HOW MANY OF US TRULY HAVE THE BEST INTENTIONS BUT THE WRONG PRIORITIES?
By Rabbi Ariel Yeshurun
I would like to share an inspirational piece with you.
There was once a poor hard-working Jewish peasant in Poland who loved his land, but yearned for more. If he could have just a few more acres to farm, he thought, he would be the happiest man in his village.
There was a little synagogue in that community, which the Jewish peasant attended regularly. One night, after everyone had departed from the synagogue, he delayed a little while longer reciting Tehillim and pouring out his heart to G-d. He then approached the Aron Kodesh and cried out, “Ribono Shel Olam, if I only had a larger piece of land, how happy and how content I would be!”
Meanwhile, the local duke, who owned practically all of the land in that territory, happened to ride past the synagogue that evening. Noticing a light there, he opened the door just as the Jewish peasant was offering his special prayer to G-d. The duke approached the praying Jew and said, “Itzik, I happened to have overheard your petition and it moved me deeply. I am willing to make you the following offer: tomorrow, at the crack of dawn, you will present yourself at the gate of my palace; when I give you the signal you will begin to walk through my fields and villages. All the land that you cover from sunrise to sunset will be yours. But there is one condition: you must be back at the starting point by sunset or you will get nothing at all.” The Jewish peasant kissed the duke’s hands in gratitude and rushed home to tell his wife and children the great news.
The following morning, Itzik ran with his family to the appointed meeting place. At sunrise, the duke appeared and gave the signal, and Itzik began to walk. As he continued, he increased his speed, for there was lush and fertile land all around him.
After a while his wife and children found it hard to keep up with him. His wife pleaded with him, “Itzik, take it easy and wait for us, a few more acres and we’ll have more than enough for our children and for our children’s children.” But Itzik would not listen to her, “Please don’t talk to me now. Can’t you see that every moment means another acre of land for us? We’ll talk tomorrow. Tomorrow we will be rich, and I will buy you and our children the finest and the best. But now I must hurry on.”
Itzik passed a neighbor whom he knew was in a desperate financial state. The man beckoned to him, “Itzik, I know you to be a warm-hearted person. Please help me with a loan, and you will save a Jew from ruin.” Itzik would have liked to help, but how could he bother with him at such a time? “Sorry, I can’t stop to help you now. I’ll see you tomorrow.” And he thought to himself, “Tomorrow when I’m rich, I’ll set him up in business and make him secure for the rest of his life.”
As Itzik approached the little synagogue where just last night his prayer had been miraculously answered, the Rabbi stood at the door and said, “Itzik, come in and pray with us. We need you for a minyan.” But Itzik was out of breath by now, and motioned with his hands to the rabbi that he could not even stop to answer him. But he said to himself, “O G-d, certainly You understand! Tomorrow, I’ll be rich, and I’ll rebuild the synagogue, and I’ll donate money for a beautiful school. But now I have a few more acres to cover.”
The sun was now setting rapidly, and Itzik was heading for the starting point. His legs felt as heavy as lead, his mouth was dry, and his heart was pounding. He knew that for his own good he should stop, but he couldn’t—so he ran faster and faster. As the last rays of the setting sun touched the tree tops, Itzik plunged toward the starting point, and fell to the ground—dead!
Then the duke, with a wry cynical smile on his lips, called out to one of the peasants, “Ivan, take a hoe and go to the Jewish cemetery. There you will dig a grave 6 feet long and 3 feet wide, and see to it that Itzik is buried there. This is all the land he really needed.”
How many of us are like Itzik? How many of us truly have the best intentions but the wrong priorities? And how many of us realize that our priorities need adjustment, but lack the will power to change?
So many husbands and wives beg their spouses, “Let’s spend more time together as a couple; let’s have more family time, or let’s just eat dinner together!” Similarly, a child approaches his parent, “Do you want to play with me?” or “Can you come watch me play baseball?” But the response is often, “I just can’t right now. I work so hard, for us, so that we can have what we want. In a few weeks, months, years this will all calm down. Then we’ll have that time together.”
And the race through life continues, and the time with your spouse or children never materializes, and the day you were going to increase your charity never comes and you never did make it to the prayer service or to a class or to your son’s baseball game.
When we fail to prioritize, or fail to immediately implement the changes we know should be made, we risk ending up like Itzik. That elusive free time may seldom come before life has passed us by. And even if we are lucky, and we do eventually have the time to do what’s really important in life, how much have we missed along the way? How much have our families and community missed while waiting for us to be available?
How much have we missed along the way? How much have our families and community missed while waiting for us to be available?
This idea of having good priorities can be related to a very interesting incident found in the Book of Kings Immediately after King Solomon ascended the throne of his father, David, G-d appeared to him in a dream and said, “Ask, what shall I give you?”
King Solomon had the opportunity to ask for anything he wanted—anything. He could have asked for long life, or more riches, or for the destruction of his enemies so he could be free from trials and troubles.
But instead he began by expressing his gratitude to G-d for all the things that He had already done for him and given him, and for the honor of becoming King of Israel. Then King Solomon made his request, “Please give your servant a wise and sympathetic heart so that I can distinguish between good and bad.”
King Solomon, how wise you were! Before asking for anything, you thanked G-d for all that He had already done for you and your family. Then, you did not ask for things that come from without; but for things that come from within. King Solomon asked G-d for clarity. There is nothing more exhilarating than knowing and having clarity in life. Every choice we make can profoundly affect others and us in many ways. But in order to choose, we need to focus on the facets of our lives that really matter.
We are told that G-d was so pleased with King Solomon’s answer that He said, “I will not only honor your request; I will also give you that which you did not ask for—wealth, success and longevity.” Because King Solomon realized how important it was to prioritize, everything else fell into place and was given perspective and harmonious closure.
Let us emulate King Solomon. Let us first thank G-d for all the kindness He does for us, and then let us pray for a heart that can respond to the objectives of our family, to the needs of our People and to the needs of our Torah.
G-d bless you.