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Rosh Hashanah and Traveling Through Mud

A Hasidic story.

Reb Meir of Premishlan and Reb Yisreal of Ruzhin were the best of friends, yet no two people could be more different. Reb Meir lived in great poverty. In fact he would often give his few remaining pennies to the poor. Reb Yisrael, a generous and respected man, on the other hand, lived like a king.

These two friends once met as each was preparing to leave on a journey. Reb Meir was sitting on a simple cart drawn by one scrawny horse. Reb Yisrael was atop a beautiful coach pulled by four powerful stallions.

Reb Yisrael walked over to the horse hitched to Reb Meir’s wagon. With mocking concern, he inspected the horse with great care. Then he turned to his friend and with barely concealed mock and disdain said to him, “I always travel with four strong horses. In this way, if my coach becomes stuck in the mud my strong stallions will be able to free it quickly. I can see, however, that your horse barely seems able to carry you and your wagon on a dry and hard-packed road. There is bound to be mud on your travels. Why do you take such risks?”

Reb Meir stepped down from his wagon and walked over to his friend, who was still standing next to Reb Meir’s horse. Placing his arms around his beloved old horse’s neck, Reb Meir said softly, “The risk, I think is yours. Because I travel with this one horse that in no way can free this wagon from the mud, I am especially careful to avoid the mud in the first place. You, my friend, are certain you can get free if you get stuck in the mud and thus do not look where you are going.” (Adapted from Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Hasidic Tales)

On Rosh Hashanah it does not really matter what car we drive or even what clothes we wear. It is instead about looking at the path we are traveling and determining where we are going. It is about finding again the right path. The High Holidays are all about rediscovering this road.

Everything depends on choosing our path. The travels are within our hands.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur provide us with the opportunity to renew our choices and redirect our journey.

And if we find that we are stuck in the mud, then may these days, and the prayers we sing, and the community with which we join, help us to find our way out.