Rebbe Nachman famously proclaimed, “Ein shum yiush b’olam klal! – There is no such thing as despair!”
I recently read an amazing story that illustrates how a person’s fortunes can turn around drastically, highlighting Rebbe Nachman’s point that a person should never despair.
The book, Tales of Rav Nissim Gaon, relates the following incident: There was a wealthy man who wanted to give a large sum of money to the most hopeless person in the world. He traveled from city to city, but could not find anyone who was totally lacking hope. Even the poorest individuals maintained some dream or aspiration that made them ineligible to receive the gift.
One day, the rich man passed a large trash heap at the edge of the city. Lying beside the heap was a poor man, filthy, in rags, totally dejected. The rich man spoke to him for a few minutes and discovered that the man was absolutely alone in the world, and had no family or possessions. Here was the most hopeless person in the world!
“I have a large sum of money I would like to give you,” the rich man said. “Why do you want to give me this money?” the poor man asked. The rich man explained that he sought to help the most hopeless person in the world.
“Am I so hopeless?” the poor man exclaimed. “I haven’t given up yet! I trust in Hashem and His kindness, and I await His compassion every minute. Nothing can stop Hashem from saving me and making me rich if He wants. Forget this foolish idea of yours!”
“I’m trying to have compassion on you and you insult me to my face?!” the rich man replied. “You thought you were having compassion on me, but you were really killing me,” answered the pauper. “Because the only people who have lost all hope are the dead in their graves. Now leave me alone.”
The rich man turned to leave. “He’s right,” he thought. “Only the dead have no hope. I may as well go to the cemetery and bury the money there.” And that is what he did.
Years passed and the rich man slowly lost his wealth until he was finally left with nothing. Suddenly he remembered the money he had buried years earlier in the cemetery. He immediately went to the cemetery to dig it up, but as he was doing so, a police officer passed by and arrested him on charges of grave-robbing. He was thrown into jail and his case was brought before the local land-baron.
With bitter tears, he explained his tale of riches to poverty, and how he had buried the money in the graveyard years earlier. “This man is innocent!” exclaimed the land-baron. “I was the poor man who you tried to give the money to, and it was because of me that you buried it!” He turned to the defendant. “Now do you see that what I told you is true? Hashem helped me and made me a wealthy land-baron. Now go and dig up your money.” (As recounted in Lights on the Path, p. 191-193).
This story teaches us the importance of never giving up, as Rebbe Nachman stressed, “Ein shum yiush b’olam klal!”
May we all merit to live lives full of hope in Hashem’s salvation no matter what the circumstances may be.