The Honest Disciple: Lessons from A Jewish Folk Tale

There is a Jewish folk tale about faith, patience, and honesty:

A rabbi once asked his disciples, “What would you do if you found a money purse in the road?”

Said the first, “I’d find the owner and return it.”

Thought the rabbi, “His answer was in haste; does he really mean it?”

Said the second disciple, “If no one saw me find it, I would keep it.”

Thought the rabbi, “He is honest, but wicked-hearted.”

Said the third disciple, after pondering, “I would be tempted to keep it. I would pray to God for the strength to resist temptation and perform a righteous action.”

thought the rabbi, “Now there is a man I can trust!”

[Paraphrased from The Book of Virtues by William Bennett. Simon & Schuster, 1993. Page 762.]

This anecdote teaches a lot. Often it is easy to give a correct answer in haste, but that does not mean it is honest. It is easy to recite righteousness, but not so easy to carry it out. Often, when we are honest with ourselves, we must acknowledge the strength of our temptations. But even then, honesty without virtue makes a man only honestly crooked. As this story reveals, it is the man who is first honest, then humble, then patient, then faithful who can not only answer what is good but also carry it out.

Faithfulness requires more than a rote answer to the question of right and wrong. We may deceive ourselves into assuming we will always to right, and rationalize ourselves when we don’t.

This is a story whose wisdom I can trust.

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