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The Rabbi's Gift

Once a great order, as a result of waves of anti-monastic persecution, all of a monasteries branch houses were lost and it had become decimated to the extent that there were only five monks left: the abbot and four others, all over seventy in age. 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. As he agonized over the imminent death of his order, it occurred to the abbot at one such time to visit the hermitage and ask the rabbi if by some possible chance he could offer some advice that might save the monastery.

The rabbi welcomed the abbot at 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 explained. "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 rabbi wept together. Then they read parts of the Torah and quietly spoke of deep things. The time came when the abbot had to leave. They embraced each other. "It has been a wonderful thing that that we should meet after all these years", the abbot said, "but I have failed in my purpose for coming here. Is there nothing you can tell me, no piece of advice you can give me that would help 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 the Torah together. The only thing he did say, just as I was leaving, was that the 'Messiah is one of us'. I don't know what he meant".

In the days and weeks and months that followed, the old monks pondered this and wondered if there was any significance to the rabbi's words. The Messiah is one of us? Could he have possibly meant one of the monks in the monastery? If that's 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 man of light.

Certainly he would not have meant Brother Elred! Elred gets crotchety at times. But come to think of it, even though he is a thorn in people's sides, when you look back on it, Elred is virtually always right. Often very right. Maybe the rabbi did mean Brother Elred.

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 on 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? Supposed I am the Messiah? O God, not me. I couldn't be that much for You could I?

Contemplating in this manner, the old monks began to treat each other with extraordinary respect on the off chance that one among them might be the Messiah. And on the 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 still occasionally came to visit the monastery to picnic on it's tiny lawn, to wander along some of it's paths even now and then to go into the dilapidated chapel to meditate. 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 out from them and permeate the atmosphere of 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, to pray. They began to bring their friends and show them the special place.

And their friends brought their friends and 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. So within a few years the monastery had become a thriving order and, thanks to the rabbi's gift, a vibrant center of light and spirituality in the realm.

 

~a 16th Century story, found in many different variants~

 

 

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