Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof, part I

Once there was a man who, in studying the Torah, was puzzled by the phrase “tzedek tzedek tirdof” (“Justice, justice you shall pursue”). It occurred to the man that he had never really seen justice, and so he decided to travel the world until he found it. So he packed up his belongings and began his journey.

He traveled to the North, and searched in every town and every village, every nook and every cranny, but he did not find justice. So he traveled to the South, and searched in every town and every village, every nook and every cranny, but he did not find justice. He traveled to the East and to the West, but still he did not find justice.

Finally, the man came to a small forest, the last part of the world that he had not yet searched. He stood at the edge of the woods and said, “If I do not find justice here, there is no justice in the world.” And with that, he entered the forest.

He wandered through the woods, into the den of pirates. “Is there justice here?” he asked. The pirates laughed over their stolen treasures and answered, “Did you think you would find justice here?” The man entered into the cave of witches. “Is there justice here?” he asked. The witches cackled as they stirred their potions. “Did you think you would find justice here?” they replied.

Disheartened, the man continued on his way through this small forest that did not seem to end. Finally, he came across a small wooden cottage. In the windows, the traveler could see thousands of tiny little lights shining through. Curious, the traveler approached the cottage, and knocked on the door. The door swung open. The traveler walked inside, and stopped, staring in amazement around him.

On every wall there was shelf upon shelf. On each shelf was candle after candle. Some candles were made of gold or silver, and others were made of clay or tin. Some were full of oil and had strong, bright flames, and others had only a little oil remaining, and the flames were growing weak. As the traveler stood, staring at the thousands of candles, a man appeared, dressed entirely in white.

“Sholom aleichem, my friend,” the man said to the traveler. “What can I do for you?”

“Please,” said the traveler, “can you tell me what these candles are?”

“Each candle you see is the life of a human being,” the man replied.

“Please,” said the traveler, “can you show me my candle?”

“Follow me,” said the man, and he turned and walked away.

The traveler followed the man through room after room, down corridor after corridor, in the cottage that had seemed so small from the outside. Finally, the man led him into a small room, and pointed to a candle low on a shelf.

“There,” the man said. “That is your candle.”

The traveler noticed that his candle was made of polished silver, but that there was very little oil remaining inside. Next to his candle, he saw another, with a strong, bright flame, full of oil.

“Please,” said the traveler, “whose candle is that?”

“I can only tell you about your own candle,” replied the man, and with that he vanished.

The traveler stood looking at his candle, unaware of the passage of time. As he gazed, the flame of a candle above him began to sputter, and soon the flame died entirely. The traveler was horrified. ‘Could it be that my candle is going to be the next to die?’ he asked himself. ‘Is there really only that little oil left for me?’

The traveler again noticed the candle next to his, the candle so full of oil. He reached out and lifted the candle, tilting it, as though to pour some of the oil into his own candle.

In a flash, the man in white appeared again and grabbed his wrist, saying, “Is this the justice you hoped to find?”

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