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Story: Parshat Nitzavim, 9/27/19

09/29/2019 12:19:36 PM

Sep29

Rabbi Charlie

This week’s Torah portion, Nitzavim, tells us that we should choose life so that we shall live. And in the New Year ahead, we are hoping and praying for a year filled with life and good health and positive things! Our story tonight is therefore life affirming and might even be able to teach us a thing or two about what it means to choose life. It’s a Jewish story from Afghanistan that I learned from Howard Schwartz (Leaves from the Garden of Eden, p. 171-3, edited).

Long ago, on a hot summer night in Afghanistan, the king decided to leave the palace and go out into the city for some fresh air. So he took off his royal garments and put on the clothes of a peasant, and went by himself to wander through the streets of his city. As he wandered through one of the poorer parts of town, a pleasant singing voice reached the king’s ears. The king came closer and peered through the window of that house, and there he saw a man sitting at the table beside his wife. On the table were different kinds of fruits and salads and a small bottle of arak (a little alcohol). The man drank a glass of the arak and tasted the fruits and sang praises to God.

The king stood at the window, astonished by the peace of this poor man, and he wondered what the source of his joy might be. So, the king knocked. The man immediately opened the door, invited the king inside, and offered him food and drink. After a while the king asked his host what he did to earn a living, and the man replied: “My name’s Yehuda; I am a poor Jew. I wander in the streets during the days and fix shoes, and with whatever I earn I buy enough to sustain my wife and myself.” And the king said: “But what will happen to you when you get old and won’t be able to work?” Yehuda laughed and said: “God will take care of me.” The king laughed when he heard this, and he got up and said: “It is late and I must go. But if I come here again, will I be welcome?” And the man told him he would be welcome any time.

The king went back to his palace and decided to test this man, to see how he would fare in times of adversity. He issued a command forbidding anyone to fix shoes in the streets.

That night the king returned to the house of the Jew to see how he was doing after the order he had given. And the king was astonished when he peered through the window and saw that Yehuda was as happy as ever. So he went to the door and knocked, and Yehuda invited him to join them at the table. Then the king said: “What did you do today? For surely you saw the announcement of the king.” And Yehuda told the king that he had become a water carrier and that God had once again provided.

The next day the king gave an order that made it forbidden for water to be sold to anyone, and from then on, each person had to draw water for herself.

In the evening the king returned to Yehuda’s house, curious to know how he had done that day. He heard all about how Yehuda had become a woodcutter and how blessed he was.

The next morning the king ordered the captain of his guards to take all the woodcutters and make them palace guards. The captain of the guards did as the king had commanded. The woodcutters, including Yehuda, were made to guard all day, and in the evening the new guards were all sent home with their new uniforms and their swords. But they were not paid anything, for the guards received their wages only once a month.

What a surprise it was for the king that night, when he returned to the house and found Yehuda sitting as usual, singing happy songs in praise of God. The king asked him what he had done and Yehuda told him about becoming a soldier. For food, he had sold his sword and replaced it with a wooden sword.

Then the king said: “And what are you going to do if the king hears about the sword?” And Yehuda replied: “I don’t worry about things that haven’t happened. I have faith in God and faith that it will work out alright.”

The next day, an officer told the guards to report for a public execution. He singled out Yehuda as the one to execute a man who had stolen a melon. Yehuda pleaded, “Do not ask me to do this, for I have never even killed a fly!” The captain said: “It is a direct order from the king. You have no choice.”  

Yehuda stood up in front of the large crowd and prayed silently. After this he lifted his eyes to heaven and said in a loud voice: “My God, you know that I have never killed anyone in my whole life. Please, Lord, if this man in front of me is guilty, let me take my sword and cut off his head in a single blow. But if he is not guilty, let my sword turn to wood, as a sign of his innocence.” He reached into his sheath and pulled out his sword and held it up high. When the crowd saw that it was wooden, they gasped and then clapped and cheered, for they assumed that a miracle had taken place.

The king was delighted when he saw the wisdom of the Jew. He revealed himself to Yehuda and made him Chief Adviser to the king.

It’s a story that reminds us that even when things don’t seem to go our way, we can still find joy and and faith and appreciation. Our perspective matters. We always have a choice and we can always choose life.

Shabbat Shalom and L’shana Tova!

Thu, August 6 2020 16 Av 5780