December 11, 2020
They say you can take the teacher out of the classroom, but you can’t take the classroom out of the teacher. Having been a Jewish educator for more than three decades, it is hard (read: impossible) to mention a Jewish holiday and not seize the opportunity to share some Jewish holiday wisdom.
Therefore, in celebration of Hanukkah, I share one of my favorite Jewish parables*, which I encourage you to read to your children, grandchildren, or even discuss with your partner while the Hanukkah candles burn in celebration of the Hanukkah holiday.
A long time ago, there lived a very old king. This king was getting older and older, and he knew that, soon, one day, he would pass away.
The king wanted to make sure, that after he passed away, his successor would be good for the country. He wanted one of his three sons to succeed him as king, but he did not know which one.
The king wanted his wisest son to be the new king. The problem was, the king loved all his sons very much, and he did not really know which one was the smartest.
Meanwhile, the king was getting older and older, and he still did not have someone to take his place after he would pass away.
One day, the king thought of a way to figure out which of his sons was the smartest. He called his three sons into his room and told them: “Under the palace is a big empty room that is never used. I am going to make a contest that is going to put that room to use.
“The contest will be as follows: Each one of you will have thirty days to fill the room with something. Your goal will be to fill the room to its fullest potential. You can fill the room with anything you want. At the end of the thirty days, there should not even be an inch of the room that is left empty.
“Whoever fills the room the most,” said the king, “will become king when I pass away.”
The three sons left the king’s room. The oldest son was given the first chance to fill the big room, and he got to work.
The oldest brother thought to himself: “In the kingdom, there are many stones. Why don’t I fill the room with stones? After all, there are big stones, and small stones. If there are gaps between the big stones, I’ll be able to put small stones!”
So, the oldest brother called his servants, and told them to fill the room with as many stones as possible. They went out into the mountains and started gathering the biggest stones that they could find.
Then, the servants came back to the palace and put all the stones in the big room. There were spaces between the stones, so they filled those up with smaller stones.
It took a while until the room was finally full. Soon the thirtieth day came, and it was time for the king to check the room.
At the end of the day, the trumpets were blown, and the king came to inspect the big room.
The king was very happy to see how full the room was. Of course, there were still tiny spaces between the rocks, but it was still very full.
The king said: “Son, I am very proud of you. The room is very full, and even though there are still spaces between the rocks, you did a wonderful job.”
The room was emptied, and now it was the second son’s turn. He also had thirty days.
The second son decided to fill the room with feathers. “You can squish in as many feathers as you want, until the room becomes full,” he thought.
So, the second son called his servants, and they started to collect feathers. They collected all kinds of feathers from many different birds.
Soon, they had so many feathers, that the room seemed to be almost filled to capacity. As the thirtieth day approached, it was getting more difficult to find an empty corner in the room.
The thirtieth day came, and the room was full. The king came to check out the room. When he opened the door, feathers started flying all over.
The king said: “I see that you did something very smart and worked very hard, but there are still some small spaces that can be filled.”
Now that the king had seen the room, it was once again emptied, and the third son started thinking about what he would fill the room with.
Everybody was curious to know, with what would the third son fill the room? Well, the first day passed, and it seemed as if he had not yet decided. The second day, too, he did not say anything.
The next few days passed as if there was no contest going on. Everybody was wondering, why wasn’t the third son filling the room with anything?
The two older brothers were a little worried. They thought the king might become upset if the younger brother was not part of the contest. They also wanted their younger brother to get a chance to be the new king after their father.
The king called his youngest son, to ask him why he was not filling the room with anything. “Maybe you need some extra time?” asked the king.
“No,” the youngest son said. “I am ready to complete the filling of the room on the thirtieth day. Everything is okay.”
The thirtieth day came, and still, the room was empty. Everybody was wondering, how did the youngest son expect to fill the room? He only had a few hours left!
Towards the end of the day, the youngest son came out of his room with a small box in his hands. Was he going to fill the room with whatever was in that box? The room probably would not be too full then!
He then went into the big room and closed the door behind himself.
At the end of the day, the trumpets were blown, and the king came to check the room. When he opened the door, he smiled.
There was his son, holding a lit candle in his hand. He had filled the room with light.
The king said: “My son, you are the wisest of all. You will be the next king of this country.”
There are many morals to this story, whether from the “work smart not hard” to the “it’s always good to learn from the attempts of others.” The reason I shared this parable today is this message: “light has the incredible power to fill a void like nothing else.”
Hanukkah is a holiday about light. It reminds us that we can bring light into any situation. Light not only has a warmth and a comfort — even a calming ability — but it has the capacity to illuminate the unseen!
This Hanukkah, I encourage everyone to reach out to a friend, neighbor, colleague, or distant relative, with whom you have not spoken in some time. Bring some light into someone’s world and extend those flames from the Hanukkah candles to the flames in someone’s heart.
May you have a warm, safe, healthy, and joyous Hanukkah holiday from all of us at the Jewish Federation of San Antonio, because the Jewish Federation is:
*Thanks to the Great Jewish Stories blogspot for posting this parable online.