This story, which appears in my book, “Pathfinding,” is from my late father, who told me that it is adapted from rabbinic literature.
It looks at abusive behavior and kindness in a way that brings up some questions for me. How much should we understand and accept behavior that can hurt us even if it is not consciously meant to harm? Do apologies followed by generous gifts encourage us to forgive? Should forgiveness come before or after the apology – or at all?
“Once there was a kind, gentle and charitable man, who never turned a needy person away. He held an esteemed position in his community. Through a series of unforeseen circumstances, he lost his successful business, his home and all his possessions. He moved to another town but found himself reduced to begging and doing menial tasks to exist.
“One day, a passerby said to him, ‘Why don’t you ask the rich miser, Jake, for some work? He always needs help, and will surely take advantage of your need. But at least you will not have to beg to live. Let me warn you though, he is abusive, cruel and demanding. Everybody hates him and nobody will work for him.’
“The poor man was in such need that he asked the miser for a job. He was offered the lowly task of personal servant. The master, true to his nature, was grouchy, demanding, insulting and at times impossible. For many years, the poor man ignored the horrible actions exhibited by his master. He remained a faithful servant and treated his master with respect.
“The townspeople would take the poor servant aside and criticize his loyalty to a crusty, aggravating master. However, the personal servant would always say, ‘This is the only way I know how to treat others.’
“There came a day when the master fell gravely ill. The doctors told him that he was on his deathbed. He called for his faithful servant and said to him, ‘You have been a faithful loving servant to me for many years. You have endured my insults and aggravating taunts and my very bad behavior. I acted this way because I felt that everybody in town was scheming to part me from my riches. But by your behavior I had confidence that you were a decent and honest person. Before I die, to make amends with you and God, I am leaving my entire fortune to you.’ And the man died shortly thereafter.”
As I review this story, now more than 10 years since it was written, I question the abuse of the miser Jake and the staying power of his “servant.” However, he seemingly understood, accepted and forgave his “master’s” behavior before his “master” made amends for his behavior. I’m not sure I could have endured these actions, but the “servant” admirably was a very strong, kind and respectful person in spite of the difficult circumstances, and in the end reaped rewards.
PATRICIA RASKIN, M.ED is an award-winning producer and host of “The Patricia Raskin Show” on Saturday at 4 p.m. on WPRO, AM630/99.7FM. She is a recipient of the 2015 RI Small Business Administration Award. She is a board member of Temple Emanu-El.