There was once a man who was down on his luck. He came to a town, and asked the locals if there was a soup kitchen in the vicinity, where he could eat something for free. They directed him to a street with large houses, and the poor man happened to knock on the wrong door.
“’I’m starving, please, I need something to eat,” he told the homeowner who opened the door. The homeowner realised that his visitor was looking for the soup kitchen, but decided to make the most of him in the meantime.
“I have a pile of wood that needs chopping first,” he told the poor man. “Chop the wood, then I’ll give you something to eat.”
The poor man worked for hours chopping the wood with his last bit of strength. Finally, feeling half dead, he returned to the homeowner and asked for some food and drink.
“Go down the road, to the soup kitchen there,” the homeowner told him. “They’ll feed you whatever you want.”
The poor man staggered down the road, stumbled into the soup kitchen and started loudly demanding that they give him some food and drink. The proprietor came over to the poor man, to find out why he was being so aggressive, and when he’d heard the whole story, he told the poor man:
“Over there, you worked for free.
“Here, you eat for free.”
This is one of Rebbe Nachman’s parables.
WORKING FOR FREE
For years, I wasted so much of my life ‘working for free’. I used to have projects with the most ridiculous, stress-inducing deadlines, high-stakes work writing communications and press releases for high-profile people in the British Government, writing for papers with circulations in the high millions.
(That was then, things are very different these days.)
So many times before I moved to Israel, I wanted to get off the rat wheel, slow things down, stop pouring my life, blood, and soul into work, work, work – but I couldn’t see a way out. I really thought my working all the hours God sends was what was going to give me a good standard of living, and happiness, and financial security.
It didn’t do any of those things. Whatever I earned, I more than spent trying to make myself feel better about how miserable I was stuck in that awful, stressful, workaholic lifestyle.
But if I didn’t work, I just would never get anywhere….
That’s what we’re all taught in the West, that’s what we all believe.
Money makes the world go round.
EATING FOR FREE
Then, I moved to Israel, and the second part of the story began.
For the first couple of years that I lived here, I continued thinking that my ‘chopping wood’ was what was going to put food on the table. But then, I chopped, and chopped and chopped some more – and we still went bust and had to sell our first house because we ran out of money.
At that point, I got very demanding with God.
“God, where’s my parnassa?!?!?’ I scolded angrily.
Couldn’t He see all the effort I was making, all the schemes I was trying, all the leads I was chasing? And nothing, nothing, nothing got anywhere or made the blindest bit of difference.
So in the end, I gave up trying to chop wood, and I resigned myself to living like a pauper for the rest of my life.
This scenario kind of replayed itself, and continued, for a decade.
Then I realised a funny thing: Even though me and my husband had been through some terrible, awful financial problems for many years, we’d never actually had a day without a roof over our heads, or some sort of food on the table.
Even when my husband couldn’t work for two years, and I had my hands full trying to keep my family together, let alone trying to find a gig chopping wood – we still had a roof over our head and food on the table.
The thought began to dawn that maybe, just maybe, money didn’t make the world go round after all.
A couple of years’ ago, BH, things started to improve financially.
But I still know that regardless of how much wood we chop – or not – we’re really still eating for free.
And that’s such a reassuring thought.