The Divrei Torah in this section have been translated by Rav Reuven Ungar, Director of Alumni Affairs
The Nail and the Bagel
By: Rav Aryeh Hendler
A Chasidic tale with commentary and analysis from Rav Aryeh Hendler, Sgan Rosh Yeshivat Sha'alvim.
Rabi Simcha Bunim from Pashischa remarked that at times an individual may sin without recognizing how this transpired. This transpires despite constant vigilance of the individual in avoiding transgression. He illustrated this with a parable.
A nobleman possessed in his stable an expensive race- horse, which was quite precious in his eyes. The nobleman went to great lengths to safeguard his horse. A guardian constantly sat by a locked door to watch over the prized horse.
Yet, the nobleman knew no rest. One night, he could not sleep, due to concern over the horse. He walked to the stable and found the guardian engaged in a deep philosophical problem. "What are you pondering?" The guardian replied "while knocking a nail in the wall, what happens to the re-existing matter in the wall?" "Good question", remarked the nobleman, and returned home.
However, sleep still evaded the nobleman. He returned to the stable. Once again, the guardian was immersed in deep thought. "What is on your mind?" The guardian answered "while baking a bagel, where does the dough that formerly constituted the hole, go?" The nobleman complimented the guardian on his penetrating question, and returned home to attempt to achieve slumber for the third time of the evening.
For naught; the sleep-deprived nobleman was forced to return to the stables. "What are you occupied with now?" he queried of the guardian. "How can it be, that the gate is locked, I am sitting here and watching the stable, and yet, the horse has been stolen?!" replied the guardian.
Rabi Simcha Bunim is criticizing those who constantly are engaged in avoiding sin. At times, a person commits a transgression, even though he has valiantly endeavored to refrain from such an action. The lesson of Rabi Simcha Bunim is perplexing. How can he criticize the necessity of vigilance against sin? Is he making light of well-intentioned people who strive to behave properly? What does Rabi Simcha Bunim intend to convey to us in this lesson?
An in-depth examination of the story, and in the questions that engae the guardian, enable us to comprehend the profound lesson of Rabi Simcha Bunim.
The dichotomy between the nobleman and the guardian signifies a crucial factor of the lesson. The nobleman is a dynamic individual. He cannot sleep; he is on the prowl all night. The nobleman is sensitive to internal feelings that forebode ill. Rabi Simcha Bunim illustrates a man who is seeking, who desires, who is attune to powerful internal messages. The verse in Shir HaShirim "I sleep, yet my heart is awake, the voice of my lover knocks" applies to the nobleman.
In sharp contrast, is the static guardian. He sits and is engrossed in thoughts. The constant movement that portrays the nobleman is absent in regards to the guardian. Whereas the nobleman assumes responsibility (and the accompanying concern), the guardian is passive and apathetic. The consequences do not delay in coming; the horse is stolen.
The questions that engage the guardian shed light on his view of his role in the world. Normally, people are interested in the nail that is being inserted in the wall; not the plight of the pre-existing matter in the wall. Most people focus on the edible bagel itself- the guardian, however, is fascinated by saga of the dough that no longer fills the hole.
According to Rabi Simcha Bunim, these questions (although they signify original thought) represent a mistaken approach to life. The normal focus of thought is the nail and the bagel. One should be engaged with activity, growth and positive pursuits. The guardian, however, engaged himself with peripheral issues.
Instead of thinking what not, think about what yes! The negative, peripheral mind-set of the guardian led to his final obsession (what happened to the horse?). A guardian is by definition engaged in negative ramifications. This is not the approach in the Divine Service. People who are primarily involved in avoiding sin invest great resources in what not. Rabi Simcha Bunim preferred that people emphasize and apply themselves in a positive frame. Dwell upon the vigorous activity of the nail, on the tasty bagel! Create and renew; don't succumb to passive, negative thinking.
Let us not forget that the horse in the stable is a race- horse. It has tremendous potential; under proper supervision it can travel at great speeds. Placing it under overwhelming defenses, behind locked doors is not the wisest decision. If not trained to reach its' potential, the horse will rebel and escape. Likewise, we must strive to direct our abilities towards the racetracks of life, to utilize our talents in the proper, positive direction.
Much has been written in regards to the additional protection that must be undertaken during the High Holy Days (Yamim Noraim). The lesson of Rabi Simcha Bunim from Pashischa instruct us that it is insufficient to exclusively dwell upon what may not be done. Instead of only being on guard from falling, let us invest ourselves with self-renewal, with the creation of Teshuva, with a deepening of the positive and fruitful bond between us and our Father in Heaven.
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