Wine or Water

Friday, 7 May, 2010 - 4:54 pm


Wine or Water

There was once a king who was visiting a town. In preparation for the king’s visit the town decided to fill a giant barrel with wine and present it to the king upon his arrival. Where were they going to get so much wine to fill the giant barrel? They came up with a brilliant idea; each family of the town would bring one flask filled with wine and pour it into the giant barrel and this way the barrel would fill with wine.

They placed a Giant barrel in the center of the town with a ladder reaching to the top and every day people lined up to pour their flask of wine into the barrel.

The day finally arrived and the king visited the town. The people were so excited to present the king with this wonderful gift. The king was shown the barrel and was given a kingly goblet. They filled his goblet with wine from the giant barrel. The towns people were shocked by the look on the king’s face as he drank the wine, the king was obviously very unhappy. When asked why he was so unhappy he responded, “It’s just plain water”.

It turns out that each family thought to themselves why should I be the one to pour in a flask of wine I will pour in water instead, I am sure no one will notice if there is just one flask of water among all that wine. Everyone in the town made the same calculation and so no one poured in wine but rather water instead. Everyone was relying on someone else.

I remember hearing this story when I was a child and it stuck in my mind. As I get older the story takes on more relevance and meaning.

The Holiday of Shavuot is approaching, the holiday when we receive the Torah on Mount Sinai. Whose responsibility is it that the Torah should continue? Who will make sure of the continuity of Judaism? The answer is each and every one of us.

The giving of the Torah was and is a unique historical event. Every Jew alive was present at the giving of the Torah indicating how the Torah belongs to each of us equally and that each of us is equally responsible for it. It does not only belong to the Rabbi’s, scholars and educated people, it is not only the property of the donors. It belongs to every man, woman or child, educated, ignorant, rich, poor and everyone in between. That is why we were all there.

The question is we will be putting in wine or water. Are we going to leave it for someone else or are we going to step up to the plate.

When the next cause, project or opportunity comes along will I stand up and be counted or will I imagine someone else doing it?

If I notice something that I feel needs to be corrected will I see myself as part of the solution and do my part or will I kvetch how no one is doing anything about it?

Recently there was a loss in the community, someone lost their mother, an email was sent out to the group regarding the loss and the shiva times. I noticed one of the people who attended and I was not sure how he knew the family, so I asked him. His answer was inspirational and powerful, “I didn’t know them, when I hear that someone had a loss I do my best to attend whether I know them or not”. Wow! I thought, this guy doesn’t just pour in any wine, he pours in the best and most expensive wine.

They say that the best marriage is between a woman whose mother did everything in the house, to a guy whose father did everything in the house. Then they are tripping over each other to do the work in the house. And the worst marriage is between a women whose father did everything in the house and a guy whose mother did everything in the house. Each one thinks that the other should be doing everything.

The same goes for our relationship with our own Judaism, our community and our people. Are we responsible or is someone else. Of course we need to know the difference between what is in our circle of influence and what is outside of it. We need to know what we can change and what we cannot. I am speaking of those things that are in your sphere of influence and you can do something about it.

This year let’s make Shavuot the holiday where we stand up tall and proud and not just pour in our obligatory flask of wine but into a holiday where we uncover the deepest part of our selves and share that with the people around us, illuminating ourselves, our community, our people and the world.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Zalman Marcus


Comments on: Wine or Water

Marcelo wrote...

Do you remember the origin of this story?
Mishnah, Talmud, etc.
Thank you very much

RichardDaw wrote...

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