Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Parable of the Magic Chicken

I'm not a big purveyor of parables, but somehow the style seems particularly apt here. (H/T II Samuel 12, Natan's rebuke of David. Also inspired by my friend Rabbi Natan Slifkin's post.)

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A person comes to seek the counsel of an esteemed rabbinic leader:

"Rabbi, a holy man in our community has been selling chickens. He guarantees that if you buy one of his chickens, it will lay enough eggs to feed your entire household and then some. He also says that it will only work if you do not purchase any other food, because that shows a lack of faith. In fact, he warns that if you do purchase other food, or worse, if you don't buy one of his chickens, your family will be be condemned to poverty.

People are buying the chickens in droves. Some because they believe the holy man's promise. Others out of fear, because they don't want to be ostracized by their friends, neighbors, and community if they are seen bringing additional food into their homes. This man also targets children, indoctrinating them to believe that they must buy these chickens or face ruin in their future lives.

And the chickens? It appears that they're just regular, ordinary chickens. They lay no more than 1 to 2 eggs a day, not nearly enough to feed a household. Children regularly go to bed hungry. Many are thin and malnourished. Families are suffering. Rabbi, what are we to do?"

With fire in his eyes, clearly shocked and incensed, the Rabbi answers:

"This is insanity, a travesty! When a person is brought to heavenly judgment, the first question they ask him is: Did you deal faithfully and honestly with people? Were you trustworthy in your business dealings? By making such empty guarantees, and convincing a whole community to buy into it, indeed scaring them to buy into it, this man is guilty of grave transgressions! He owes every one of these families every cent of what he guaranteed and failed to deliver, five times over. Of course he can't possibly pay them all back. Nor can he compensate them for their great suffering. Who is this 'holy man'? Bring him to me, so I can look him in the eyes and blast the fear of God into him!"

"Rabbi," says the visitor, "that man is you."

"The single chicken per household is your promise of abundant parnasah from a single earner, a woman and mother with nothing more than a beis yaakov education, which you've warned us not to supplement. You've told the men not to depart from their learning, and even the women you've forbidden from obtaining an education that would enable them to bring in enough money to support the family. You guaranteed us great abundance, and yet many of us can scarcely put food on the table, must rely on tzedaka to live. Some accept their poverty as a badge of faith. But many are scared to do anything different, not wanting to be seen as lesser in the eyes of their neighbors, or their own children, who they're also worried about marrying off. Others have lived this way their whole lives and simply lack the skills and wherewithal to do anything different.

Rabbi, you made this guarantee to us, and now I come to you on behalf of the community to ask you to cover that guarantee. Please, pay us the money you've promised we would have. And one more thing. I beg you, please stop selling us these chickens."

White as a ghost, and after a very long pause, the Rabbi responds...

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Okay, let's leave it at that. I think you get the picture. Prose and form aside, is the parable fair? Let me know what you think.

2 comments:

  1. Your fictional rabbi would respond, "I must give this more thought."

    The rebbeim we actually have, I'm afraid, would respond "They, and you, just lack bitachon."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Right, well the fictional rabbi is supposed to take in the rebuke, like David did with Natan. It's the "ideal" of introspection and teshuva, which as much as we talk about, not enough people seem to manage.

      Delete

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