An Eye and a Sigh


Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov once said to his disciples:

There once lived two neighbors, a Torah scholar and an impoverished laborer. The scholar would wake before dawn, rush to the study hall and study for several hours. He would then pray at length and with great devotion, hurry home for a quick bite of breakfast, and return to the study hall for more hours of study. After the noon meal he would go to market and engage in some minimal dealing–just enough to earn him his basic needs–then back to the study hall. After evening prayers and the evening meal, he would again sit over the sacred books till late into the night.

His neighbor would also wake early, but his situation did not allow for much Torah study: no matter how hard he struggled to earn a living, he barely succeeded in putting bread on the table. He would pray quickly with the first minyan at daybreak, and then his labor would consume his entire day and the greater part of his night. On Shabbat, when he finally had the opportunity to take a book in his hands, he would soon drop off from exhaustion.

When the two neighbors would pass each other in the yard, the scholar would throw the crass materialist a look of contempt and hurry on to his holy pursuits. The poor laborer would sigh and think to himself: how unfortunate is my lot, and how fortunate is his. We’re both hurrying—but he’s rushing to the study hall, while I’m off to my mundane burdens.

Then, it came to pass that the two men concluded their sojourn on earth and their souls stood before the heavenly court, where the life of every man is weighed upon the balance scales of divine judgement. An advocate-angel placed the scholar’s many virtues in the right cup of the balance scales: his many hours of Torah study, his meditative prayers, his frugality and honesty. But then came the prosecuting angel, and placed a single object on the other side of the scales—the look of contempt that the scholar would occasionally send his neighbor’s way. Slowly, the left side of the scales began to dip, until it equaled, and then exceeded, the formidable load on the right.

When the poor laborer came before the heavenly court, the prosecutor loaded his miserable, spiritually void life on the left scales. The advocating angel had but one weight to offer—the sorrowful sigh the laborer would emit when he encountered his learned neighbor. But when placed on the right side of the scales, the sigh counterweighted everything on the negative side, lifting and validating every moment of hardship and misery in the laborer’s life.


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Eli Hecht
7 years ago

A real wonderful and enlightening Newsletter .!!! Most of all a real organized thought original content . Thank you for your thoughts.
E Hecht

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