Stories We Tell: Turn Your Shoes Around

Judaism has a deep and rich tradition of storytelling, of passing down stories from one generation to the next. To carry on that tradition, Stories We Tell, from, will share a new story with you every Thursday. Whether you listen while driving to work, preparing Shabbat dinner, or taking your kids to school, each episode will give you a new story to reflect on and discuss with the people in your life. Stories We Tell is a project of the Union for Reform Judaism, a leading voice in the discussion of modern Jewish life. 

A man has become so unhappy with his life that he decides to leave everything behind and live the rest of his days in paradise. It’s a two day journey, so when he stops for the night he points his shoes in the direction he needs to continue on in the morning. Somehow, the shoes get turned around overnight! Does he ever make it to paradise? Cantor Rosalie Boxt retells the story. For a similar version of this story, see When Shelmiel Went to Warsaw in “The Jewish Story Finder: A  Guide to 668 Tales Listing Subjects and Sources” by Sharon Barcan Elswit.

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[URJ Intro:] Welcome back to “Stories We Tell,” the podcast from Reform Judaism has always had a deep and rich tradition of storytelling, passing our stories down orally from one generation to the next. And each week, we do just that, carrying on that great tradition. This week, Cantor Rosalie Boxt, the Director of Worship for the Union for Reform Judaism, shares the story of “Turn Your Shoes Around.”

[Cantor Rosalie:] Once, there was a man who had grown very unhappy with his life. He found no joy in his work, no joy in his community, and no joy in his family. And he cried out, “Dear God, please take me to Paradise! I'm ready to go on into the next life and leave this life behind.”

And God said to him, “Are you sure you're really ready?”

And the man said, “I am so unhappy in this life. There is no joy, there is nothing here for me. I'm ready to go to Paradise, where there will be great joy.”

And God said,” OK. But you should know, once you go to Paradise, there is no going home again.”

The man said. “Yes, yes, that's fine, that's what I want.”

God said, “Well, you're in luck! Because Paradise is only about a two days journey from here!”

All in the man's heart swells. He is so excited! He packs up a few things for the journey, gets up the next morning, and leaves everything behind. And he sets off for Paradise.

He walks for a day, admiring the beautiful landscape he sees around him, all of the wonderful gifts that God has put in the world, dreaming of Paradise which he will approach soon. At the end of the first day, it begins to go dark and the man is tired. He thinks it's time for him to lay down to sleep. He finds a tree on the side of the road. He goes to lie down, and before he falls asleep he thinks to himself, “Well, this is a new land, a new part of the world I've never seen. What if I wake up confused about where I'm going? I definitely don't want to head home, I want to make sure I go to Paradise! So, I will take off my shoes, and I will put them toes pointing in the direction that I am headed toward -- Paradise.” He takes off his shoes he puts them on the road toes pointing forward and he falls into a deep wonderful sleep.

Well as things go, you don't really know what happened.

Perhaps some mischievous passers-by, or maybe some creatures from the forest came and were playing, or perhaps an angel. But the man's shoes got turned around. He woke up in the morning rested from a beautiful sleep, [with] dreams of Paradise, and he slips his feet into his shoes toes pointing -- he thinks, toward Paradise, but really toward home. And he sets off, heart full, to continue his journey to Paradise.

While he walks another almost full day, and as darkness begins to descend, he gets the top of a hill and looks down into a valley and sees a gleaming village -- and his heart leaps, he can't believe he's finally made it to Paradise! He runs down the hill, runs into the center of the village -- and it is the most beautiful thing he has ever seen. It is so clean and bright. He sits weary from his journey in the town square, and just watches people finishing their work day smiling full of joy and laughter. He remembers his village where he came from, and people were always so unhappy, so tired at the end of the day. He sees children finishing school, playing in the streets, beginning to head home for dinner, and he revels in their joy. The children in his village were just loud and noisy.

And as he sits there, he thinks “I’m rather hungry. I wonder how a person eats in Paradise.”

“Maybe, maybe, there's a street that looks like mine in Paradise. Let's investigate!” And he walks toward where his street might have been. And sure enough, there's a street that looks an awful lot like his street in his village. He walks down the street, and there's a house that looks an awful lot like his house. It's rather comforting, he thinks this was such good planning on God's part to make Paradise looks so much like his village! And as he's standing looking at the house, the door opens, and a woman comes out. She looks an awful lot like his wife. She looks at him and says “Nu, are you coming in for supper?”

He says “Well, it’s so wonderful that this strange woman wants to feed me, I guess I'll go in and have some soup!” He sits down at the table. She puts a bowl of soup in front of him. It is the most delicious soup he's ever had. He looks around the room. It's so warm and cozy and inviting. His house where he was with his wife was just cluttered and crowded and cramped.

And the soup is so delicious, he tells her how wonderful it is, and she looks askance at him and says “I don't know about the soup but it's time for bed.”

He says, “I guess this is where I am to sleep in Paradise.” And he goes up to bed and he falls into a deep sleep. When he wakes up in the morning and comes down to this woman who looks an awful lot like his wife, she hands him some tools.

“Go to work,” she says.

“Well,” he thinks to himself, “you have to work in Paradise?”

“Hmm, well maybe there are things to do, but God knows best,” and he heads off to work. But—but-- this work is not at all like the work that he did back in his village, which was meaningless and not full of any joy. Here, the work helps him feel fulfilled, like he's contributing to the community, and he's full of a sense of purpose and vigor. He comes home at the end of the day to this house that looks like his house, this woman who looks like his wife, and she again puts soup in front of him, and it’s so delicious, and he goes to sleep again. Every day to him is a joy. Every day of Paradise is like waking up anew, giving back to his community, celebrating with the people in this beautiful clean town, and learning to enjoy being with this woman. Every day, he continues on this way until his very last.

But there was not a single person who could ever convince him that it was not truly Paradise.

[URJ Outro:] After hearing the story “Turn Your Shoes around,” I'm wondering if you've ever not seen what was right in front of you and how you felt about it? If you want to share that with us, that would be wonderful. You can do so on social media. We're at Judaism, and our Twitter handle is @ReformJudaism.

Thanks for listening to “Stories We Tell.” If you enjoyed this week's story, rate and review on iTunes! And you can always find new episodes every Thursday at Reform, where you can also go to learn a little bit more about Jewish rituals, or culture, or holidays, and more. “Stories We Tell” is a project of the Union for Reform Judaism, a leading voice in the discussion of modern Jewish life. Until next week – l’hitraot!