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I once saw a beautiful allegory in the writings of the Holy Reb Nachman of Breslov zt”l (I’m quite sure that subsequently I found it in a Midrash, but I don’t recall where, right now).
A group of men were hired to bring water from the river to the home of a rich man who promised to pay them handsomely. Enthusiastically, they all took the barrels which he gave them and hurried to the stream. Although it entailed a lot of work, and it was very difficult to carry the heavy containers so far, the men worked with gusto, anticipating the generous salary they would soon be receiving and contemplating how they would spend it.
To their surprise, they found that their burdens were getting lighter as they went along. First they thought it was their imagination, attributing their feelings to their eagerness to finish the job and get their reward. But then they realized that the casks were actually getting lighter and lighter. They inspected the matter more closely and found, to their horror, that every single barrel had a hole in it; some smaller, some bigger and some really big. They began to run, as fast as they could, to get to their boss’s home as soon as possible and with as much water as was possible under the situation. But there was little more they could do and by the time they saw his house, most of the water was gone from most of the vessels.
They realized that their employer would be very upset and would most probably refuse to pay them. In their minds they imagined debating with him; they would blame him for giving them blemished barrels, and he would argue that they should have inspected them before they took them. They knew that he was right, although they never imagined that a person in his stature would have imperfect vessels to give them, and therefore they didn’t bother to check. They discussed the matter among themselves and decided that they would beg him to at least give them something for the time they exerted for him, with good intentions, even though very little came out of it.
They knocked on his door and stood shamefacedly as he open it and greeted them with a broad smile. Tongue-tied, they couldn’t explain what had happened, but it didn’t take long for the gentleman to see for himself. The little water that was left in some of the barrels was spilling out of the holes right before their eyes. To their amazement, he uttered not a word of chastisement, but took out his wallet and paid everyone what he had promised him. Even more incredible was that he asked them all to return tomorrow and repeat the feat, at the same rate of compensation. As a mater of fact, he said, he would like to hire them to “work” for him daily; doing the same thing they did today!
Now, among this group there were wise men and fools. The fools said, “What does he think we are? Fools? Why should we come and work so hard, when at the end there is nothing to show for it? We’ll never return here and repeat this feat again.” And, indeed, they never came back to this job again but undertook to do other things which were harder and paid much less.
The wise men, on the other hand, said, “What do we care if anything remains of our work or not? The only reason we took this job in the first place is because the pay was excellent. If this fellow, for whatever reason, is willing to pay us even though, at the end of the day, his barrels are almost empty, why shouldn’t we work for him full-time?” And so they continued to come back every single day, and were handsomely rewarded, for the rest of their lives.
Reb Nachman explains that the same applies to those who were born with a lack of memory – with “holes in their head.” After learning Torah, even if they studied well, they cannot retain much of what they learned. Many get frustrated and think that it would be foolish of them to continue learning if almost nothing is left of all of their efforts anyway. But the wise ones say, “Hashem gave me this blemished tool; it’s not my fault. And if He is willing to pay me for learning, even though I cannot remember, why should I refuse?” And so they continue to learn, as much as they can, all of their lives, and will be rewarded for it superbly, in this world and in the world-to-come.
And some have even been amazed to find that, apparently as part of the reward, Hashem eventually granted them an improved memory and they were suddenly able to preserve their studies like never before.
The above metaphor is truly beautiful, but this week, Joey Willig, one of the first students and founders of Neveh Yehoshua, sent me a vort on this week’s parashah which was submitted by Amy Sharp to “ShulWeek” of Congregation Kehillas Torah, San Diego, California. I am copying it here as it appeared there, with minor changes.
If a man or woman wished to express his/her closeness to Hashem, (s)he could bring a korban oleh to the Temple as an offering. The sacrifice could consist of an ox, lamb, goat, bird or flour; depending on the giver's financial ability. Rashi brings the comments of the Sages that the pauper's flour is just as precious to Hashem as the wealthy man's ox if it is given with dedication and sincerity.
Sometimes, we compare ourselves to others and think that we have shortcomings. It is important that we realize that we all have different talents and characteristics. We must strive to utilize our unique qualities just as the pauper used his flour in serving Hashem. If we learn to make the most use out of what we have, we can accomplish great things, as the following story illustrates:
A water bearer had two large pots, each hung on each end of a pole which he carried across his neck. One of these pots had a crack in it. While the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of a long walk from the stream to the master's house, the cracked pot always arrived only half-full.
For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer only delivering one and a half pots full of water to his house. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect to the end for which it was made. The poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.
After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream. “I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you.” “Why?” asked the bearer. “What are you ashamed of?”
“I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half of my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don't get full value from your efforts,” the pot said.
The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in his compassion he said, “As we return to the house, I want you to notice all of the beautiful flowers along the path.”
Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it some. But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half of its load, and so again the pot apologized to the bearer for its failure.
The bearer said to the pot, “Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of the path, but not on the other pot's side? That's because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you've watered them. For two years, I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my table. Without you being just the way you are, I would not have this beauty to grace my house!”
Each of us has our own unique flaws. We're all cracked pots in some respect. But if we allow ourselves to take advantage of our flaws, nothing goes to waste. Don't be afraid of your flaws. Acknowledge them, embrace them, and utilize them. In our weaknesses we can find our strengths.
I would like to add that this moving thought is extremely important for parents and educators who find that their children and students are not up to par. Rather than reject them, chas veshalom, it is their obligation to help them find how they can be extremely successful with the tools the Almighty gave them. Every one of us has a unique job to do here, for which he and she will be rewarded profusely. Hashem gave us the tools to do our job properly. It’s our duty to find what He wants us to do with what He gave us, and then we will be eternally blissful, in this world and the next.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network