There is Only One Thing We Can Take Home
There once was a man who was so poor that his earnings could barely keep his family from the edge of starvation, let alone feed them properly.
One day, he heard about a faraway island where jewels were scattered on the ground, free for taking. The thought of these jewels captured his imagination, and for weeks he could think about nothing else. If only he could spend five minutes on that island, he thought, his problems would be all over.
He told his wife and children about this dream and they encouraged him to try it. After all, things couldn’t get much worse than they were then.
The man hired himself out as a deckhand on a ship which was setting sail for the faraway island. He still couldn’t believe that such a thing could be true, but he would soon find out.
A few months later, he stepped off the ship onto the island and looked around. He couldn’t believe his eyes. It was true!!
Jewels- diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds - were scattered on the ground like pebbles. Everywhere he turned he saw the glitter of exquisite jewels.
Quickly he filled his pockets with jewels. He thought of getting a few bags to fill as well, but then decided there would be plenty of time for that. The jewels didn’t seem to be going anywhere.
After walking around for a while on a cloud of elation, he realized he was hungry. He walked into a grocery store and filled a basket with a loaf of bread and various other staples. When it came time to pay, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a stunning four-carat diamond.
The grocer laughed. “Diamonds you give me?! You must be one of those foreigners. If I want diamonds, do I need you? I can just go out and pick up a few myself. Besides, why would someone want diamonds?”
“What do you mean?” said the man. “Look at how beautiful they are. Don’t you appreciate their beauty”.
“Of course they are beautiful”. Replied the grocers. “But they aren’t worth anything to me. The baker has to work hard to make a load of bread. He wants something of value for it, not a diamond”.
“What is more valuable than a diamond”?
“Schmaltz? Animal fat? Are you serious?
“I certainly am. We don’t have much schmaltz of this island. It is a rare commodity, and people will pay a fortune for it. A small drop of schmaltz will get you a whole loaf of bread”.
The man was stunned. But what could he do? He need a pace to live and something to eat. It was time to get to work.
He emptied his pockets of all those worthless stones and got job. The man began to deal with schmaltz, and after a while, became quite good at it. But he never considered the island his permanent home. Before he could return, he had to accumulate enough riches to provide for them for many years to come. He missed his family back at home. And he could’t wait until he was reunited with them.
At this point however, he had slipped into the mentality and lifestyle of the island, and his concept of wealth became the accumulation of schmaltz.
After a year on the island, the man had filled several warehouses with schmaltz and decided it was time to go home. He had his schmaltz packed in special cartons and loaded it onto the ship. Then he set sail for home.
When he reached home, his family awaited him on the dock. They were so excited for him to come home. The family was full of hope that their father would return home with something worthwhile to show for his time abroad. They couldn’t wait to see the riches that he had bought back from the island.
Beaming from ear to ear, he called the men to unload the ship. They went down to the hold and emerged with grease filled cartons. “What is this?” his wife wanted to know. The stench was unbearable. “Where are the jewels that you were supposed to bring back?”
“Jewels” he said. “What are jewels worth? This is schmaltz!”
“My dear husband, have you lost you senses?” asked his wife. “Whatever schmaltz is worth on that island, it is worth nothing here! Have you completely forgotten? Where are all the precious jewels which you were sent to bring home?”
Suddenly, it sank in. He had gotten so caught up in the mentality and lifestyle of the island that he had completely forgotten the whole purpose and reason why he was sent their in the first place. Desperately, he searched his pockets for some diamonds, but alas, he found only a pitiful few tiny ones that had stuck to the fibers of his pockets.
The man never got over how he could have come home with even one pocket full of diamonds which would have been worth an immense amount - if only he had not been swept up by the values of the islanders.
This world, says the Chofetz Chaim is like the Island. Everyone on the island has to come home one day. There is no escaping this fact. No one is allowed to stay here forever. The only benefit we have from this world is the diamonds - the Torah and Mitzvos - that we take home. In the next world, all the wealth and possessions that we accumulated in this lifetime have no worth.
So bend down and start filling your pockets while you have the chance!