The first friendly rays of sunlight would sneak through a missing slat in the faded shutters to announce a new day to the rugged boards that lined his tumbledown cottage — and Itzik the water-carrier knew it was time to be up. First, he would settle down next to his simple table and study a page or two of Torah. He said his morning prayers with all his heart and would then leave his simple home to go down to the bank of the river that twisted and turned through the fields surrounding his village. He would fill his two homemade pails, hoist them up to the long bar borne on his broad shoulders, trek uphill, and then down again. He did this for hours on end, bringing a day’s supply to his regular customers. He was not a wealthy man, but at least he earned enough to feed his family. He was content with his life, and loved by almost everyone.
Then one day, quite suddenly, everything changed. Itzik, the self-respecting water-carrier, was asking for tzedakah (charity) in his spare time. The quiet village quickly filled with whispers and curious looks. This did not prevent those same generous people from filling his little charity box — except for one very angry merchant. That someone who could support himself by his own efforts should decide one fine morning to grow fat at the expense of the hard work of others, was nothing less than shameful. He would inform the local rabbi in person!
A few days later, sure enough, a messenger of the rabbi sternly tapped his cane three times on Itzik”s creaking door, and summoned him to appear before the rabbi. Itzik set out at once, and was greeted warmly.
“Tell me, Itzik,” asked the rabbi, “are you managing to make a living?”
“Thanks be to G-d, day by day,” said Itzik, echoing the words of the Psalmist, “I’m happy with my lot, and manage with what I have.”
“Then why, may I ask, do you collect donations?”
“Why don’t you answer my question?” The rabbi asked irritated; Itzik remained silent.
“Listen to me,” said the rabbi. “I must ask you to give me your word that you will stop collecting donations in the marketplace.”
The rabbi’s patience ran out and he raised his voice: “Has it occurred to you that it is disrespectful for you not to answer the questions of the rabbi of this village?”
Itzik blurted out three quiet words: “I can’t promise,” and looked at the floor in silence.
Now Itzik was not the only person in town to visit the rabbi that day. While their tense conversation was taking place, the richest man in town — “Moshe the Nagid,” the locals called him affectionately — calmly took a seat in the waiting room. He wanted to consult the rabbi on some important business matter. Surprised to hear the rabbi raising his voice, and what he overheard made him very upset. He became sick to his stomach and began to tremble until he was driven by his emotions and he burst uninvited into the rabbi’s study.
“Rebbe!” he exclaimed. “This man here is taddik nistar (hidden saint)!”
For a moment, the three stood in amazed silence. The rabbi, confused, looked first at the one, then at the other. This tightlipped water- carrier — a tzaddik nistar?
Moshe burst into bitter tears.
”Itzik,” he sobbed, “you’ve got nothing to hide. Tell the rabbi the whole story.” And with that, he slipped out of the room, leaving the rabbi the task of ordering Itzik to speak up.
Itzik took a deep breath. “I suppose you know,” he said, “that every day I visit the houses of all those who can afford the luxury; and bring them water right to the door. One of my old customers is Moshe the Nagid. One day, unexpectedly, he stops paying me, and says that when the account reaches a sizeable sum, he’ll pay me all at once. That’s fine by me — except that for two whole months he didn’t give me as much as one little kopek. Then one day Moshe wasn’t at home. So his good wife, begging your pardon, takes me aside and says: ‘Itzik,’ she says, ‘I want to tell you something, but on condition that you don’t breathe a word to a soul.’
“Okay, I won’t tell anyone”, I answered, and she told me her story.
“‘You know our big fancy business?’ she says.”Well, the bottom’s suddenly fallen out of it, and now we’re as poor as the poorest paupers in town. My husband is too ashamed to speak of it, but I can’t hide the truth any more. Our debt to you is growing, and I don’t know what’s going to come of us.’
“The tears of that poor soul broke my heart, and I decided there and then that I would do whatever I could to help them out — though without giving away their secret, of course. The next day I started collecting donations. Let people talk behind my back! Let people make fun of me! I wasn’t going to let that family go hungry!”
Itzik paused for breath, then added bashfully, “So I ask you
now, Rebbe, could I possibly have promised you to stop collecting:
The rabbi was in a daze. Before him stood the familiar brawny frame of a simple water-carrier who could barely translate the daily prayers or a simple chapter of Torah. Through the rabbi’s tears, he saw before him, in all his glory, the true love of a neighbour. Here was a man who had always held his head erect, yet was prepared to lower it in humiliation — so long as his fellow’s honor would be spared!
He sprang out of his chair, and embraced the embarrassed water-carrier.
“Would that there were many like you among Israel!” he exclaimed. “I pray to G-d that in the World of Truth I be allowed to share your lot in the inheritance that awaits the righteous!”
