Over the last decade, and particularly over the last five years or so, I’ve had so many occasions when after a lot of investment, time, effort, prayers etc, it seems I got left empty-handed.
Nothing to show for all that output. All those tefillot. All that time spent working on my middot, or trying to move forward in life.
When you get that ‘empty handed’ feeling, it can so take you down so quickly, and make it seem as though there’s really no point trying and more, or continuing any longer, or picking yourself back up.
But that’s a huge lie spread around by the yetzer.
Here’s what’s really happening, courtesy of a Rebbe Nachman parable:
Once, a man was granted the opportunity to go to the King’s treasury for hour. He was told that whatever he managed to grab hold of and carry out of the treasury would be his – riches for life!
So he showed up to the treasury at the appointed time, and started frantically running around trying to grab the most valuable and easy-to-carry stuff. He staggered back to the exit with his booty – and the guard on the gate slapped it all out of his hands.
Shocked, the man turned around and started frantically trying to amass more diamonds and gold objects. Again, he came over to the exit – and again, the guard on the gate slapped everything out of his hands.
Again, the man had to start all over again. And again. And again. And each time, the guard on the gate would slap it all away, leaving him with nothing.
At one point, the man got so dejected he slumped down on the floor and simply couldn’t find the energy or will to drag himself up again. What’s the point? The guard on the gate would slap it all out of his hands leaving him with nothing to show for himself.
Yet, in that very low place a small voice whispered to him: “Stand up! Try again! Keep going! This is all going to turn around for the best, you’ll see!”
So the man stood back up, collected more items – and had them slapped out of his hands again.
Until finally the hour was up.
As that moment approached, the guard on the gate finally let the exhausted man leave with whatever he was carrying.
Which is when he got his second massive shock of the day: all of the treasure that had been slapped out of his hands was waiting for him outside the treasury.
The guard on the gate came over and explained:
“What can one person carry, all by himself? Not so much. So the King gave me orders to keep slapping your treasure out of your arms, so you’d be free to collect even more…”
And that’s how it is with us, too.
God keeps slapping all our ‘treasure’ away, because He wants us to go and collect more mitzvahs, more brownie points, more kindnesses, more humility, more emuna.
The real diamonds.
And when the hour is up, that’s when we’ll see just how much we’ve really amassed, despite all the times we walked around feeling lost and empty.
So don’t give up.
We’re nearly there.