There is a story about a man who became blind when he was a small child. As an adult, he made his living as the proprietor of a roadside fruit-stand. Very early every morning, he would travel to the market to handpick the best fruit the local farmers had to offer.
Throughout the day, many people who were traveling down the road would stop and purchase fruit from him. They always remarked at how he had the juiciest and ripest fruit they could find. He would thank them and joined them in very friendly conversation. Most days, he was completely sold out by early afternoon. He loved his life, his customers, and took great pride in his work.
One day, as luck would have it, a group of doctors came traveling down the road on their way to a meeting. They saw the fruit-stand and stopped. During their conversation with him, one of the doctors described a new surgical technique that he was confident could reverse the man’s blindness. Soon after, the man checked it out and had the surgery.
On the day that the bandages were to be removed from his eyes, the doctors asked the man what he wanted to see first. The man told them he wanted to see his fruit stand. They took the man to his stand, and when they removed the bandages, to his great surprise, the first thing he noticed was that his was not the only fruit stand on the road. There were several others, all much larger than his, offering much more of a selection than he did.
After a rather short recuperation period, the man returned to work and became preoccupied with what everyone else was doing. He examined what they did differently and what he felt they did better than what he was doing. He began to emulate them. He became so much like the others that his customers no longer had a reason to come to his stand anymore. Finding no more enjoyment in his work, he closed the fruit stand.
What followed was a never-ending quest for this man to find meaningful work. He was always comparing himself to those around him, causing him to lose his personal ability to add value in ways that others could appreciate. To be true, had he been able to maintain his total focus on how he added value differently than everyone else, he would have maintained a happy life.
Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, Chanukah, Purim, and Pesach are all but memories. Soon, as we continue to count the Omer, we will celebrate Shavuot; the Festival where we rejoice in the receiving of the great gift of Torah. This Gift is one that that God gave to us to cherish L’dor Va’Dor (from generation to generation) for all time. We will also celebrate the harvesting of the First Fruits of the season.
And just like the other Festivals, on Shavuot, we will once again come together to Yizkor, to Remember those who have gone on to their eternal homes. When that time comes, let us think about what they did as individuals that made them stand out; what they did differently that causes us to cherish our memories of them always. Then, let us examine our own lives. We must ask of ourselves, what do I do differently that causes others to appreciate me for who I am? By opening all our eyes and by seeing this lesson clearly, let us all take the time required for us all to answer this question and when we do, may we prove to be the best we can be. Let us add to the beauty of the world the way we know how to. Yes, God blessed us with individual abilities and gifts; let us share those gifts as we make the world a better place for all to live lives of Maasim Tovim (good deeds).
Rabbi Perlman became rabbi at Temple Ner Tamid, Peabody last September.