The treasures in our walls

By Rabbi Scott Shafrin

I recently reread a wonderful tale, echoed through many cultures, that was once told by the great Hassidic rabbi and storyteller Reb Simcha Bunim. There was once a young man named Isaac who lived in Kracow, Poland. 

One night, with no warning, he had a dream that an incredible treasure was buried under the largest bridge spanning a huge river in the city of Prague. When he awoke in the morning, he quickly dismissed the dream. But night after night for weeks on end, the same dream plagued him until finally he could stand it no longer. So one morning, he left Kracow and began the journey toward Prague on foot.

The trek was long and arduous but, suddenly, after several days of walking, he looked up to see the towers of a palace cresting the hills in front of him. Soon, he saw an immense city that he recognized from his dreams as Prague. He ran to the largest bridge and began searching the riverbanks beneath it. But unbeknownst to Isaac, the bridge was guarded by the king’s soldiers, who stopped and detained the suspiciously snooping Isaac.

“What are you doing under the bridge?” demanded the guard captain. “Were you sent here to spy on our king?”

“No!” replied Isaac. “I have come to search for a treasure, which I saw buried under this very bridge in a dream.”

The captain and all the guards began to laugh uproariously. 

“Who would do such a foolish thing?” he taunted. “You cannot believe in dreams and signs. Why just last night, I had a dream that in a small hovel in Kracow a treasure was lying buried in the fireplace of a young man named Isaac. Do you see me running off to Kracow to chase such an unlikely dream?”

Still laughing at his expense, the captain released Isaac, who quickly sped home. As soon as he set foot in his house, he found the treasure right where the guard said it would be.

“And so,” Reb Simcha Bunem says, “it is with us. We spend our lives searching for a great treasure we think is out there, in a distant land, far from our reach. But, really, the treasure is inside us and all about us, waiting to be uncovered.”

The double parashah of Tazria-Metzorah deals with spiritual afflictions, those that are tied to ritual purity and are treated not by a doctor, but by a Levitival priest, a healer of the soul. Interestingly, however, these maladies may not only affect an individual, but may affect one’s house as well. If one notices discoloration on a house or its stones that looks like the skin discoloration of tzara’at (leprocy), one should consider every person and thing that has been inside the house to be afflicted. 

Rashi, ironically, says that this is a great thing, a blessing in disguise! Commenting that the verse says that God will “give” this malady to the home, he explains that we should therefore treat it like a gift. Because we will have no choice but to carefully inspect the stones, walls, floors, ceilings and foundations of our house, we may be able to find unexpected treasures within that would have otherwise gone unnoticed.

The genius of Rashi in this simple play on words is that he points us to a more general and universal insight about human nature. We very rarely stop to take a close look at our lives unless something else pushes, or forces, us to do so. By looking closely at who we are, what we enjoy, where our talents lay, and how our choices affect us, we can unlock new possibilities for our growth and happiness.

Each year during the seven-week period of the Omer that we have now started, we are given an incredible gift. With more than five months left in the year, we can look at our lives and ask ourselves, “Am I really doing the best I can? Am I the person I believe I can be?” 

We don’t have to wait until Elul, or Rosh Hashanah, or the hour before the Ne’ilah service completes Yom Kippur to do some soul searching. We can strive to be the best version of ourselves every day. 

And if we are very lucky, our self-reflection will not just show us where we have missed the mark, but will give us the gift of seeing our strengths, our inherent goodness, and the Divine spirit that animates each and every one of us.

Rabbi Scott Shafrin is assistant rabbi/religious school director at Kol Rinah.