The title is a quote from my latest email to my mum. The complete email reads: “Yes, it applies to so many situations in life doesn’t it? Hence: the parable.” The it in question being a traditional Jewish tale she once told me long ago which I’ve been sharing with people lately to describe how living with a full-time migraine feels on days when the pain is at a ‘tolerable’ level, as it has been for the last few days, thank heavens. There are many versions of this tale as these things go, but this version, adapted from “How the Children Became Stars” by Aaron Zerah is more or less the version I tell:
A poor man lived with his wife, his despicable mother-in-law and six children in a very small one-room house. They were always getting in each other’s way and there was barely space to move. One day the man could stand it no more. He talked to his wife and asked her what to do. “Go see the rabbi,” she told him, and after arguing a while, he went.
The rabbi greeted him and said,
“I see something is troubling you. Whatever it is, you can tell me.”
And so the poor man told the rabbi how miserable things were at home, with him, his wife, his constantly nagging mother-in-law, and the six children all eating and living and sleeping in one room. The poor man told the rabbi, “We’re always yelling and fighting with each other. Life couldn’t be worse.”
The rabbi thought very deeply about the poor man’s problem. Then he said, “Do exactly as I tell you and things will get better. Do you promise?”
“I promise,” the poor man said.
The rabbi then asked the poor man a strange question. “Do you own any animals?”
“Yes,” he said. “I have one cow, one goat, and some chickens.”
“Good,” the rabbi said. “When you get home, take all the animals into your house to live with you.”
The poor man was astonished to hear this advice from the rabbi, but he had promised to do exactly what the rabbi said. So he went home and took all the farm animals into the tiny one-room house.
The next day the poor man ran back to see the rabbi. “What have you done to me, Rabbi?” he cried. “It’s awful. I did what you told me and the animals are all over the house! Rabbi, help me!”
The rabbi listened and said calmly, “Now go home and take the chickens back outside.”
The poor man did as the rabbi said, but hurried back again the next day. “The chickens are gone, but Rabbi, the goat!” he moaned. “The goat is smashing up all the furniture and eating everything in sight!”
The good rabbi said, “Go home and remove the goat and may God bless you.”
So the poor man went home and took the goat outside. But he ran back again to see the rabbi, crying and wailing. “What a nightmare you have brought to my house, Rabbi! With the cow it’s like living in a stable! Can human beings live with an animal like this?”
The rabbi said sweetly, “My friend, you are right. May God bless you. Go home now and take the cow out of your house.” And the poor man went quickly home and took the cow out of the house.
The next day he came running back to the rabbi again. “O Rabbi,” he said with a big smile on his face, “we have such a good life now. The animals are all out of the house. The house is so quiet and we’ve got room to spare! What joy!”
Image: The Farmyard by Marc Chagall (created: 1954-1962).