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Stories We Tell: The Scratch in The Ruby

Stories We Tell: The Scratch in The Ruby

Jerry Kaye

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.

This week we revisit a familiar story, The Scratch in the Ruby, previously told by Jerry Kaye, but with a lovely new ending added by Rabbi Leora Kaye. Every year, on the king’s birthday, he brings out his treasured and exceptionally perfect ruby and shows it to his kingdom. One fateful day, this joy is marred when a scratch appears. The king is heartbroken, as no one can fix his ruined ruby, until a young girl teaches the king two lessons – how to see the beauty in imperfections and the importance of taking great care when given charge of something so valuable to another person.

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[URJ Intro] Welcome back to Stories We Tell, a podcast presented by Each week, we share a story with you to pass on the Jewish tradition of storytelling, but this week we're going to do something a little different. We've shared this story before. It's called "The Scratch in the Ruby" and was told by Jerry Kaye, the Emeritus Director of the URJ's Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute camp. But since we shared the story, we learned a new way to end it. So listen all the way through, and then listen for the new ending, shared by me. My name is Rabbi Leora Kaye. I'm the Director of Program for the Union for Reform Judaism.

[Jerry Kaye] As you can imagine, every king, every person chooses to celebrate their own birthday in some special way, and this is a story about just one of those. The king sponsored a lavish party for his birthday. He invited everyone to the party, and everyone came because they knew that it was a remarkably different day. What was so different? Well, here's what happened.

On this day, the king would bring out a box that he kept hidden away, and he would bring it to the front of the castle. And he would bring it in front of everyone there and slowly open the lid of the box, and inside the box, he would take out a ruby-- a ruby of such magnificent color, a ruby of such magnificent splendor that everyone was left aghast. Every person in the room saw this, and as much as they smiled, the king smiled with them.

And then came the horrible day, a day when the party was held, the decorations were out, the food was prepared, all of the things that always happened on the King's birthday were right there and in order-- except when the king opened the box, it wasn't the same beautiful ruby. It was now a ruby that had a scratch right across the face of it, a scratch that took away much of the beauty, a scratch that took away the sense that this was something special.

And the king's smile, the smile that he carried with him every day-- at every birthday party, by the way-- now turned into a very sad face. And he called out to everyone in the community, everyone in the village, everyone in the countryside, and said that whomever can make this better, I will reward them mightily.

Well, people came from everywhere, people who were lapidaries-- that's a fancy word for jeweler-- people who came who had the kind of ability to erase those scratches in jewels. But nothing changed. Nothing made a difference. There were people who came from other towns, from other cities, from other countries to try their hand at repairing this horrible mistake. Oh, nobody knew how it happened. Nobody knew what it was that caused the scratch. But everyone knew that the scratch was there.

The king sat in more and more distress. The King sat each day looking less happy, and each day, another person came to take out the scratch, and another person failed. But then, one day, it was a little girl who came to to the king and said, Your Majesty, I would love to try to help you. I would love to try to remove the scratch from the face of the ruby. The king looked at her and said, you know, my child, you are a sweet young girl, and I'm sure that you had only the best of intentions. But even with all of your intentions and even all of your work, nobody is able to make a single change in the face of the ruby. How do I think you can do it? But you know, do it. Try it. See what you can do because you certainly can't make it worse.

And what is it you want for your work? And the girl said, all I want is to be left alone in a private room with food each day-- not much, just enough to provide me with nourishment-- and something to drink along with it. And the King said, it will be yours.

Days passed. People were standing outside now. People were outside waiting to hear what would happen. The news was going to go through the countryside so quickly that any change would make a difference. A day finally came when the girl knocked on the door, and they opened the door, and she held the box. And she brought the box to king, and she said, Your Majesty, I hope that you will find this to your liking.

He said, well, it certainly can't be worse. And he took the box, and everybody gathered around to share what it was that this little girl would make different. And the king sat there and slowly opened the box, and his face started to change from the sad and disappointed and maybe even miserable look to something that was an expression of joy, an expression of joy why? Not because the scratch was gone-- the scratch was still there. But the king was able to see that what the little girl did was to take that scratch and turn it into a rose.

And this is a lesson for each one of us. Every one of us has a scratch of some kind in our bodies, in our hearts, in our minds. But that scratch, with the right concern and the right commitment and the right devotion, can become not just a scratch every day, but rather a bit of beauty that remains in our hearts.

[Rabbi Leora Kaye] That's how the story's always been told. But here is an addition to the story. After the girl had left the palace, the king realized that he had a few questions he'd like to ask her. In what ways had she thought about coming to present her idea to the king? Had she wondered whether or not it would work? Had it kept her up all night the way it had, in fact, kept him up for so long?

He decided he would seek her out and find out where she lived. He asked around town, and people shared with him that she lived just a little bit beyond the border-- not here, not there, not in a fancy part of town, not in a poor part of town. And he found his way to her house, where she lived with her family.

When he got there, it became clear that nobody was home, and he figured he would just wait for a bit until they arrived, and then he would walk up to the house. He would, of course, knock on the door and see if she might be open to a bit more conversation.

But as he waited, he realized that there was something specific about the house where she lived, something specific about all of the solid spaces in the dwelling. What he noticed was that on almost every single surface, a rose had been carved-- some half done, some fully done, some beautiful, some clearly with mistakes in them. It was all up and down the walls of the house. It was all up and down the fence that surrounded the house. It was, in fact, even up and down all along the walls of the shed where they clearly kept their tools. There was not a single space it seemed in the area where she lived that didn't have a rose carved into it.

Now, just as he was noticing this, the young girl herself walked up. She saw the king and was so pleased to see him, she said, well, what is it that you're doing here? I was just with you in your home yesterday, and now you've shown up on my doorstep. He said to her, after you left, I realized I did have a few questions if you'd be open to answering them. But now that I've arrived here, well, I realize I only have one.

She looked around, and she knew what it was that he was going to ask her. He said to her, why is it that the rose that you carved into my ruby is carved into almost every single space where you live?

And she said to him, King, your majesty, when the scratch appeared on your ruby, we all in your entire kingdom felt so sad for you, all we wanted-- every single one of us-- was to do something to make it perfect again. We each tried to think of what our own gifts might be that might be able to bring it back to its original state of perfection. And I knew that the one thing I could do was carve.

But Your Majesty, I started thinking about this, well, perhaps over a year ago, even, when it first happened. But I didn't come to you right when I thought of the idea. I realized I wanted to make sure that I could do it perfectly, that if I was going to take a thing that meant so much to you and try to make it better, I certainly didn't want to make a mistake doing that. And so I practiced during the year. I practiced on the walls. I practiced on paper. I practiced on rocks. I practiced on, well, essentially anything I could get my hands on that I could carve because I wanted to make sure that if I was going to try to fix that ruby, I was going to do it well.

I wanted to make sure that if I was going to take something of such value to somebody else into my own hands, I was going to do it with as much care as I could. The king looked at her and said, thank you. In fact, that is really all I needed to or wanted to know. And he looked at her again and said, if only every one of us could give that much care to all of the people with whom we interact, to all of the people that come across our paths, and ours theirs. If only. If only.

[URJ Outro] Now that you've heard the addendum to the story, I'm wondering if you think about how often you pay attention to the people that you care about, to the people that you want to take care of, and whether or not you practice to make sure that when you hold them and the things they care about in your hands, you do so with the utmost of attention.

If you want to share some of that with us, we'd love to hear about it. You can find us on social media 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'hitroat!

Jerry Kaye is the immediate past director of URJ Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI) in Oconomowoc, WI, which he headed for 48 years.