THE RABBI'S GIFT

A monastery had fallen upon very hard times. Once a great order, but over time it had been reduced to only five monks -- the abbot and four others -- all well into their seventies. The order was dying.

Deep in the forest surrounding the monastery there was a little hut which a rabbi from a nearby town used occasionally for personal retreats. The old monks had developed a sixth sense about the presence of the rabbi, and always could tell when he was in the forest. On one such occasion, the abbot, who had been agonizing over the demise of his order, decided to visit the hut to ask the rabbi if he could offer any advice.

The rabbi welcomed the abbot into his hut, but when the abbot explained the purpose of his visit,the rabbi could only empathize with his plight and commiserate with him. "Yes, the spirit seems to have gone out of the people. It's the same in my town. Almost no one comes to the synagogue anymore."

So it was that the abbot and the rabbi spent time that day talking of deep things. Finally, the time came for the abbot to leave. The men hugged and the abbot said, "It is wonderful that we could meet and talk after all these years, but I have failed in my purpose for coming here. Is there no advice at all you can give me that would help me to save my dying order?"

"I'm sorry," said the rabbi. "I'm afraid I have no advice to give. All I can tell you, though, is that the Messiah is one of you."

Upon his return to the monastery, the abbot was joined by the other monks who asked, "Well, what did the rabbi say?"

"He couldn't help," the abbot replied. "We just sat and talked. And as I was leaving, he said that the Messiah is one of us. I have no idea what he meant."

In the days and weeks and months that followed, the old monks pondered this and wondered if there could be any possible significance to the rabbi's words: The Messiah is one of us. Do you think he meant one of us monks here at the monastery?

If he meant one of us, he surely must have been referring to Father Abbot. He has been our leader for more than a generation.

On the other hand, he could have meant Brother Thomas; he is a holy man. Everyone knows that Thomas is a man of light.

Certainly he could not have meant Brother Eldred! Eldred gets crotchety at times.... But even though he can be a nuisance, when you look back on it, Eldred virtually always has a valid point to make. Perhaps the rabbi did mean Brother Eldred.

But surely not Brother Phillip; he's so passive, a real nobody....But then, almost magically, Philip has this knack of appearing at your side just when you need him the most. Maybe Phillip is the Messiah.

But of course the rabbi wasn't referring to me. I'm just an ordinary person. Yet what if he were? What if I am the Messiah? Please, God, not me; I couldn't mean that much to you, could I?

As they reflected in this manner, the old monks began to treat each other with extraordinary respect on the off chance that one among them might be the Messiah. And on the remote chance that each monk himself might be the Messiah, they each began to treat themselves with extraordinary respect as well.

Because the forest was so beautiful, people still occasionally came to visit the monastery to picnic on its tiny lawn, to walk along its paths, to sit quietly in the chapel. As they did so, without even being conscious of it, they sensed this aura of extraordinary respect which seemed to surround each of the elderly monks and which permeated the atmosphere of the whole place. There was something compelling, empowering about it. Without knowing exactly why, they began to come back to the monastery more frequently to visit, to play, to pray. They began to bring their friends to share this special place. And their friends brought their friends.

In time, some of the younger men who came to visit began to talk more and more with the elderly monks. After a while one asked if he could join the order. Then another. Then another. Soon, the monastery once again housed a thriving order, and, thanks to the rabbi's gift, became a beacon of peace, love, and hope.

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This is my edited version of the story from Scott Peck's The Different Drum (1987). New York: Simon & Schuster.