My Rebbe the other day, told me a story about a story.
A man comes to the Besht and tells him that he has done something horrible and cannot live with himself. He needs to find a way of making Tshuvah. The Baal Shem Tov interrupts and exclaims that he has a story to tell. It is the story of two milk brothers. Milk brothers are two children who share a wet nurse. They are as close as brothers should be. They study together sharing insights. They laugh and cry together. They were always together until…
When they grow up they eventually move away from each other to go into different businesses. They both do well in business until…
One of the two loses everything. He goes to his friend who, without hesitation, gives him half of all his money. The one who had lost everything does well recovering his fortune and more. Everything is going well until…
After time, the giver loses everything and goes to his friend who he had helped. The friend, the taker speaks kind words but sneaks out in order to avoid helping his boyhood milk-brother. The friend, the giver leaves sad and disappointed. And yet in time recovers his losses and becomes, once again, very well off until…
The taker who would not give again loses everything again and goes to his old friend the giver, who he had ignored and again begs for help. And again the milk brother giver gives half of his wealth, but this time requires an IOU. Again the taker who would not giverecovers his lost wealth. Everything seems to be fine until…
Years later the giver again falls on hard times. On a cold, snowy, winter day, he goes to the taker again but again the taker refuses to give, to make good on his debt. The giver walks away in poverty and sadness in the snowstorm. On the long trek he freezes to death. In שמים there is a tulmut.
The decision is that the giver will receive heavenly reward while the taker will be punished. But the giver asks that they both be sent back and the taker given the chance to redeem himself. So it is decided that the taker will be born wealthy and the giver will be a beggar. If the taker gives even a some spare change it will change the decree. So the giver, now beggar, shows up at the taker, now rich man’s house. He puts his hand out and looks into the eye of the taker, neither man remembering their previous incarnation. The taker, now rich miser, for some reason can’t bear the look in the giver now beggar’s face. He pushes the beggar out of his way. But the giver now beggar trips, falls and dies …again.
At this point the person hearing the story from the Baal Shem Tov screamed. He moaned, “I am that man.” A beggar came to me and, I don’t know why, but I was so upset that I pushed him. He slipped on the ice and fell and died. What can I do?”
The Besht said: “the decree has been made. But maybe you still have a chance. Go home and take everything you have, divide it in two. Find the family of the beggar. Give them half of all that you own.”
“Will that change the decree against me?” Asked the man.
The Besht responded; “I don’t know. G has free will too.”
I have been thinking of that story over the holy days as I sit in our Sukkah. A thought keeps bubbling up.
I was once asked to give a graduation speech at a high school. In my talk I mentioned that in school, in that protected environment we learn our lessons and then we take our tests.
But in real life the tests come first. If we survive and if we are open we learn lessons. In my Rebbe’s story the taker was tested and found wanting. Did he learn from those tests? That is left for us, we are left to finish the story.
I like the feel of that idea of tests and lessons and it has proved true on many occasions. I look back at my 64 years of tests taken and lessons learned and unlearned. They are a source of great joy and great sadness in my life. I speak often of the concept of tests and lessons. Once, a couple who were members of my congregation were in a car accident. I rushed to the hospital and sat with them both. After assurances that the wounds were not life threatening and the healing would, in time be complete, the woman looked up at me, tears in her eyes and said: “Rabbi, what’s the lesson?” I couldn’t help but smile. I responded: “First, let’s finish the test.” They both survived the test and with the help of my wife and myself they got back on their feet financially.
I am sad that over the years, as their financial situation improved, their relationship with us declined, but that is the test that I had to take and the lessons that I still have to learn.
Now, as we start 5774, my family is facing many tests. Our grandson lives with us and there are special tests for 64 year olds raising a 16 year old child. The lessons on patience have been powerful and somewhat painful. And they have been enabling and enlightening.
There is the test of having one child half a country away that is for me a tearful test. Yet there are lessons in the too few late night calls that we share. They always melt the miles, with tears or laughter, whether through the focus on what has been read and watched or what has been felt and what is shared, every call is a lesson on the deepest meaning of מצווה Mitzvah, “sacred coonection”. Though thousands of miles apart this strong, brilliant, beautiful young man is eternally a part of my heart.
I have a daughter who lives but a few miles away and finds fulfillment in life by literally touching the roots of life in her garden, working side by side with her husband. These two work their separate important jobs and come together in the garden. What a loving act of connection. These two wonderful young poeple make a wonderful Mitzvah/connection with each other, with nature, with G and with me as they bring their bounty to our door. The test for me is letting my role change as my daughter has grown into a beautifully wise and compassionate and woman, who shares her life with her partner, lover and friend. My lesson is to let go while holding her tight in my heart.
There are tests and lessons that fill our lives and become apparent through rituals of awareness such as the ימים נוראים/Yamim Noraim. I believe more in synchronicity then in coincidence. And this year brings the point home. My wife is went through medical tests, during these 10 days of Awe. And I find myself weeping through my davenin. I understand that we cannot learn the lessons while in tendrils of the test. I have learned to focus on the tests and allow the lessons to blossom in their own time. I have learned that time does not heal all wounds nor does it wound all heels. But time does soften the glare and sometimes distills the light into sparks of enlightenment.
In the mean-time and sometimes it does seem that time is mean, we need to involve ourselves in the Awesome Days and the joy of Sukkot through what has been called “spiritual C.P.R. Charity, Prayer and Repentance”. We need to give and we need to receive spiritual CPR.
In light of all the changes that defined 5773, my ‘New Year’s Resoul-ution for 5774 is: To accept awe as the roots of awareness: To take the tests with that awareness: To learn the lessons from the tests taken: And to strive to live those lessons by giving with awareness and receiving with awe that Spiritual C.P.R.