CAN IT GET ANY WORSE?

can-it-get-any-worse

A poor man lived with his wife and six children in a very small one-room house. They were always getting in each other’s way and there was so little space they could hardly breathe!

Finally the man could stand it no more. He talked to his wife and asked her what to do. “Go see the rabbi,” she told him, and after arguing a while, he went.

And so the poor man told the rabbi how miserable things were at home with him, his wife, and the six children all eating and living and sleeping in one room. The poor man told the rabbi, “We’re even starting to yell and fight with each other. Life couldn’t be worse.”

The rabbi thought very deeply about the poor man’s problem. Then he said, “Do exactly as I tell you and things will get better. Do you promise?”

“I promise,” the poor man said.

The rabbi then asked the poor man a strange question. “Do you own any animals?”

“Yes,” he said. “I have one cow, one goat, and some chickens.”

“Good,” the rabbi said. “When you get home, take all the animals into your house to live with you.”

The poor man was astonished to hear this advice from the rabbi, but he had promised to do exactly what the rabbi said. So he went home and took all the farm animals into the tiny one-room house.

The next day the poor man ran back to see the rabbi. “What have you done to me, Rabbi?” he cried. “It’s awful. I did what you told me and the animals are all over the house! Rabbi, help me!”

The rabbi listened and said calmly, “Now go home and take the chickens back outside.”

The poor man did as the rabbi said, but hurried back again the next day. “The chickens are gone, but Rabbi, the goat!” he moaned. “The goat is smashing up all the furniture and eating everything in sight!”

The good rabbi said, “Go home and remove the goat and may God bless you.”

So the poor man went home and took the goat outside. But he ran back again to see the rabbi, crying and wailing. “What a nightmare you have brought to my house, Rabbi! With the cow it’s like living in a stable! Can human beings live with an animal like this?”

The rabbi said sweetly, “My friend, you are right. May God bless you. Go home now and take the cow out of your house.” And the poor man went quickly home and took the cow out of the house.

The next day he came running back to the rabbi again. “O Rabbi,” he said with a big smile on his face, “we have such a good life now. The animals are all out of the house. The house is so quiet and we’ve got room to spare! What a joy!”

Source: Aaron Zerah, How the Children Became Stars:
A Family Treasury of Stories, Prayers and Blessings
from Around the World
Sorin Books
, 2000

CONSIDER THIS

  • Perspective is everything.  It is not what we see, but the way we see it. When we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change.
  • Most of us are just about as happy as we make up our minds to – Abraham  Lincoln
  • Think about your biggest complaint and what the rabbi would tell you if he heard it. Today, follow the rabbi’s advice.
  • Imagine you are the man in the story. At the end, what would you say to a friend who complained about how bad life was?
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WHERE’S THE HAT

Once upon a time there was an atheist grandmother, claiming Jewish cultural (if not religious) roots, who took her beloved five-year-old grandson to the beach. Decked out in his sun suit and hat, and equipped with his pail and shovel, the little boy played happily near the water, building castles and moats. When the grandmother dozed, the grandson was suddenly caught in an undertow and was soon nowhere in sight. The frantic grandmother called for help, but there was no one else on the beach.

Figuring she had nothing to lose, she fell to the ground, raised her arms to heaven and prayed, “God, if you exist, if you are there, please save my grandson. I promise I’ll make it up to you. I’ll join the Hadassah*; I’ll volunteer at the hospital; I’ll join the men’s club, the women’s club, whatever makes you happy.”

And suddenly a huge wave tossed the grandson on the beach at her feet. The grandmother bent over to hear his heart beating, she noticed color in his cheeks, his eyes opening, but she appeared upset. Bringing herself to full height, and with hands on her hips, she wagged her finger at the sky: “He had a hat, you know! Where’s the hat?”

Source: “Meditations on a Joyful Year
Speed Vogel Talks with Moshe Walks”
in Parabola, XII (4) 1987, p. 63.

