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The Rich Cantor

By Berl Wiener

In a small town some where in Europe, in the early 1800's, there lived a rich man. This man was a very generous man and basically single-handedly supported the local synagogue with his large contributions. He had a successful business and made large profits. He was very kind and employed a large segment of the small town's Jewish population.

Whenever a Jew needed help he would go to the home of this kind and generous man. He would always give each person a sum of money to help them overcome their troubles. The townsfold were much indebted to him.

Although he was very successful in business, he was not so fortunate in his ability to learn. However, in spite of his ignorance, he would come to the Rabbi's lessons with the other men. His prime pleasure was in the synagogue and all of its activities.

As the holidays approached, the gabbais of the synagogue, the men who were in charge of the prayer service and the running of the synagogue were deciding who could lead the long prayer service. The former cantor had died and now they must consider who could be his replacement.

The cantor was an important part of the holiday services. His intonation of the traditional melodies led the congregation in their long prayers. Several names came up for discussion.

The wealthy man was listening also to the discussion, suddenly he surprised everyone present by offering his services as the cantor. Why should they look elsewhere? He would take upon himself the job of leading the prayers, and at no charge!

The gabbais were stunned. What could they say? After all, this man was the back bone of the community. With out his support, there would be no heating, no light, not even a synagogue. Due to his goodwill, there were no beggars in the village; everyone could find a job in his factory if need be. Yet it was well known that this man, kind and good hearted as he was, was just not blessed with any musical skills, nor was he familiar with the liturgy.

To select him as the cantor would please him, the gabbais reckoned. But the congregation would be obligated to listen to his recitals of the prayers. It would ruin their holiday services. Not only that, if he were used once then the wealthy man would expect to be used as a cantor for each successive year. The gabbais were in a quandary. What should they answer him!

Not knowing what to do, the gabbais referred the matter to the town Rabbi. This was a matter for a chacham, and the Rabbi was known for his wisdom.

The Rabbi agreed to speak with the man. He invited him to his home on the pretense of speaking to him about the possibility of his being the cantor. The wealthy man was honored to be invited to the Rabbi's house and came to visit.

The Rabbi began speaking. "I understand that you wish to be the cantor for the holidays. Before I can give my decision, I must ask what your merit is."

The wealthy man looked confused.

"Let me explain," the Rabbi continued. "In the Book of Psalms, we find the word 'song' related only to three people. One is Moses, one is King David, and the other is a poor person.

"Moses, in spite of the fact that he could not sing, yet he was the most righteous man of his generation. It is written that Moses had difficulty in speaking clearly and we understand that he could not actually sing, but because of his righteous his song was accepted in heaven and he merited to have a song in his name in the book of Psalms. King David, we know was very musical and had a splendid voice, he composed many songs and therefore it is no surprise that merited to have songs listed in the Book of Psalms.

"The third person to have a song accepted in the Book of Psalms was the poor man. Because of his abject poverty, his heart was broken and he prayed to G-d with a pure heart. That is the reason that his song was included in the Book of Psalms.

"Now as I look to see what is your merit, we both realize that the level of Moses' righteousness you have not achieved. On that aspect, I can not help you with, for I also am not a righteous as Moses.

"To have the natural talents of King David, who was born with a beautiful voice and a inclination for composing songs, you also do not possess. You do not play any musical instrument nor have you ever composed any song. So this merit you also lack and I can not help you attain it.

"The abject poverty of the poor man, who prays with a broken heart, you also do not possess. You have been blessed to be the wealthiest man in town. The first two merits, as I said, I can not help you achieve. However, if you insist that you want to be the cantor at all costs, I can help you with the third merit.

"Would you like me to aid that you may have this merit? G-d hears the poor."

The wealthy man shook his head in fright, "no, thank you, but I do not want that merit."

He understood that, true, it might have looked nice to be the cantor. But G-d had given him the gift of wealth. This was his personal blessing.

* * *

Each of us were given by G-d our own personal blessing. Each one of us has something that he/she can do better than most. We must realize that it is a special blessing and not to be despised or pushed aside.

Sometimes a quality that someone else possess strikes us as desirable and we also want that talent. Sometimes it is money, sometimes it is a talent like singing or painting. Sometimes it is a type of work like medicine or law. What ever we see yet we do not possess, we must be cautious not to envy it to the point of trying to be what we are not.

The first thing a person must do to succeed in this world is to take inventory of himself. In what aspect is he/she superior or at least has an advantage over his friends. Know that in this manner, G-d has blessed you. Use your blessing from G-d to your advantage and you will always be happy.

On the other hand, if envy of your friends or neighbors make you want to be something that you are not. Know that you will probably not be successful and for certain, it will not make you happy.

The wealthy man in our story at least knew that he was not a cantor. He did not embarrass himself or his family by trying to be one.


from the July 2004 Edition of the Jewish Magazine




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