The Cottage of Lights

There once was a Jewish man who learned “Justice, justice, you shall pursue (Deuteronomy 16:20) and so he decided to travel throughout the world to find justice. He knew that somewhere in the world true justice must exist and he was determined to find it. He went from town to town and village to village, and every­where he went, he searched for justice, but never could he seem to find it.

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He thought that he may find true justice as he traveled across the many streams and rivers as he had learned “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24) Sadly all he found was that his feet were wet. He climbed steep hills and mountains that touched the heaven and then trekked through many valleys in the hopes of finding true justice as he studied and faithfully believed that “Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains; your judgments are like the great deep.” (Psalm 36:6)

He journeyed for many years going from place to place, until he had explored all the known world except for one last great forest. He entered that dark forest without hesitation, for he had seen many frightful things in his travels. He went into the caves of hermits and thieves, but they taunted him and said, “do you expect to find justice here?” He went into the woodland huts of foresters and hunters, but they looked at him with questions in their eyes.

The man went deeper and deeper into that forest, until at last he arrived at a little clay shack. Through the window he saw many flickering flames, and he was curious about them. So he went to the door and knocked. No answer. He knocked again. He pushed the creaky door open and stepped inside.

As he stepped inside the cottage, the man realized that it was much larger on the inside than it seemed to be from the outside. It was filled with hundreds of shelves, on every shelf there were dozens of oil lamps some of those lamps were made of gold, silver or fine cut glass, while others were made of simple clay or tin. Some of the lamps were filled with oil and the flames burned brightly, while others had very little oil left.

Suddenly an old man wearing a long white robe and a long white beard appeared before him. “Shalom Aleichem, my son” the old man said. “How can I help you?” The man replied, “Aleichem Shalom. I have going everywhere searching for true justice, but never have I seen anything like this. Tell me what are all these lamps?”

The old man said, “each of these lamps is the light of a person’s soul. As long as the flame continues to burn that person remains alive. But when the flame burns out that person’s soul takes leave of this world.”

The man asked, “can you show me the lamp of my soul?”

“Follow me,” the old man said, and he led him through that long labyrinth of the cottage, which the man thought must be endless. Finally, they reached a low shelf and there the old man pointed to a clay lamp and said, “that is the lamp of your soul.”

Now the man took one look at the flickering flame, and a great fear fell upon him. The wick of the lamp was very short there was very little oil left. The man feared that at any moment the wick would slide into the oil and sputter out. He began to tremble. Could the end be so near without him knowing of it? Then he noticed the clay lamp next to his own, but that one was full of oil and the wick was long and straight and its flames burned brightly. “And who’s lamp is that?” The man asked.

I can only reveal each man’s lamp to himself alone,” the old man said and he turned and left.

The man stood there, quaking. All at once he heard a sputtering sound, and when he looked up, he saw smoke rising from another shelf, and he knew that somewhere, someone was no longer among the living. He looked back at his own lamp and saw that there was only a few drops of oil left. Then he looked again at the lamp next to his own, so full of oil, and a terrible thought entered his mind.

He stepped back and looked in every direction for the old man, but he didn’t see him anywhere. Then he picked up the lamp next to his own and lifted it up above his own. At that instant, the old man appeared out of nowhere and grabbed his arm with an iron grip.

The old man asked: “Is this the kind of justice you are seeking?” he continued, “are we not taught that “the soul of man is the lamp of the L-rd, searching all his innermost parts. (Proverbs 20:27)

The man closed his eyes because it hurt so much. When he opened his eyes, he saw the old man was gone, and the cottage and the candles had all disappeared. He found himself standing alone in the forest and he heard the trees whispering his fate. All the time wondering, had his lamp burned out? Was he, too, no longer among the living.

May all your tales end with Shalom (peace)

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One Response to “The Cottage of Lights”

  1. I believe when I read this story I might have taken a different meaning from it. The first time I read through it I imagined the lamps were the vitality of the people, and when their oil runs out they will become the dead.

    Upon reading through it a second time, I was wondering if the story was actually about, or also included that the lamps take the meaning of the ner tamid (ever burning lamp) present within all of us, which when we kindle it with good deeds and a kind lifestyle would never go out.

    At the end of the story, I take it that the Jewish man questioned his own morals; and in that moment he was tested and gave in. In that moment he emptied his lamp of his own oil. I question if this were the Ner Tamid if anyone’s lamp would go out while they still live, cause even the smallest spark can be rekindled into a brilliant flame of light.

    What are your thoughts on this?