May 15, 1997
A fable: There was a king who collected jewels. One night, he dreamed that somewhere in the world, there was a ring with strange, magical powers: When one was sad, it could make him happy. When he was giddy and drunk, it could sober him and bring him back to himself. When he was joyful, it intensified his joy.
The king awoke from his dream, convinced that the ring really existed. Calling together his court, he recounted the dream and offered a fabulous reward for the one who found the ring.
Each of his ministers went out to search the world. And each returned empty-handed -- except one. There was one whose love for his master pushed him onward. Years went by. He scoured the world, searching every shop, every bazaar, for the magic ring -- to no avail. But before he would admit to failure, he stopped, one last time, into a tiny shop near the palace. He described what he sought and described all his travail over the past years. The owner simply smiled. "I have the ring," he said. "Come, let me get it for you." He took down an old box and handed the ring to the astonished minister. "Take it as my gift."
this week's Torah portion
to [remember] that time is passing.
And [to experience] ...the poignancy,
the intensity, the full
bitterness and the full sweetness
of life lived in the passing
The minister rushed to the palace. He entered the king's chamber, approached the throne, and presented the ring to the king. The king opened the box. He found a plain, unadorned, metal ring. Could this be the precious, magical ring? Then, he saw that three Hebrew words were engraved on the ring: Gam Zeh Ya-avor -- This too will pass.
Over time, the king came to realize the magical power of the ring. When the king was sad, the ring would remind him: This too will pass, and he would be consoled. Giddy and drunk, he would look upon the ring: This too will pass, and he was sobered. And when he experienced true joy, real happiness, the ring reminded him: This too will pass, and he recognized the preciousness of special moments. Soon, he realized that this was indeed the most valuable ring in the world. He lost interest in the rest of his collection -- all his many jewels and gems paled in the face of the plain metal ring that never left his hand.
The story is true. The ring and its magic really exist. It is the greatest magic of all: learning to live with the passage of time.
It is said, "Time heals all wounds." This is true only for the minor wounds. Real pain -- the pain that comes with the bitter truth of human mortality -- never goes away. But, over time, the sweetness of memory mixes with the bitterness of loss. The pain, the loneliness, is still there, but it mellows as we remember.
When we are frivolous, when life becomes a search for the next distraction and amusement, we remember that no one has an endless supply of tomorrows to accomplish the important tasks of life. And we wake up: If not now, when?
And when we are truly happy, we also remember: Moments of joy are fleeting; they must be cherished. Children grow older. Loved ones pass on. For the wise, the bitterness of our mortality teaches us to hold on to the sweetness of special moments.
Traditional Jews are obsessed with time, counting the days until Shabbat, marking the beginning of each new month, waiting for the next holiday. And they're especially so at this time of the year -- seven weeks of the Omer, each day counted, each week marked -- as we are instructed in this week's Torah portion to remind us that time is passing. And to give us this gift: the poignancy, the intensity, the full bitterness and the full sweetness of life lived in the passing of time. This magic ring is the king's gift to you this week. Shabbat shalom.
Ed Feinstein is the associate rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom. He replaces Rabbi Steven Z. Leder, who will be completing a book (along with synagogue responsibilities at Wilshire Boulevard Temple) during the next six months.
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