Once there was a son who left his father's house, in order to travel and seek his fortune in distant lands. After many years, he returned home and boasted that he had mastered the art of making all kinds of lamps. So he told his father to invite all the local lamp-makers to come to the house, and see his great skill at this craft.
The father invited all the local masters of the lamp-making craft to see the skills which his son had acquired while he was away for so many years. The son, in turn, decided to make a special masterpiece for the occasion. So he went into his workshop and created a menorah. But when he brought it out for all to see, it was extremely ugly.
Nobody said anything at the time, out of politeness. But the father, who also thought it was ugly, later went to each of the artisans in private and asked for their honest opinions. All agreed that the menorah was of very inferior workmanship and extremely ugly.
Later, the son said to his father, "What did you think of my menorah? Did you see the great wisdom of my craft?"
The father replied, "But all of your fellow lamp-makers told me that it was an ugly piece, of very inferior workmanship."
"Ah," replied the son, "but that is the secret! Through this menorah, I have indeed demonstrated my great skill, because I have shown each one of them his own shortcomings. In this lamp, I included all the shortcomings of all the local masters of the art.
"Yes, they all said it was ugly, but what nobody realized is this: Each saw different parts of the lamp as ugly, and different parts as beautiful. One craftsman considered a certain part to be poorly made, and another part to be beautiful. But the next man saw it exactly the opposite -- he considered the first part to be beautiful, and the other part to be poorly made. This was true of all of them -- what one saw as bad, the others saw as good. Each overlooked the mistakes that he himself would make, and saw only the shortcomings of the others. But in truth, the whole menorah was made of nothing but mistakes.
"You see, father, I made this menorah in this way on purpose -- completely out of mistakes and deficiencies -- in order to demonstrate to all of the artisans that none of them have perfection. But if I wanted to, I could have made a menorah that is beautiful."
Each of us tends to overlook our own shortcomings, while focusing on the mistakes of others. Rebbe Nachman taught his Hasidim to do just the opposite -- to always look for the good points in others, even if you have to search really, really hard to see those good points.
Each of us is a "menorah," that is, a vessel for the Holy Light which flows constantly from God. In real life, there is no "menorah" -- no person -- which is made entirely of deficiencies. Every person has both good and bad qualities. And even the worst sinner is, in the words of the Talmud, "as full of mitzvot (good deeds) as a pomegranate is full of seeds."
The son in the story knew this, but he also knew that the craftsmen were in the habit of looking only at the deficiencies of their fellow craftsmen, while seeing their own work as perfect. So, by making the lamp entirely out of their deficiencies, the son showed them that if we insist upon seeing the world in this negative way, then nothing is beautiful -- all is ugliness.
But on the other hand, if we look at the positive qualities in the lives and work of others -- even if it is not perfect -- then we can see beauty everywhere.
© copyright 1997 by Yonassan Gershom.