BEYOND TEMPTATION

A rabbi went on a journey with his servant named Jacob. Their cart was drawn by a lively horse of which the rabbi was very fond. When they came to a roadside inn, the rabbi went in to rest, leaving his horse in Jacob’s care.

In the meantime, a horse trader passed by and, seeing Jacob, soon made friends with him. He plied him with drink and Jacob soon was so intoxicated it was easy for the horse trader to induce him to sell him the horse for a song. Although drunk, Jacob was frightened by what he had done. What would the rabbi say when he came out of the inn? An idea occurred to him. He placed himself between the empty shafts of the cart and started to chew hay. When the rabbi came out, he was struck speechless by what he saw.

“What’s the meaning of this?” he finally managed to stammer. “Where’s the horse?”

“The horse? That’s me!” replied Jacob, and he uttered a loud whinny.

“What on earth are you doing?” murmured the rabbi, frightened to death. “Have you gone out of your mind?”

“Don’t be angry with me, Rabbi,” pleaded his servant Jacob. “Years ago a great misfortune happened to me. I was a young man then, a little wild and foolish, and, may God forgive me, I sinned with a woman. So to punish me, God turned me into a horse  – your horse. For twenty long years you have been my master, Rabbi, little suspecting who I really was. Well, it seems my punishment is over. I’m again a man, praise God!”

When the rabbi heard Jacob’s story he began to tremble and prayed for God’s mercy. However, there was a practical difficulty to attend to – he could not continue his journey without a horse, so he went into the market place to buy one. Suddenly, he stood face to face with his old horse. It was munching a wisp of hay at the horse trader’s. Going up to it in alarm, the rabbi whispered into its ear, “For goodness sake, Jacob! Again, so soon!”

Source: Nathan Ausubel, A Treasury of Jewish Humor
(New York: M. Evans and Company, 1951) 

PONDER AND CONSIDER

It seems to me that the human journey is never linear, neat and tidy. It is more like a dance of three steps forward and two steps backward . I call it the “backslide dance”.  I looked up the word “backsliding”  in the dictionary. It means “to relapse into bad habits, sinful behavior, or undesirable activities.” Maybe you’ve known the frustration of losing ground along the way, reverting to old, unhealthy habits.  What phrases would you use to describe this state? I came up with three phrases:

  • “I’m lukewarm”.
  • “I’ve grown cold”.
  • “I’m no longer on fire”.

And what can you do to change the tide and catch fire?

LOOK UP AND SEE

The splitting of the Red Sea, according to Jewish tradition, is the greatest miracle ever performed. And yet we have one midrash that mentions two Israelites, Reuven and Shimon, who had a different experience.

Apparently the bottom of the sea, though safe to walk on, was not completely dry but a little muddy, like a beach at low tide.
Reuven stepped into it and curled his lip. “What is this muck?”

Shimon scowled, “There’s mud all over the place!”

“This is just like the slime pits of Egypt!” replied Reuven.

“What’s the difference?” Complained Shimon. “Mud here, mud there; it’s all the same.”

And so it went for the two of them, grumbling all the way across the bottom of the sea. And, because they never once looked up, they never understood why on the distant shore, everyone else was singing and dancing. For Reuven and Shimon the miracle never happened.

Source | Shemot Rabba 24.1
Story is also told in Lawrence KushnerEyes Remade for Wonder, pages 11-12

PONDER AND CONSIDER

  • While the sea had parted, for Reuven and Shimon the miracle never made it’s way into their heart, or their life. This is a story about the permission to look up.
  • What are the blinders you choose to wear? There is something about our myopic vision that not only affects what we see, but also our capacity to risk or embrace or celebrate or sing and dance or praise or venture or love wholeheartedly.
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