And with warm tears he kissed that suntanned brow.
May all your tales end with Shalom (peace)
The power of prayer is beyond the understanding of many. Yet the ebb and flow of the words, melodies and devotion of the prayers can open one’s eyes to the wonder and magnificence of creation. The colors of the world come alive and a peek into the mysteries of the divine is possible.
Unfortunately too many people pray from rote. The same old words with no feeling, no spark, just merely words on a page. One should offer their prayers and meditations not as a commandment of expectation of men learned by rote, for only prayers the express one’s own heart and mind can bring one close to the holy One, blessed be He.
Once upon a time there lived a king in a beautiful palace in the capital city of his country. He was surrounded by many servants and nobles, who served him with great honour, devotion, and loyalty.
One day, as he thought about all the honor the people in his court showed him, the king said to himself: “It’s no wonder that my servants and nobles respect me and serve me loyally, for they know I’m their king, and all the good that I do. But what of all my subjects who live faraway from my palace, in distant towns, villages and farms; do those people know I’m their king, that I care for them and their needs?”
The king decided to go and find out for himself what the faraway people think of their king. He took off his royal robes and put on the clothes of a wanderer, and set off on his way. He went from town to town and from village to village, and everywhere he stopped and asked people what they thought of their king.
From the replies he received, he found out that few people thought of their king altogether. The further he travelled, the less interest people showed in their king, and the less they knew about him. Some people even spoke about the king in mocking tones.
Shocked and saddened, the king decided to return to his palace.
As he began his return journey, the sound of music reached his ears. Someone was playing on a flute, and the tune was so, soft and tender that it filled the king’s heart with joy and lifted his spirit. He hurried to find out who the player was, and presently he came upon a young shepherd who was playing on his flute.
Seeing there was no one around, the king asked the shepherd for whom he was playing.
“I’m playing for my king,” he answered. “Have you ever seen the king?”
“No,” replied the shepherd.
“Do you know who the king is and what he does?”
“He is a shepherd.”
“Why do you think that?”
“Because I’m a shepherd, and I love my little lambs and care for them. I watch over them and make sure they are safe from wolves or any kind of harm. I lead them to pastures where the grass is green and soft, and take them to a stream of sparkling fresh water. Now, I’m but a small shepherd, but the king is a big shepherd, looking after all the people in the country and making sure they are all provided with their needs! Wouldn’t you say he is a very great shepherd? That’s why I’m playing this melody in his honor!”
The king was overjoyed with this young shepherd and said to him:
“I am your king! From now on you’ll be my best friend. We’ll find some other shepherd to look after your sheep, and you will come with me to my palace. You will be my dearest companion and we shall be friends forever!”
When the king and the shepherd arrived at the palace, the king ordered royal robes for the shepherd and gave him the most honored place in the king’s court, next to the king himself.
Not long afterward, the shepherd, sad to say, offended the king. Sternly the king ordered him to leave his presence and return three days later for trial.
Now the shepherd realized how wicked he had been, and how ungrateful for all that the king had done for him. Not only had he not appreciated the king’s friendship and all the favors he had showered on him, but he had actually offended the king by his conduct. He felt that the king would have every reason to punish him severely.
The day of the trial arrived.
The shepherd put away his royal garments, put on the shepherd clothing he wore when he first met the king. He also took his flute with him.
Entering the king’s court, the remorseful shepherd fell on his knees before the king, saying:
“O great and merciful king! I have no words to defend my wicked conduct. What can I possibly say to explain my inexcusable behavior toward my king who has been so good and kind to me? But, since I cannot find the right words, may it please the king to allow me to play on my flute’?”
The king nodded, and the shepherd began to play the tune which he played when he met the king for the first time. And he played it so well, and with such feeling, that the king was deeply moved. It reminded him of that day when he had felt so sad because most of his people throughout his kingdom seemed not to know, nor care, about their king, as he had discovered. Then he met this young shepherd who was the only one who gave him a feeling of joy and pride in being king… .
Filled with this heartwarming feeling, the king said:
“I forgive you, and we shall remain the best of friends as before!”
The Talmud teaches in Berachos 16b that Rav, at the conclusion of his Shemoneh Esrei, used to recite the following:
“May it be Your will, L-rd our G-d, to grant us long life, a life of peace, a life of goodness, a life of blessing, a life of sustenance, a life of physical health, a life in which there is fear of sin, a life in which there is no shame nor humiliation, a life of wealth and honor, a life in which we will have love of Torah and awe of heaven, a life in which our heartfelt requests will be fulfilled for the good.”
May all of our prayers be acceptable and bring strength of spirit, brotherhood, peace and blessing from the King above all Kings
May all your tales end with Shalom (peace)