srmnrh57rice.htmlTEXTNISI4PB B 9 Rice

What do we do with the tools that we're given?

Pass out rice grains on Erev Rosh haShannah.

Long ago, in China, a couple of parents needed to leave on a long trip. They called their three children to them to let them know of their plans:

"We need to travel to Persia to check out our contacts along the silk route. We have not visited them since before you were born and we need to make sure that they have educated their children to take over the business as well as we have educated you. We will be gone for a long time and must entrust the local care of our business to your guardians since you are only now becoming adults. However, we have something precious to give you to care for while we are gone. When we return we will determine who will have primary responsibility and primary benefit from our business as we grow older."

Their mother went to a large brightly enameled chest in the corner of the room where they kept their valuables and carefully opened it, withdrew a highly carved ivory box and walked over to their teenage children. They gathered near as she slowly removed the lid. There, inside laying on a bed of red velvet were....

The children were startled to see not precious coins, nor jewels, but three simple grains of white rice.

With great care, their father reached in and took each grain out, one at a time and lay them in his open palm.

"These are for you to protect and care for. When we return we will evaluate how you have responded to this task and decide who among you will succeed us."

With those words he took one grain of rice and gingerly placed it in the open palm of each of their children.

The next morning, the parents left on their trip.


Does anyone here know how to get to Carneige Hall?

In the movie Karate Kid, young Daniel asks Mister Miagi to teach him karate. Miagi agrees under one condition: Daniel must submit totally to his instruction and never question his methods.

Daniel shows up the next day eager to learn. To his chagrin, mister Miagi has him paint a fence. Miagi demonstrates the precise motion for the job: up and down, up and down. Daniel takes days to finish the job. Next, Miagi has him scrub the deck using a prescribed stroke. Again the job takes days. Daniel wonders, What does this have to do with Karate? But he says nothing.

Next Miagi tells Daniel to wash and wax three weather-beaten cars and again prescribes the motion. Finally, Daniel reaches his limit: "I thought you were going to teach me Karate, but all you have done is have me do your unwanted chores!"

Daniel has broken Miagi's one condition, and the old man's face pulses with anger. "I have been teaching you karate! Defend yourself!"

Miagi thrusts his arm at Daniel, who instinctively defends himself with an arm motion exactly like that used in one of his chores. Miagi unleashes a vicious kick, and again Daniel averts the blow with a motion used in his chores. After Daniel successfully defends himself from several more blows, Miagi simply walks away. Leaving Daniel to discover what the master had known all along: skill comes from repeating the correct but seemingly mundane actions.

The same is true of godliness.

I have a theorem and a collection of related corollaries:

You can't sit down at the piano for the first time in your life and expect to play Beethoven's Moonlight sonata.

You can't deny the reality of God and at the same time expect to experience God's presence in your life.

You can't deny the reality of God and then complain that you don't feel God's presence in your life.

You can't deny or ignore ritual and expect to experience the fruits of a ritualized life.

You can't deny or ignore the beauty and power of Jewish living, and then expect to experience its warmth in your life.


After three years absence, the parents returned. Their grown children greeted them as they arrived and helped them unpack their baggage from the wagons. They had brought many wonders from their trip over the Himalayias to Persia and back. They were about to tell of their amazing adventures of riding on elephants and hearing tigers roar when they, instead, asked their children to show them the grains of rice with which they had been entrusted.

One of the children took them to his room. There, in a corner, just as in the corner of the room from which the rice had been given them, he led his parents to a large chest. However, rather than inside this chest, above it was a highly decorated set of shelves. On the shelves were little statues of strong and imposing animals. Silk scarves were draped over the sides and the sweet smelling smoke from burning incense drifted up around. There, on the center shelf, under a bell made of clear glass, his grain of white rice lay on a cushion of purple velvet.

His parents exclaimed at the beauty of the surroundings and the care he had bestowed the grain and turned to the next child.

This son had tossed the grain of rice in the trash as soon as his parents had left. He reasoned to himself that one grain of rice resembles another. So, as the family went to his brother's room, he dashed off to the kitchen where he grabbed a grain of white rice from the storage bins. He was back in his brother's room before his parents had finished exclaiming how beautifully the other grain had been kept. He drew forward and pulled his hand out of a pocket, opened it and displayed the grain of rice in it on his palm just as the original had been when it was given him.

"I have kept this grain of rice with me always." He lied. "I thought: 'If my parents think that this grain is so important that they will decide our future base on how I care for it, I must keep it with me at all times."

His parents looked closely at the grain and saw that it was as unscratched and apparently new as the one they had given him. They stood back, studied the two sons wisely, then turned to their daughter who stood a bit at a distance, modestly studying her feet.

"Well, I'm afraid, umm, I have not kept your grain, ohh, as well as my, err, wise and loving brothers have." She stammered. "I don't even have it any more." Her parents looked at her in amazement as her brothers stood behind them giggling.

"What have you done with it?" They asked gravely.

"I, uh, well...,"

She walked over to the window of her brother's room and pointed out to a field flowing with green stalks of rice plants, people walked among them, some harvesting, others planting anew.

"...I planted it."


Untold generations of our ancestors have given us the gift of Judaism. How does it fare in our hands? Have we placed it in a museum where in plays a minimal role in our lives? Have we tossed it aside, reaching for a bit of it when we need to demonstrate our connection? Does it flow within us enriching us and those around us?

The choice is ours to make.

 


©Mark Hurvitz
1996