CONSIDER THIS

This is supposed to be a humorous story. Humor is possible in this situation only  because the grandmother speaks to and not for God.  God is someone who can be berated and cajoled because God is very much part of the family. God is personal and even a friend and just like a friend you can engage in a conversation with God on an intimate basis and be yourself, a conversation that allows for nitpicking even!

  • How does your conversation with God sound like?
  • It sometimes happen that no matter how big the gift, we sometimes act or respond as though it’s not big enough. How do you normally respond to what comes your way?

[*] Hadassah means compassion, hence the women’s charity in Israel, Hadassah.

PARABLE OF THE SPOONS

Rabbi Haim of Romshishok was an itinerant preacher. He traveled from town to town delivering religious sermons that stressed the importance of respect for one’s fellow man. He often began his talks with the following story:

I once ascended to the firmaments. I first went to see Hell and the sight was horrifying. Row after row of tables were laden with platters of sumptuous food, yet the people seated around the tables were pale and emaciated, moaning in hunger. As I came closer, I understood their predicament.

Every person held a full spoon, but both arms were splinted with wooden slats so he could not bend either elbow to bring the food to his mouth. It broke my heart to hear the tortured groans of these poor people as they held their food so near but could not consume it.

Next I went to visit Heaven. I was surprised to see the same setting I had witnessed in Hell – row after row of long tables laden with food. But in contrast to Hell, the people here in Heaven were sitting contentedly talking with each other, obviously sated from their sumptuous meal.

As I came closer, I was amazed to discover that here, too, each person had his arms splinted on wooden slats that prevented him from bending his elbows. How, then, did they manage to eat?

As I watched, a man picked up his spoon and dug it into the dish before him. Then he stretched across the table and fed the person across from him! The recipient of this kindness thanked him and returned the favor by leaning across the table to feed his benefactor.

I suddenly understood. Heaven and Hell offer the same circumstances and conditions. The critical difference is in the way the people treat each other.

I ran back to Hell to share this solution with the poor souls trapped there. I whispered in the ear of one starving man, ‘You do not have to go hungry. Use your spoon to feed your neighbor, and he will surely return the favor and feed you.’

‘You expect me to feed the detestable man sitting across the table?’ said the man angrily. ‘I would rather starve than give him the pleasure of eating!’

Source: Moshe Kranc, The Hasidic Masters’ Guide to Management
Devora Publishing, 2004) pages 108-109

Note: There are variations of the tale across many religions and cultures, it’s message so universal.

CONSIDER THIS

The difference between heaven and hell is not the setting. It’s in the way people treat each other.

So much of how we deal with the world simply comes down to perspective. Heaven and hell, the same place and situation, the only difference the attitudes and approach of the people present.

We can create heaven and hell for one another, right here in this world, by the way we treat each other. We have the ability to cause suffering and pain, and we have the ability to bring comfort and hope.

THROW THIS RASCAL OUT OF PRISON

A king visited a prison in his kingdom and talked with the prisoners. Each one insisted on his innocence except for one man who confessed to a theft.

“Throw this rascal out of the prison!” cried the king, “He will corrupt the innocents!”

Source: An old Hasidic story retold my
Louis Newman in The Hasidic Anthology (Schocken Books, 1963)

 

CONSIDER THIS

It is a simple story which looks at our willingness to see the wrong in others and condemn them and yet be blind to our sins. The prayer comes to mind ‘Give me the grace creator God to see myself as others see me’.

Being set free starts by admitting that we are not as innocent as we would like to believe!

 

DIRECTIONS

A woman calls up her friend. She says, “Becky, l understand you got a new apartment.”

Becky says, “l do. I got a pretty apartment. Why don‘t you come visit?”

“I’d love to visit, but I don’t know where you live. You gotta give me directions.”

I live on I486 Eighty-sixth Street. You’ll take the train, get off at Eighty-sixth Street. You’ll see a big apartment complex, 1486. Outside. you’ll see a double door. With your right elbow, press down the handle from the door. push open the door, and you’ll be in what we call a vestibule.

“In the vestibule’s a list of bells. I’m apartment 4B. With the left elbow, press 4B; it’ll ring upstairs. As soon as I hear the ring, I’ll buzz you.

