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Turnips and beets

Here’s another story from Jewish folklore that I like and that rings some loud bells for me. The Emperor of a country was sadly watching the balances in the empire’s treasury shrinking and shrinking. He had called in all of the greatest authorities on treasury management, to no avail.

The Emperor sent a message to a wise rabbi, telling him of the situation. He then sent a messenger to visit the rabbi, trying to solicit a response. The rabbi said nothing but began to pull his large turnips out of the ground, replacing them with small turnips. This was followed by removing large beets and putting small ones in their places.

When the messenger returned to the palace, the Emperor asked if the rabbi had sent a note with him. The messenger replied that there was no note and reported how the rabbi had filled his garden with the undeveloped plants. With that, the Emperor realized his mistake, dismissed his high-ranking officials and tax collectors, replacing them with less famous but more honest representatives. Suddenly the Imperial Treasury began growing and flourishing.

Because the message here is straightforward, there is no need to explain. But the down-home, raised in a community, simple life part of me responds positively to simplification and operating on the basis of integrity. The only glitch in this formula has to do with finding “honest” officials but the idealist that survives in me suggests that they still exist.

It’s a very appealing way of looking at the methods by which we can improve our world. Whether we grow from the ground, the schools or our own commitments toward improving the greater good, we will inevitably succeed. The next time I’m in a classroom, I hope to make this a lesson worth discussing and illustrating. In the interim, planting seeds, symbolic or otherwise, feels like an excellent path to follow. Shalom.

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