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The Rabbi's Gift

There is a story, perhaps a myth. Typical of mythical stories, it has many versions. The source of this version is obscure, but it is called "The Rabbi’s Gift".

The story concerns a monastery that had fallen upon hard times. Once it was a great order but now there were only five monks left, the abbot and four others, all over seventy years of age. All its branch houses were lost. Clearly, it was a dying order.

In the deep woods surrounding the monastery there was a little hut that a rabbi from a nearby town occasionally used for a hermitage. Through their many years of prayer and contemplation, the old monks had become a bit psychic, so they could always sense when the rabbi was in the hermitage. "The rabbi is in the woods, the rabbi is in the woods again," they would whisper to each other. As he agonized over the imminent death of his order, it occurred to the abbot to visit the hermitage and ask the rabbi if, by some possible chance, he could offer any advice that might save the monastery.

The rabbi welcomed the abbot into his hut. But, when the abbot explained the purpose of his visit, the rabbi could only commiserate with him. "I know how it is," he exclaimed, "the spirit has gone out of the people. It is the same in my town. Almost no one comes to the synagogue anymore." So the old abbot and the old rabbit wept together. Then they read holy scripture and spoke of deep things. The time came when the abbot had to leave. They embraced each other. "It has been a wonderful thing that we should meet like this after all these years," the abbot said, "but I have still failed in my purpose in coming here. Is there nothing you can tell me, no piece of advice that you can give me that would help me save my dying order?"

"No, I am sorry," the rabbi responded. "I have no advice to give. The only thing I can tell you is that the Messiah is one of you."

When the abbot returned to the monastery, his fellow monks gathered around him to ask, "Well, what did the rabbi say?"

"He couldn’t help," the abbot answered. "We just wept and read together. The only thing he did say, just as I was leaving - it was something cryptic - was that the Messiah is one of us. I don’t know what he meant."

In the days, weeks and months that followed, the old monks pondered this and wondered whether there was any possible significance in the rabbi’s words. The Messiah is one of us? Could he possibly have meant one of the monks here at the monastery? If that is the case, which one? Do you suppose he meant the abbot? Yes. If he meant anyone, he probably meant Father Abbot. He has been our leader for more than a generation. 

On the other hand, he might have meant Brother Thomas, Certainly, Brother Thomas is a holy man. Everyone knows that Thomas is a man of light. Certainly he could not have meant Brother Eldred! Eldred gets miserable at times. But, come to think of it, even though he is a thorn in people’s sides, when you look back on it, Eldred is virtually always right. Often, very right. Maybe the rabbi did mean Brother Eldred. But surely not Brother Phillip. Phillip is so passive, a real nobody. But then, almost mysteriously, he has a gift for somehow always being there when you need him. He just magically appears by your side. Maybe Phillip is the Messiah. Of course, the rabbi didn’t mean me. He couldn’t possibly have meant me. I’m just an ordinary person. Yet, supposing he did? Suppose I am the Messiah? O God, not me. I couldn’t be that much for you, could I?

As they contemplated in this manner, the old monks began to treat each other with extraordinary respect on the off chance that one of them might be the Messiah. And on the off, off chance that each monk himself might be the Messiah, they began to treat themselves with extraordinary respect.

Because the forest in which it was situated was beautiful, it so happened that people occasionally came to visit the monastery to picnic on its tiny lawn, to wander along some of its paths, even now and then to go into the dilapidated chapel to pray. As they did so, without even being conscious of it, they sensed this aura of extraordinary respect that now began to surround the five old monks and seemed to radiate from them and permeate the place. There was something strangely attractive, even compelling, about it. Hardly knowing why, they began to come back to the monastery more frequently to picnic, to play and to pray. They began to bring their friends to show them this special place. And their friends brought their friends.

Then it happened that some of the younger men who came to visit the monastery started to talk more and more with the old monks. After a while, one asked if he could join them. Then another, and another and another. So, within a few years, the monastery had once again become a thriving order and, thanks to the rabbi’s gif, a vibrant centre of light and spirituality in the realm.