A Hassidic Parable:
Once upon a time, a very hungry woman had a huge craving for one specific fruit, which rarely was found in the area where she lived. The woman looked up and, to her amazement, saw that very fruit growing high up on the side of the cliff, well beyond her reach. Because she was hungry, she started to imagine eating the fruit that she could see, but could not reach. However, instead of being satisfied, her imagining left her hungrier than she had been before and increased her craving for the unobtainable fruit.
“Better not to reach for things beyond your grasp.”
Adapted from the translation in YOUR WORD IS FIRE, GREEN & HOLTZ (1993), p. 103.
I’ve read the original text of this Parable about a dozen times in the last week, which feels absurd to me because the Parable is a simple story that purports to contain a straight-forward lesson. Nevertheless, something about this Parable has been nagging at me, causing me to keep coming back to it, and I’m starting to get some insight about what has been bothering me.
First, the purported Moral of the story, is … well … with all due respect to the Hassid who wrote this lovely little tale … the Moral is not really relevant to what happened in the Parable. Our protagonist did not reach for the fruit and, for example, fall off a cliff; she just stood there, imagining she was eating fruit that she could not reach. A more accurate statement of the moral of this story would be: “Don’t imagine having something you don’t have, because pretending will just make you miserable.”
My other problem with this story is that it easily could be read to condone … endorse … perhaps even encourage … apathy. Why? Because the Parable and original Moral, when combined, say: “No matter how much you want something, if it looks well beyond your reach, it’s better if you don’t try to reach it.”
I agree we shouldn’t stand frozen in the grip of our desire, pretending we have something we don’t have. But can we really know that something is beyond our reach before we have even tried to reach it??? And, how often have things appeared beyond reach until someone tried, and then suddenly, as if by a miracle, the thing actually was within reach??
Or what about the way that sometimes, as you move toward a goal, a shift occurs inside you or in the world around you, and then your goal, or the way you think about it, shifts … taking shape in a way that you never could have imagined when you began moving toward it????
And, honestly, where would we find the strength and drive to propel ourselves toward our dreams if not from the fire ignited inside us by imagining a world in which our dreams had already come true??!!
Perhaps the “problem” for the protagonist in the Parable is not that she wants something “impossible” to obtain … it’s that she stands around wasting time, instead of allowing her passion to motivate her to find friends, a ladder, or some other way to get closer to that fruit!!!
Even if she never reaches the fruit, the adventure of trying may well bring more sweetness to her life than the fruit ever could have anyway …