September 9, 2018
by Rabbi Neil Amswych, Temple Beth Shalom, Santa Fe
There once was a king who gave a man a treasure map. “This map,” said the king “is a map to the greatest treasure that you can ever find.” The man snatched the map and rushed away from the king without even a word of thanks, so set was he on finding the treasure. He looked over the map. It had a date and a location on it – a place far, far away. He knew it would be a long and difficult journey, but the date was close, and he knew he had to set off immediately. At times, the man felt like giving up, but he persevered and eventually found himself at the top of a mountain, exactly the location where the map told him the treasure would be found. He started to dig with his bare hands because, in his hurry, he had forgotten to bring the right tools with him to find the treasure. After a while his hands were red and sore, and he started to really regret ever looking for the treasure. In a last desperate effort, he started to dig furiously.
After a short while, a shadow loomed over the small hole he had made. It was a woman, holding in her hand a map identical to his. “Where did you get that map?” he asked. “The king gave it to me,” she replied. “Well, then, if you agree to split it with me,” said the man hesitantly, “we can combine our efforts and dig faster before anyone else comes along and takes our treasure.” And that they did. Working their fingers to the bone, they dug and dug but to no avail, and it wasn’t long before another person arrived with an identical map in his hand. And as the man and woman looked up, thousands of people – the entire kingdom – were all walking towards the mountain. Eventually they had all pooled their efforts and one by one had dug into the mountain, until there was virtually no mountain left. They found no treasure. Despondent, every person from the kingdom slunk back to their homes and put their maps aside.
But a strange thing happened. Round about the same time the next year everyone remembered that they had a map, and suddenly realized that perhaps the date referred to this year, as opposed to last year. Almost simultaneously, everyone in the kingdom set off for what was left of the mountain, and all arrived on the same date. They waited and waited, but they couldn’t see the treasure arriving. They dug a little more, but quickly gave up, since it had been so futile last year. Once again disappointed, the whole community stared at each other in frustration, and then agreed to go their separate ways.
And so it went on for many years… Eventually, some of the original treasure hunters died, but passed the map onto their children in the hope that their family may come to enjoy the treasure. But year after year they returned to the same place at the same time, dug a little, and left unsatisfied.
One day, a young girl went to the king. “Your Holiness,” she asked, “Why did you give my family this map? Why did you give every family a map?”
The king looked at her sadly, “Because I had a treasure I wanted you to share.”
“But we’ve dug at the mountain so much that there can’t be any treasure there.”
“Did you look to see what was on top of my mountain?” asked the king.
“Just people,” replied the girl, “but no treasure.”
The king sighed. “I brought you together on one day so that you could see how much of a treasure you all are to me. But you were so blinded by self-interest that you failed me. You rushed into the journey year after year, unprepared, and each year you came out with your hands bloodied. You destroyed my precious mountain upon which I presented you the greatest treasure of all – a community – and you were so self-obsessed that you scurried about in the mud, instead of searching within yourselves…”
The girl hung her head. “But why didn’t you just tell us this? Why make us go through all that trouble? How were we meant to know?”
The king smiled. “All that was needed was for you to ask. Now you’ve asked, so you can go back to everyone and tell them this…there is nothing more precious than a supportive community who put their own self-interests aside in order to value each other. There is nothing more valuable to me than a community that honestly seeks meaning together. This is the mountain where I presented you with the world’s most precious gift, but you destroyed it. Now on the date I gave you, at the start of every year, I want you to gather together and build a little of the mountain back up. Every year, on Rosh Hashanah, I want the entire community to gather and to learn that they are precious, but only when they appreciate the value in each other, when they build together, and not wear the world down… Now that I have decreed [this]…I hope…that this year, on Rosh Hashanah when the community comes together, you will understand what I have given you.”
The girl smiled, she left the presence of the king, and she told the community all that had been said. And [the] next year…the community journeyed to the mountain in a different sense, and they arrived as a community together on Rosh Hashanah, they started rebuilding the mountain, and then they left as one.