiness, you did not use it to make sure this glass didn’t break. Now you can use it for something more important.”
Once Hasidim asked their rebbe, Elimelech from Lizensk, whether he was sure that a place was prepared for him in the next world.
“How can there be any doubt!?” he replied, without the slightest hesitation.
“How can you be so sure, rebbe?”
“After we die in this world, we will appear before the heavenly court, and the divine judges will ask us about the Torah, avoda and mitsvos (the written and verbal law, the morning, daytime and evening prayer, the commandments given by God). If you answer these questions properly, then you will enter the Next world.
“And do you know these questions, rebbe?” asked the pupils.
“And do you know how to answer them?”
“Can you tell us the answers?”
“The questions are the same for everyone. But each person should answer them in his own way. But I can tell you what I intend to say to the judges. They will ask: “Rebbe, did you study the Torah as best you could?” I will honestly reply: “No.” Then they will ask: “Rebbe, did you fully give yourself to God in prayer?” And I will once more honestly reply: “No.” And the third time they will ask: “Did you observe mitsvos and did you do good deeds at every opportunity?” Of course, I will reply: “No”. And then they will say: “Well then, that means you’re not a liar. At least for that, welcome to the Next World.”
The Alphabetical Prayer
Once during the Days of Awe, the holy cabbalist Isaac Luria heard Bat Kol (the voice of God). The voice told him that no matter how zealous Isaac was in his prayers, in the next town there was a man who surpassed even him in the art of prayer. Luria went to this town without delay, and found the man of whom he had been told.
“I have heard incredible things about you,” said Luria. “Are you a scholar? Do you study the Torah?”
“No,” the man replied. “I did not have the opportunity to study.”
“Then you must be an expert on the psalms a genius of worshipping, and put extraordinary effort into prayer.”
“No. Of course, I have heard the psalms many times, but I don’t know a single one of them off by heart.”
“But still,” Luria exclaimed. “I know that your prayer exceeds even mine in its power. What did you do on the Days of Awe to deserve such praise?”
“Rabbi,” the man replied. “I am illiterate. Of the 22 letters of the aleph-bet (alphabet), I only know ten. When I went into the synagogue and saw fellow believers, passionately devoting themselves to prayer, my heart almost burst in my chest. But I don’t know a single prayer. And then I said: “Ribono shel Olam” (Lord of the Universe)! Aleph, bet, gimel, daled, hey, vav, zayin, khet, tet, yod – those are all the letters that I know. Combine them as You wish, and may they bring You joy”. Then I simply began repeating these letters over and over again, and I hope that God will make the right words from them Himself.”
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