“When you hear the buzz, with your right elbow press on the inside of the door, push open the door, go straight ahead to the elevator, and with the left elbow press UP.

You’ll get in the elevator; with the right elbow press 4 for the fourth floor. The door will open up; you’ll go straight into my apartment. 4B.

“You’ll ring the doorbell with the right elbow. Give it a couple of knocks with the left elbow; I’ll answer the door. You’ll come in; we’ll have coffee.”

Her friend interrupts, fed up. “What kind of directions are these, with the elbow? The left elbow, the right elbow. What’s with the elbow?”

Becky says, “What? You’re coming empty-handed?”

Source: Sam Hoffman, Eric Spiegelman,
Old Jews Telling Jokes: 5,000 Years of Funny Bits and Not-So-Kosher Laughs,
(Villard, 2010) page 35

CONSIDER THIS

What if the real and most beautiful gift we can offer one another is that of Presence! Don’t we after all call a ‘gift’, a ‘present’?  What gift is it if I don’t make myself fully present in what I am giving?

GOD WILL PROVIDE

GOD WILL PROVIDE

A young woman brings home her fiancé to meet her parents. After dinner, her mother tells her father to find out about the young man. The father invites the fiancé to his study for a drink.

“So what are your plans?” the father asks the young man.

I am a bible scholar.” he replies.

“A bible scholar? Hmmm,” the father says. “Admirable, but what will you do to provide a nice house for my daughter to live in, as she’s accustomed to?”

I will study,” the young man replies, “and God will provide for us.”

“And how will you buy her a beautiful engagement ring, such as she deserves?” asks the father.

“I will concentrate on my studies,” the young man replies. “God will provide for us.”

And children?” asks the father. “How will you support children?”

“Don’t worry, sir, God will provide,” replies the fiancé.

The conversation proceeds like this, and each time the father questions him, the young idealist insists that God will provide. Later, the mother asks, “How did it go, honey?” The father answers, “The bad news is, he has no job and no plans. The good news is he thinks I’m God.”

Source | Perfect Illustrations for Every Topic and Occasion (Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.; First Edition edition, 2002) page 218

CONSIDER THIS

There’s an old saying that we should “pray as if everything depends on God, work as if everything depends on you.” Some have switched it around: “pray as if everything depends on you, work as if everything depends on God.”   What do you think and how would you interpret this?

God is not going to bother to do for us what we can do for ourselves.

WHY WEREN’T YOU ZUSIA?

Once, the great Hassidic leader, Zusia, came to his followers. His eyes were red with tears, and his face was pale with fear.

“Zusia, what’s the matter? You look frightened!”

“The other day, I had a vision. In it, I learned the question that the angels will one day ask me about my life.”

The followers were puzzled. “Zusia, you are pious. You are scholarly and humble. You have helped so many of us. What question about your life could be so terrifying that you would be frightened to answer it?”

Zusia turned his gaze to heaven. “I have learned that the angels will not ask me, ‘Why weren’t you a Moses, leading your people out of slavery?'”

His followers persisted. “So, what will they ask you?”

“And I have learned,” Zusia sighed, “that the angels will not ask me, ‘Why weren’t you a Joshua, leading your people into the promised land?'”

One of his followers approached Zusia and placed his hands on Zusia’s shoulders. Looking him in the eyes, the follower demanded, “But what will they ask you?”

“They will say to me, ‘Zusia, there was only one thing that no power of heaven or earth could have prevented you from becoming.’ They will say, ‘Zusia, why weren’t you Zusia?'”

Source | Doug Lipman, The Storytelling Coach: How to Listen, Praise, and Bring Out People’s Best. (August House, 2006)

CONSIDER THIS

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”Oscar Wilde

We live in a world that has a very strong opinion what we “should” be.  We ”should” be young, thin, beautiful, rich, successful.  We “should” have the right stuff — like the right kind of house and the right kind of car.  And we “should” act like those around us that look the right way and have the right stuff. Where in all of that is authenticity?

Sometimes, without realizing it, we give up ourselves.  We slowly fall prey to the bombardment of the pop culture messages that constantly surround us.