Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Hasidic management story I wish I'd put in my book

One day, as the Ba'al Shem Tov was strolling through the town square, he came upon Mendel the water carrier, struggling under the burden of two full barrels of water. “How are you today, my friend?” asked the Baal Shem Tov. Gasping for air, Mendel responded gruffly, “How could I be anything but terrible? Look what a miserable profession I have! I must carry these heavy buckets for miles from the river, uphill all the way. Then, when I get to town, I have to haggle with customers to earn a few kopeks. And I’m not getting any younger. Soon I will be too old to carry water. What will become of me then? What a cursed existence!” And with that, Mendel shuffled by the Ba’al Shem Tov, looking for customers.

The next day, the Ba’al Shem Tov again saw Mendel in the town square, carrying buckets of water. Undeterred by yesterday’s tongue lashing, the Ba’al Shem Tov inquired “How are you today?” Mendel smiled and replied, “Thank G-d, Rebbe, I am fine. And why not? The sun is shining, I have been granted the health to pursue an honest living, and I earn enough to support my family.” And with a spring in his step, Mendel strolled through the square.

The Ba’al Shem Tov called out, “Mendel, I want to thank you, for you have taught me a great lesson.” Mendel put down his buckets and listened as the Ba’al Shem Tov explained. “On the one hand, we believe that G-d grants a person his livelihood for the year on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. On the other hand, we pray to G-d every morning that He should grant us our livelihood. How are we meant to reconcile this contradiction? Observing you, Mendel, I now understand. G-d indeed grants us the amount of our livelihood for the entire year on Rosh Hashana. But, how will we earn that livelihood? Will we suffer through every moment, hating our lot in life, wishing the day was done? Or will we enjoy the effort and be glad for the opportunity to do an honest day’s work? For that, a person must pray for G-d’s grace every day. Mendel, I want to bless you – may you merit, each and every day, to earn your livelihood with the same joy that you feel today.”

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