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Rebbe Nachman of Breslov tells us: “Be content with what you have and only take what you need from this world. When you are content, you can enjoy the full light of G-d. But ‘the belly of the wicked shall be wanting’ (Proverbs 13:25), because they are not content with what they have and constantly feel the need for more” (Likutey Moharan I, 54).

But how can I be content with what I have if I feel like I’m lacking certain necessities?


In one of his most famous stories, Rebbe Nachman shows us how we must force ourselves to be happy even in the most difficult situations:

There was once a poor man who earned a living digging clay and selling it. Once, while digging, he discovered a precious stone that was obviously worth a great deal. Since he had no idea of its true worth, he took it to an expert to have it appraised. The expert told him, “No one here will be able to afford such a stone. Go to London, the capital, and there you will be able to sell it for its full value.”

The man was so poor that he could not afford to make the journey. He sold everything he had, and went from house to house collecting funds for the trip. Finally, he had enough to take him as far as the sea. He then went to board a ship, but he did not have any money left to pay the fare. He went to the ship’s captain and showed him the jewel. The captain immediately welcomed him aboard the ship with great honor, assuming he was a very trustworthy person. He gave the poor man a special first-class cabin and treated him like a wealthy personage.

The poor man’s cabin had a view of the sea, and he sat there, constantly looking at the diamond and rejoicing. He was especially particular to do this during his meals since eating in good spirits is highly beneficial for digestion. Then one day, he sat down to eat with the diamond lying in front of him on the table where he could enjoy it. Sitting there after eating a full meal, he dozed off. Meanwhile, a young man who had been hired to clean and wait tables came and cleared the table, shaking the tablecloth with its crumbs and the diamond into the sea.

When he woke up and realized what had happened, the poor man almost went mad with grief. He also realized that the captain was a ruthless man who would not hesitate to kill him for his fare. Having no other choice, he continued to act happy, as if nothing had happened. The captain would usually speak to him a few hours every day, and on this day the man forced himself to appear in good spirits so that the captain would not be aware that anything was wrong. The captain then said to him, “I want to buy a large quantity of wheat and I will be able to sell it in London for a huge profit. But I am afraid that I will be accused of stealing from the king’s treasury. Therefore, I will arrange for the wheat to be bought in your name. I will pay you for your trouble.” The poor man agreed. But as soon as they arrived in London the captain died. The entire shipload of wheat was in the poor man’s name, and it was worth many times more than the diamond.”

Rebbe Nachman concluded, “The diamond was not destined to belong to the poor man, and the proof is that he did not keep it. The wheat, however, was destined to be his, and the proof is that he was able to keep it and sell it. But he got what he deserved only because he remained happy.”

It is up to each of us never to lose hope, and like the poor man in the story to whom everything appeared lost, force ourselves to be happy. Even a faked happiness has the power to transform our situation and lead us to genuine joy.


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Rabbi Nosson Rossman is a rabbinic field representative for the Orthodox Union. He can be reached at [email protected].