Friday, August 21, 2020

Rearrange the Furniture

A familiar Yiddish folktale.

Once upon a time in a small village lived a seemingly poor unfortunate man who lived with his wife, his mother, and his six children in a little one-room hut. Because they were so crowded, the once loving couple often argued. The children were rambunctious, and often fought. In winter, when the nights were long and the days were cold, life was especially difficult. The hut was full of crying and quarreling.

One day, when the poor unfortunate man couldn’t take it anymore, he ran to the Rabbi for advice. “Rabbi,” he cried, “things are really bad, and only seem to be getting worse. We are so poor that my mother, my wife, my six children, and I all live together in one small hut. We are too crowded, and there’s so much noise. Help me, Rabbi. I’ll do whatever you say.”

The Rabbi thought for a long while. At last he said, “Tell me, my poor man, do you have any animals, perhaps a chicken or two?” “Yes,” said the man. “I do have a few chickens, also a rooster and a goose. “Excellent,” said the Rabbi. “Now go home and take the chickens, the rooster, and the goose and bring them into your hut to live with you.” Although the man was a bit surprised, he said, “Of course, Rabbi. I will do whatever you say.”

The poor unfortunate man hurried home and took the chickens, the rooster, and the goose out of the shed and brought them into his little hut. When some weeks had passed, life in the hut was worse than before. Now along with the quarreling and crying there was honking, crowing, and clucking. There were even feathers in the soup and goose poop on the floor. The hut grew smaller, and the children bigger.

When the poor unfortunate man couldn’t stand it any longer, he again ran to the Rabbi for advice. “Rabbi,” he cried, “you should see what misfortune has befallen me. Now with the crying and quarreling, there is also honking, clucking, and crowing, and even feathers in the soup. Rabbi, it couldn’t get any worse. Help me, please.” The Rabbi listened and thought. At last he said, “Tell me, do you happen to have a goat?” “Oh, yes, I do have an old goat, but he’s not worth much.” “Excellent,” said the Rabbi. “Now go home and take the old goat into your hut to live with you.” “You cannot possibly mean for me to do this, Rabbi!” cried the man. “Come, come now, my good man, you must do as I say at once,” said the Rabbi.

The poor unfortunate man shuffled back home with his head hanging down and took the goat into his hut. When some weeks had gone by, life in the little hut was much worse. Now, with the crying, quarreling, clucking, honking, and crowing, the goat went wild, pushing and butting everyone with his horns. The hut seemed even smaller, and the children appeared bigger. When the poor unfortunate man couldn’t stand it another minute, he again ran to the Rabbi. “Rabbi help me!” he screamed. “Now the goat is running wild. My life is a nightmare.”

The Rabbi listened and thought. At last he said, “Tell me, my poor man. Is it possible that you have a cow? Young or old it doesn’t really matter.” “Yes, Rabbi, it’s true I have a cow,” said the poor man fearfully. “Go home then,” said the Rabbi, “and take the cow into your hut.” “Oh, no, you cannot mean for me to do this, Rabbi!” cried the man. “Do it at once,” said the Rabbi. The poor unfortunate man trudged home with a heavy heart and took the cow into his hut. “My Rabbi is surely crazy?” he thought.

When some weeks had gone by, life in the hut was even worse than before. Everyone quarreled, even the chickens. The goat ran wild. The cow trampled everything. (And the poop, well that should not be detailed.) The poor man could hardly believe his misfortune. At last, when he could stand it no longer, he ran to the Rabbi for help. “Rabbi,” he shrieked, “help me, save me, the end of the world has come! The cow is trampling everything. There is no room even to breathe. It’s worse than a nightmare!” The Rabbi again listened and thought. He offered words of support and sympathy.

At last he said, “Go home now, my friend, and let the animals out of your hut.” “I will, I will, I’ll do it right away,” said the man. The poor unfortunate man hurried home and let the cow, the goat, the chickens, the goose, and the rooster out of his little hut. That night the poor man and all his family slept peacefully. There was no crowing, no clucking, no honking. There was plenty of room to breathe. The children no longer fought. And there was no longer anything for husband and wife to argue about. They just wrapped their arms around each other, smiling and breathing in the peace that had enveloped their home.

The very next day the poor man ran back to the Rabbi. “Rabbi,” he cried, “you are so wise. You have made life sweet. With just my family in the hut, it’s so quiet, so roomy, and so peaceful. My home is filled with blessings! You have restored joy to our hearts.” (My retelling is based on It Could Always Be Worse: A Yiddish Folktale by Margot Zemach.)

Sometimes all it takes to see our blessings is a little rearranging.

Blessings are more about perspective than fact. Shaping this perspective is the essence of the Jewish command to recite blessings. We say a blessing so that we are more apt to count our blessings, so we are more likely to see our blessings.

Perhaps for these High Holidays that will be like no other, all we need to do is a little rearranging. Then our blessings will become clearer. Perhaps it is as simple as rearranging the furniture.

Today is the first day of the Hebrew month of Elul, beginning the forty days of repentance that culminate in Yom Kippur’s final shofar blast. Let the rearranging begin. Let us turn toward one another. Let us begin the task of shaping our perspective. Let us begin this new command of transforming our homes small sanctuary.

These days blessings are harder and harder to see, but they are still there, all around us. It may be as easy as moving some things around.

No comments: