Valuing the celebration, and celebrating the value
There was a story going around about a wealthy man in the United States who was waiting for a train in the Subway. As he was reading his newspaper, he became less and less aware of the painted line on the ground below him, and he ventured too close to the edge. As his toes folded over the edge of the pit, he lost his balance and fell in, hurting himself badly on the hard tracks. “Help! Help!” the man cried. He was too hurt to pull himself out, but the fear of a train rushing down the tracks at any moment prevented the few bystanders from risking their lives to save his. Certainly, a moral dilemma, but one of the greatest mitzvos possible: to save a life! What would do you do? People gathered round and tried to reach in and pull him out, but none were brave enough to take the plunge and jump in. When suddenly, in a flash, a man ran from behind the gathering crowd and flew into the pit, lifted the man up to the crowd on the platform, and climbed out safely before any train approached.
The crowd cheered, the rescued man cried, and everyone smacked the courageous man on the back and shook his hand. It wasn’t long before the media got wind of the big story, and reporters flooded the Subway and swarmed around the hero. “Who are you?” the reporters asked. “Where are you from?” He was local; a worker in the subway station. “What gave you the courage to do something so heroic, when everyone else couldn’t bring themselves to do it?” The man paused. The bright lights of video cameras almost blinding his eyes, and the microphones fighting with each other to find the closest place to his mouth, he swallowed and answered. “I work here. I get paid 10 dollars an hour. The last time there was a man hit by a train, the station closed for four hours. That’s 40 dollars! I can’t afford to lose 40 dollars…”
Jews have been talking about this subway worker for a long time. In Jewish folk law he took the form of a poor farmer. As he worked in his farm, he saw people begin working on the land next to his. After a while, he saw the cleared land turn into train tracks, and one day he saw a truly amazing sight: a locomotive billowing smoke as it rumbled down the tracks. He could hardly believe his eyes, and he resolved to buy a ticket to ride.
The line at the ticket agent was long, so the farmer asked the well-dressed man next to him how much a ticket cost. The man’s reply almost floored the poor farmer. It was the price of a first-class ticket to the end of the line, but he didn’t know the first thing about riding the train. If this is what the well-dressed man says it costs, then that’s the price! It was a small fortune, but he so longed to ride on the train just once! So he saved, and saved, and every day he saw the train steam past his farm, and that reminded him how fantastic it would be to ride. Finally, the big day arrived. He had saved enough money to buy a ticket, so he gathered his money and stood in line, proudly, at the ticket agent. When he finally reached the front of the line, he emptied his purse on the counter, and the agent looked at him, and said, “End of the line, Warsaw.” He handed him a ticket, and off the farmer went to the train station.
As he got on, he noticed the lavish decorations and the expensive fittings. He sat at a table, set with fine cutlery, and in the company of very well-to-do people. He couldn’t help but feel out of place; even…uncomfortable. As the train pulled off, he felt self-conscious looking out of the window wide-eyed while the rest of the passengers calmly sipped their drinks and read their papers. He decided to leave the cabin and start walking towards the back of the train. As he moved through the different carriages, he started to feel more and more comfortable as his surroundings began to match what he was used to. The cabins were fuller, simpler, and the passengers there were dressed like him. Third Class was definitely more his style. But before he could get too comfortable, suddenly people in his cabin started ducking and diving under the seats. The conductor was coming, they were hiding, for they were all stowaways. The farmer, seeing their behaviour, thought this was normal on a train, so he too squeezed under a seat. With his leg sticking out, the conductor saw him first. He grabbed him, shook him, and shouted: “Where’s your ticket!” To the conductor’s surprise, the farmer presented a large ticket. It read: First Class. “You have a First Class ticket…and you’re in Third Class hiding under a seat?!”
Both the Subway worker and the farmer had the same problem: they didn’t know the true value. Your life is worth more than 40 dollars, and a train ticket in First Class is worth more than a cramped cabin in Third. But as we sigh at the foolishness of these two characters, it might be wise to look at what we have and make sure that we have made the right evaluations.
In Megillas Esther, after we survived the wicked schemes of Haman, it says: “The Jews enjoyed light and rejoicing, happiness and honour.” A celebration of life! A celebration of Jewish life, to live in the ways of G-d and fulfil His commandments. And we merited to have even more mitzvos in light of the miracle of Purim: reading the Megillah, sending gifts to one another, donating money to the poor, and a feast. Our Rabbis even say that the verse above refers to the great happiness we experienced at being able to perform the mitzvos of learning Torah, Yom Tov, and Bris Milah. We are being shown what is of true worth. Torah is our life and mitzvos are our First Class tickets. Let us never undervalue them.