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Story: Parshat Shoftim, 8/21/20

08/25/2020 01:57:25 PM


Rabbi Charlie

To see Rabbi Charlie deliver this story, click HERE.

This week’s Torah portion includes the phrase, “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof – Justice, justice shall you pursue.” To reflection on the idea of justice and, as we’ve entered into the month of Elul, to start that process of reflecting on our lives, a mashal – a story:

There once was a Jew who went out into the world to seek justice. He saw how people mistreated each other, and how hard they were on the animals. Somewhere, he was certain, true justice must exist, but he had never found it. So he set out on a quest. He went from town to town and village to village searching for justice. But never did he find it.

Now, it happened when he was deep in a forest he arrived at a little hut in a clearing. Through the window he could see many flickering flames, and he wondered why they were burning. He knocked on the door, but there was no answer. He knocked again. Nothing. At last he pushed the door open and stepped inside.

As soon as he entered that cottage, the man realized that it was much larger on the inside than it had seemed to be from the outside. He saw that it was filled with hundreds of shelves, and on every shelf there were dozens of oil burning candles. Some of the oil holders were filled with oil and the flames burned brightly. But others had very little oil left, and it seemed that they were about to sputter out.

All at once an old woman stood before him. Her hair was white and she was wearing a white robe. "Peace be with you, my son" the old woman said. "How can I help you?" The man who sought justice replied, " And peace be with you. I have gone everywhere searching for justice, but never have I seen anything like this. Tell me what are all these candles?"

"Each of these candles is the candle of a person's soul" said the old woman. “As long as that person remains alive, the candle continues to burn. But when that person's soul takes leave of this world, the candle burns out."

"Can you show me the candle of my soul?" asked the man who sought justice. "Follow me," the old woman said, and she led the way. Eventually, the old woman stopped and pointed to a candle. The wick of that candle was very short, and there was very little oil left. The old woman said, "That is the candle of your soul."

The man took one look at that flickering candle, and a great fear fell upon him. Was it possible for the end to be so near without his knowing it? He couldn’t help but notice that the candle holder next to his own was full of oil. Its wick was long and straight and its flame burned brightly.

The man stood there, staring at his candle, which looked as if it was about to burn out. All at once he heard a sputtering sound, and when he looked up, he saw a wisp of smoke rising from another shelf, and he knew that somewhere, someone was no longer among the living. He looked back at his own candle and saw that there were only a few drops of oil left. Then he turned to the candle holder next to his own, so full of oil, and a terrible thought entered his mind.

He stepped back and searched for the old woman, but he didn't see her anywhere. So he lifted that oil candle, ready to pour it into his own. But all at once the old woman appeared out of nowhere and gripped his arm with a grip like iron. And the old woman said: "Is this the kind of justice you are seeking?"

Adapted from Howard Schwartz’s “The Cottage of Candles” in The Day the Rabbi Disappeared.

Yes – a little spooky, but so compelling. We want justice, but we can be selfish. We strive to pursue justice for all, not only justice for me… and we fall short. Our time is limited. Our lives are filled with mistakes. And we are capable of t’shuva, repentance. T’shuva begins with a sincere, honest, and often humbling reflection on our lives. When done right, it’s really hard. It will also lead us to the life we hope to lead. As the month of Elul begins, so do we.

Shabbat Shalom!

Mon, January 25 2021 12 Sh'vat 5781