Retold by: Doug Lipman
Once, a distraught man came to Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev. Standing in the rabbi’s study, he said, “Rabbi, my business partners are about to make a terrible mistake. They want to take a new associate. But the man they have chosen does not even love God!”
Rabbi Levi Yitzhak looked worried. “Yes, that would be very bad. But tell me about this man they chose. Is he generous?”
“Well, yes, Rabbi. He even gives huge banquets and invites the poor. But he isn’t pious!”
“And tell me,” the Rabbi continued. “When others succeed, is he happy or jealous?”
“I guess he is happy. When I recently received the honor of providing the local count with supplies, this man invited me to his house to congratulate me. But he doesn’t even attend synagogue!”
“I see. My friend, I would like to tell you a story.” The rabbi stood up and began pacing back and forth as he spoke:
“There was once a king whose land was being invaded by a mighty army. His general went out with many soldiers to repel the invaders, but was defeated. So the king appointed another general. The second general succeeded.
“Now the royal counsellors came to the king with an accusation: the first general, they said, had obviously been a traitor. If not, he would have won. After all, he commanded the same army that later prevailed!
“The king was in a quandary. This accusation was very serious. But how would the king determine whether the first general had tried to succeed or had purposely failed?
“Unable to solve this problem, the king summoned an old man who lived at the edge of the city, who was known for his wisdom. When the old man heard the king’s tale, he said, “I will devise a test, your majesty. Please schedule a victory parade for the winning general!”
“Two days later, the city turned out for the parade. As the victorious general marched through the city, the grateful populace lined the streets. They cheered and shouted praises for the one who had saved them from their enemy.
“The old man had arranged for the parade to pass the home of the first general, who had failed. When the victor strode by, the defeated general stood at his window, cheering as loudly as all the others, throwing flowers across his rival’s path.
“The old man returned to the king. ‘Have no fear, your majesty! The first general loves you so much that he even rejoices when his rival achieves a victory for you.'”
Rabbi Levi Yitzhak stopped his pacing and looked at the man in his study. “You see, my friend, we are all created by God to strive against the evil inclination within us. Many of us love God deeply but are defeated in that bitter struggle against our evil urges.
“How can you recognize those who honestly struggle to love God but have been defeated? By their ability to share whole-heartedly in the happiness of God’s other children.
“My friend, please help this man obey all the commandments, if you can. But as long as he shows this deep, enthusiastic love for other struggling humans, you must never doubt his love for God!”