A long time ago in the time of King Solomon, there was a boy named Shama who grew up on a small island in the Red Sea. His father was stationed there to signal the approach of ships to the distant mainland by flashing mirrors in the day and by fires at night. Shama had not been to the mainland since he was small. He did not know any people apart from his parents and the few sailors who brought their supplies.
But the time came when a relief arrived and the family were taken to Eilat.
There Shama saw many new things. There were sailors and fishermen, porters and shipbuilders all working very hard in the hot sun, while other men in clean clothes did nothing but supervise them.
The same day his father took him along to the splendid residence of the governor, to whom he had to make a report, and Shama wondered why the king gave power and riches to some men and hard work to others.
The next day the family set out for Jerusalem, where the father had to report at court. Just before they came to the Dead Sea where they were to board another boat, they met a gang of many men who were chained together and forced to drag huge blocks of stone. His father told him that these were the king’s prisoners, building a new fortress, and Shama was frightened of a king who punished people so hard. He wished they did not have to go to his court — who knew what might happen to them if he got angry!
But when they had arrived in Jerusalem his father insisted that he must come along, saying, “This might be your only chance of ever seeing the inside of the palace.” So Shama was washed and dressed in his best, and was even allowed to go with his father to the public audience in the throne room where everything glittered with gold and rare stones. But when the king entered he noticed the boy, and when he found out who he was, commanded that he come before him.
Shama was trembling when he was being led to the foot of the steps flanked by gold lions, but Solomon spoke to him kindly: “My son, you have just seen our country for the first time, and I want you to tell me what was the strangest thing of all you have seen.” When Shama hesitated, Solomon continued, “Do not fear! Tell me truly, for he who wishes to be wise must hear everyone.”
Shama mustered all his courage and said: “Your Majesty, I have seen many of your servants. Why do some of them live in palaces and others have to work so hard on the ships — and others still wear chains and do very hard labor in the desert? Would it not be more just to treat them all alike?”
Solomon smiled at the boy and answered: “You are right and brave to ask what puzzles you, for only by asking can you learn. All the men you saw are working for me while I myself am only another overseer, for we all work for God and for each other. But I and my ministers have to give each man the work he can do best. The sailor would not be able to be a governor, and the governor would do a poor job on a ship. We also have to give each man what he needs, and the governor must have a palace so that the people and he himself should realize his importance and responsibility. As for the prisoners, they are men who disobeyed orders and have to team and show the others that they cannot avoid serving their king and their people. Do you understand it now, or is there anything you want to ask?”
Seeing the king so kind, Shama asked: “And why did my parents have to spend all these years on a rocky island, and I also, when others can live at home? Have we done anything wrong to deserve this?”
“Your father,” replied the King, “is a brave and loyal man who has done a hard and important task willingly and well. Now he goes home to the farm his brother has been looking after and takes with him this purse of gold to reward his long and loyal service. But you who ask so cleverly and bravely shall stay in Jerusalem and receive all the teaching you have missed. In five years we shall see what task can be entrusted to you.”
ROSH HASHANAH MESSAGE
Like Shama, we come into this world and see many strange and frightening things. We see some people ill and others well, some rich and others poor, and we get frightened about what may happen to us.
But on Rosh Hashanah, we come before the King of Kings and learn that these things come not by accident, but by His judgment. On Rosh Hashanah, God assigns each of us his special task that cannot be done by anyone else, whether it be one of power and responsibility like the governor’s, or the hard and lonely work of Shama’s father, or just the daily labor of ordinary men. We only pray that we shall not be like the prisoners who do the king’s work against their will.
But God is merciful as well as just, and if we ask Him, He will help us to find our faults and to remove them. And when we really try to do better, He forgives our past mistakes and helps us to carry out the task He sets for us.
“THE PRISONER AND OTHER TALES OF FAITH”
With permission of Feldheim Publishers
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