Stories We Tell: The Weight Of One Good Deed

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 wealthy man dies at the age of 120. He wasn't a particularly good man, nor a particularly bad one. So, when asked by the heavenly court if he can think of a truly good deed he's done that will outweigh the bad, he recalls one in particular. However, he needs some help from his defending angel attorney to make his deed look better than it actually was. Originally included in the collection Three Times Chai by Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, this story compels us to reexamine our own deeds and if they can truly measure up on their own.

Three ways to listen:


[URJ Intro] Welcome back to Stories We Tell, a podcast from Judaism has always had a deep and rich tradition of storytelling, passing our stories down from one generation to the next. And here, each Thursday, we share a new story with you. This week, we're hearing a story from Rabbi Amy Memis Foller from Beth Emmett Synagogue in Evanston, Illinois. She shares the story of "The Weight of One Good Deed."

[Rabbi Amy Memis-Foller] A wealthy man died at the age of 120 years. During his lifetime, he was not a particularly good man, nor was he a particularly bad man. It's fair to say that he lived life for himself and was not concerned with others.

His soul now stood before the heavenly court where his life was to be judged. A large set of scales occupied the center of the court. On one side, all of the man's good deeds and positive activities were piled up. On the other scale, all of the bad deeds, the thoughtless and negative behaviors were collected.

The scales were bouncing. It was clear that they were tilting toward the negative. The defending angel attorney grew increasingly anxious. She turned to the soul of the wealthy man, can you think of anything? Maybe there's something we've overlooked. Perhaps it's a good deed you did long ago that you've forgotten. Think hard.

Oh, yes, said the soul, I do remember something. Many years ago, I was going through the forest in my horse and carriage. My driver and I were fairly deep into the forest when we came upon swampy land. It was quicksand.

As we rode by, we heard screaming, and then we noticed a horse and buggy and a family stuck in the mud. Apparently, the horse stumbled into the swamp and the wagon and family were slowly being sucked into the quicksand. Actually, I wasn't paying much attention. It was my driver who noticed and asked, these people are in trouble, do you mind if we stop to help them?

Of course, I agreed. It was clear that my driver alone would not be able to help this family. He told me that the only way that we could get them out of the quicksand was if we attached a rope from our horse and buggy to their horse and buggy and see if we could pull them to safety.

So we attached the rope and pulled and pulled, and we managed to get the family out, their horse and buggy also unstuck. Once they were all out, we drove on. The defending angel was so excited. She turned to the heavenly court, did you hear that? Do you realize what this man did?

The family was stuck, and without his help, they would have been sucked into the quicksand and drowned. This man with his driver saved their lives. The prosecuting angel objected, but heed and think of it, it was his driver's idea.

It was a thoughtless decision that just happened. It should not count. But the judge overruled the objection, and so the weight of this good deed was added to the scales with the others. The balance tilted in a big way, but when it stopped, the bad deeds still outweighed the good.

One moment, the defending angel said, we haven't given this deed its proper weight. It wasn't just a casual act of saving a life. This man saved a whole family. I demand that the weight of the entire family be added to the scales because that would more accurately reflect the value of this act.

The weight of the family was thrown on and the scales bounced up and down. As they righted themselves, the bad deeds began to sink slowly down, down, down. The defending angel was desperate, as she feared that the good would not outweigh the bad. She interjected, wait, before you punish this man, I want to point out that he didn't just save the family, he also saved the horse and their means of transportation. I insist that the weight of the horse and buggy be added to the scales.

The prosecuting angel tried to object, but again, the judge overruled him. The weight of the horse and buggy was added to the good deeds, and the scales bounced. When they came to a stop this time, well, it was very close, but the bad deeds still outweighed the good. The defense angel asked for a pause.

The real weight, she was thinking as she was speaking, to get the real weight of this deed, we need to think of the mud, the mud that was attached to the buggy and weighing it down. Think of all the pulling, the energy, the effort, the exertion. That's part of the weight of this deed too.

This time, the prosecuting angel didn't even bother to object, as the weight of the mud was piled onto the scale. Lo and behold, that did it. The balance tilted toward the side of positive judgment, and that is where it remained.

[URJ Outro] After hearing the story, "The Weight of One Good Deed," what did you think of the man in that story? Would you want all of those extra pieces to have to be added to your scales in the end? We'd love to hear about what you think. If you want to share it with us on social media, you can find us at, and on Twitter, our handle is @ReformJudaism.

And thanks for listening to Stories We Tell. If you enjoyed this week's story, please subscribe and rate and review us on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. You can always find new episodes every Thursday on And don't forget to visit 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. And until next week, l'hitraot!