There is a recurring theme in Chassidic stories. There are many many variations on the tale, but one of my favorites involves a famous Rabbi and his disciple visiting a desperately poor man and his family. The man was very kind. Despite barely having enough food to put on the table, he fed the Rabbi and his disciple a hearty meal. During the night, after the man and his family went to sleep, the Rabbi prayed that the man’s cow – his only possession – should die. Low and behold, before the Rabbi and his disciple left the next morning, the cow had died. Then the Rabbi visited the home of a very rich man. He and the disciple were made to share a room and were not offered any food – instead they had to buy their own dinner. It just so happened, that a part of this man’s house, a wall, had begun to crumble. The man was determined to have it fixed during the next day. During the night, after the unkind man and his family had gone to sleep, the Rabbi prayed that the man’s wall be fixed by itself. And lo and behold, before the Rabbi and the disciple left the next morning, the wall had been miraculously repaired.
I know many of you know the story, but allow me to finish it – because at the time the Rabbi’s disciple didn’t know the ending. “Why,” he asked the Rabbi, “did you pray that the generous man’s cow should die and that the unkind man’s wall should be repaired?”
The Rabbi turned to his disciple and said: “When the poor man digs into the earth to bury his cow he will discover a trove of long buried gold. And hidden in the wall of the rich man’s house is a small box of diamonds that he will never discover.”
What is the moral of this story? An obvious moral is that great Rabbis know more than disciples do – but I would guess that isn’t what this story is trying to convey. What this story is trying to tell us is that *we* don’t know the causes of things. *We* can’t identify what is for the good and what is not. The generous man thought a great evil had befallen him. The unkind man thought a tremendous miracle had saved him a pile of repair bills. And both were wrong.
We can’t know what is for the good and what is not. Because everything, ultimately, is in the hands of G-d.
This year, I have been guided past pitfalls and away from mistakes. This year, events which I have thought of as losses, have turned out to be gains. Thankfully, nothing I have thought as a gain has turned out otherwise. Indeed, this year has been a tremendous one. I have met an incredible woman, Rebecca Levin, who G-d willing, is to be my wife; I have started a new job, in which they seem to actually like me :); and I have continued to build GiveDaily.org, slowly growing and improving it to make it into what I dream it can be (we have a new site, please check if out if you get a chance). Despite my efforts to improve my lot and the lot of others, none of this was planned. I didn’t know I would meet my fiancee and I had no idea what I would be doing for a living. Instead, I have bounced around a bit and I am now at the end of a very successful year which I didn’t plan. I lead this haphazard life quite intentionally – because ultimately the good or bad that happens to a person is up to G-d and you have to go where life leads you.
There is only one thing that isn’t up to G-d. And it is the same thing that separated the poor man from the rich one. The poor man was kind. The rich one was not.
No matter what happens to a person – it remains that person’s choice to choose a just, righteous and generous path. Ultimately it is every person’s choice to dedicate themselves to improving the world around them. A man can choose to use his body, his soul and his mind in this way. Ultimately, the good man will be rewarded. Maybe not with money – the Chassidic story is simply a parable – but certainly with the ability to see and be pleased with what he or she has created in themselves.
However, in our quest to create a beautiful soul, in our quest to make the right choices, every person – the poor man, the rich man, me and you – can make mistakes. We can be unkind to our fellow man without meaning to or, if Jewish, we can ignore our relationship with G-d. And these mistakes leave a blemish on our souls, a blemish that can forever stain the beauty that every one of us is trying to create through our lives.
Yom Kippur, which is nearly upon us, is about washing away those stains. On Yom Kippur, we ask G-d to forgive us for our sins against him. And before Yom Kippur starts, we ask our fellow men to forgive us for our sins against them.
In this part of the year, we reset the clock, starting anew in all our relationships. And then we pray:
“May the Lord bless us and keep us,
May he shine his face upon us and be gracious unto us,
And may he turn his face to us and grant us peace.”
In the tradition of Yom Kippur, I would like to ask your forgiveness for any harm or hurt I have caused – intentionally or unintentionally, known or unknown. And in the tradition of Yom Kippur, I would like to extend my forgiveness for any harm or hurt you have caused – intentionally or unintentionally, known or unknown. I would also like to thank many of you for all you have given me and Rebecca this year.
May there be peace in Israel.
And may we all be inscribed in the Book of Life for a year of blessing, of celebration and of joy.