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Veneer

Scanning my library, I discovered a book that I purchased long ago and have treasured each time I’ve opened it. It’s an anthology of Jewish folklore that has a vast collection of anecdotes, parables, riddles, songs and countless other gems. As I remembered some of the wisdom gained while perusing it, I thought it might be a good resource for this medium.

One story I savor is that of the rich but stingy man and the rabbi. The man approached his rabbi to ask for a blessing, at which moment the rabbi rose, took the man by the hand and led him to a window. Looking out the window, the rabbi asked the stingy man what he saw, to which he replied, “People.”

The rabbi then took the man to a mirror and asked the same question. This time, the man said, “I see myself.” Now the rabbi proceeded to explain the meaning of his two questions.

“When you see only through the glass, you see the rest of the world around you. Looking at the mirror, although it is also made of glass, there is a silver veneer to it. And so it is with your life. As soon as you cover your images of life with silver, you see only you.”

There is no date or source attributed to this charming story and I cherish it for its simplicity and timelessness. When we measure others or ourselves in terms of wealth, possessions or other attributes, we ensure superficiality and a lack of wisdom.

When, however, we are able to see images without the facades or window dressings, we are best equipped to encounter such attributes as character or moral value. Our stingy rich man typified measuring others on the basis of their wealth rather than an unembellished and innate goodness.

The moral is joyously uncomplicated and whether the tale is factual or not, we can only wonder if the rabbi’s point is received and internalized, then and now. Shalom.

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