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Stories We Tell: The Greatest Gift

Stories We Tell: The Greatest Gift

By: 
Rabbi Matt Gewirtz

It’s time for the princess to get married, and the king and queen want to make sure that she marries her best match. There are three brothers in the running, and in order to decide which one will marry the princess, the king and queen set up a contest: the brother who gives the princess the greatest gift will become her husband. The brothers travel far and wide, and the oldest finds a magic carpet, the middle brother finds a magic mirror, and the youngest finds a special apple. Which gift is best? Rabbi Matt Gewirtz retells the story, which is adapted from The Magic Pomegranate: A Jewish Folktale by Peninnah Schram.

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Transcript:

[URJ Intro] Welcome back to Stories We Tell, a podcast presented by ReformJudaism.org. For those of you that are regular listeners, you know that each week we share a story to reflect on a bit through Shabbat, or through the rest of the week. As some other podcasts do, we're actually just about to take a little bit of a hiatus for just a few weeks to collect a few more stories.

In the meantime, we'll be sharing some of our favorite stories that have already run. For those of you that have heard them, we think you'll like them again. And for those for whom they are new, we think you'll love them for the very first time. This week, we're going to hear a story from Rabbi Matthew Gewirtz, the Senior Rabbi at Congregation B'nai Jershurn, in New Jersey. He shares the story of The Greatest Gift.

[Rabbi Matthew Gewirtz] There was a princess in this faraway kingdom. And her mom and dad were really concerned for her as she was growing older, that she finds someone appropriate to get married. After all she was going to become the queen one day. And her parents wanted to make sure she had a mate that loved her and cared for her, as she have to give so much of herself over to her community. Her parents said to her, there are these three brothers. You've known them your whole life.

Let's, at least, choose from a family that we know really well-- and let's have a contest for them. Whoever brings you the most meaningful gift, the gift you love the most, perhaps that will be your prince who will become the king one day. And sure enough, these three brothers, with excitement, really want to take on this task-- and off they go. The oldest goes off into a marketplace and he sees a carpet store. And he goes into the carpet store. He tells the story to the merchant.

And he says, I have to buy the very best product you have here. And he shows him all these carpets, but then he shows him one in the corner. It's actually one of the smallest of them all. And he says to the merchant, I told you I want the very best. I want to win this contest. I want to marry the princess. And he says, you don't understand. This carpet is not just a carpet that you sit on or somehow looks pretty in the corner.

This is a magic carpet. This one flies. Sure enough, he hops on and with delight, he flies all around the store. With incredible excitement he says, I'm taking this one. She's definitely going to want to marry me for this. Well, we meet the middle brother. And he's in a different market several towns away. And as he's shopping, he goes into a glass store. And he's looking at different types of glass and different types of sculptures in glass.

And, finally, the merchant says, I can see you want to buy something for someone really important. Come over here, and he brings him over to a mirror. He says, what's the big deal about the mirror? And he said, this mirror is magical. He said, what do you mean magical? He says, look in it. You look in that mirror and think of anything that's on your mind, and it's going to appear in the mirror. He says, come on, that can't work. He says, go, try.

He looks in the mirror and he says, a brand-new car-- sure enough, a car appears in his mirror. He tries it again. He says, a mushroom pizza. He looks into the mirror-- and, sure enough, there's a mushroom pizza. He says, my goodness, this mirror really is magical. I'm going to take this one. She's definitely going to marry me for this. So finally, we meet the third brother. He's a little bit more creative, a little bit more alternative. And he decides he wants to somehow find the Garden of Eden.

There must be something still left in the garden that must be precious. And he takes out this old map. And he goes through the jungles and he goes through the desert. Sure enough, he finds what's supposed to be the Garden of Eden. And in there is just an old man, who seems to be caring for that piece of land. And he says, old man, I'm looking for something really precious. Because if I find it, I'm going to be able to give it to the princess and marry her.

I am so in love with her. He says, the only thing that's left is that tree over there. It's not the tree that got people into trouble. Over there is this tree of life, and there's one last apple there. And if you give me everything you have-- everything you have-- you can have this apple. It seems like this is incredibly important to you. So he does. He takes out everything and he takes the apple and he puts it in his satchel, and off he goes.

So, finally, the brothers regather. And they tell each other stories about going off and trying to look for the presents. And the older brother says, you got to check out this carpet. He says, this carpet flies around. They all get on it and they have fun flying. So the middle brother says, you got to check out this mirror. Anything you think about, you'll be able to see. So they all look at each other. And they all know what they're thinking about, of course-- that's the princess.

So they all concentrate and say, princess. And sure enough, the princess appears. But while they've been gone, apparently the princess has gotten really, really sick. I mean really, sick. She's in bed. She's sweating. She has a high fever. In fact, they're not sure if she's going to be able to go on. So they say, we have to get her as fast as we can. So of course, what do they do? They hop onto the magic carpet. They get there in minutes.

They get to the palace, and they're all around her and none of them know what to do. Her parents say, she's been sick now for a few days. The doctors don't know if they can save her. So no one knows what to do. They all become despondent. They become so sad. And then, finally, the younger brother, who has not told anyone about what it is that he's got her-- He takes the apple out of his satchel. He cuts off a little piece. He puts it into her mouth and helps her chew.

And, finally, she gets a little bit of motion going. He takes another piece of apple, puts it in her mouth and helps her chew. And now color starts to come back to her face. He takes another piece of apple, and this time she could chew it herself. And she starts to move her hands and her legs. She starts to smile. The sweat goes away. Her fever goes down. And he gives her the rest of the apple. She's able to eat it completely by herself, and she totally gets better. The disease goes away.

And she says, I'm so happy to see the three of you. Tomorrow, I'll tell you who it is that I'm going to marry. So the next day, they come together. And she goes up to the older brother. And she says, if it were not for your carpet, you never would have gotten here in time to save me. And for that, I'll be forever thankful. She gives him a kiss on the cheek. And she goes to the middle brother. And she says, if it weren't for your mirror, you never would have known that I was sick.

And I never would have gotten better-- so I thank you. She gives him a kiss on the cheek. And then she goes to the youngest brother and says, but it's you I'm going to marry. Because you took a gift that, actually and honestly, if you had been sick or your parents had been sick, you could have used that to save yourself or them. But you decided to give me the gift of life. You decided to show me that no matter what, you'd be there for me.

And because of that, it's you that I'm going to marry. They had an incredible wedding just a few months later. When the queen and King retired, they went on to become the new queen and king. And they always knew that no matter how big they were, no matter how famous they were that the most important thing about their love was they were always willing to give each other life-- and because of that, understood what it meant to help others live life in the most beautiful of ways.

[URJ Outro] After hearing the story The Greatest Gift, we're wondering when you've ever given up what you needed for someone else, and how did it feel? If you want to share that with us, we'd love to hear about it on social media. You can find us at Facebook.com/ReformJudaism and our Twitter handle is @ReformJudaism. Thanks for listening to Stories We Tell this week.

If you enjoyed this week's story-- and we hope you did-- rate and review us on iTunes. And you can always find new episodes every Thursday on ReformJudaism.org, where you can also find out a little bit more about Jewish rituals, culture, 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'hitroat!

Rabbi Matthew D. Gewirtz began his tenure as the Senior Rabbi of Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in July 2006.  Previously he served as Senior Associate Rabbi of Congregation Rodeph Sholom.  He earned his Masters in Hebrew Literature from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in 1996 and was ordained by HUC-JIR in 1997.

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