There is a chasidisher mayseh (Chasidic story) related to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave that tells of an innkeeper who is unable to pay the rent on his inn. The squire landlord throws him and his wife into a pit and seizes control of the inn. Taking pity upon the unfortunate souls, the squire’s daughter secretly sends food down into the pit each day so that they do not starve to death.
This scene continues for many years and on her deathbed, the righteous lady instructs her children to continue to feed the family, beginning a family tradition of righteous mercy that goes on for generations. Meanwhile, in the pit, children are born to the innkeeper and his wife and then grandchildren and great-grandchildren. While the original occupants of the pit remember the world outside, as time passes the message of the elders begins to become myth. It’s a nice story, but life is good inside the pit. Schools are built and industry begins to flourish. Who needs an imaginary world outside?
The priestly families were divided into twenty four divisions, called ‘mishmor’, each of which served a weekly rotation in the Holy Temple. Every mishmor was then subdivided into seven, for each day of the week, called the ‘beis av’. Although each beis av only served one day, they were required to be present in Jerusalem throughout the entire week of their mishmor.
The Rabbis taught: Why did they say that members of the mishmor are permitted to drink wine at night but not during the day? It is so that in the case where the members of the beis av were overburdened on their shift, their fellow mishmor members could step in to assist them. Why did they say that members of the beis av are forbidden to drink wine day or night? It is because they are occupied constantly in the Temple service.
From this teaching, the Rabbis instructed that even nowadays, in the absence of the Holy Temple any cohen (priest) that knows which mishmor and beis av he comes from and knows that his family was part of the Temple schedule, is forbidden to drink wine on that day just in case the Messiah comes and he is immediately called upon to serve. If he knows which mishmor he belongs to but does not know which beis av, and he knows that his family was part of the Temple schedule, he is forbidden to drink wine that entire week. If he does not know which beis av or mishmor he belongs to but he knows that his family was part of the Temple schedule, he is forbidden to drink wine the entire year, since any day of the year might be his appointed time of service. Rebbe says, “In my opinion, every cohen should be forbidden to drink wine anytime, since they might all be called upon to serve at the inauguration ceremony of the Third Temple, but what can I do? Their fix is due to their downfall!”
Rashi explains Rebbe’s rationale for permitting wine to all priests at all times. Since the Holy Temple has lain in ruins for so many years, the priests have experienced the downfall of being unable to serve. Consequently, the priests have the fix of being allowed to drink wine anytime, since they are no longer constantly worried that the Temple will be immediately rebuilt.
How tragic! The fix that allows the priests to drink wine is that they have long forgotten their true calling in life! They may drink wine because they are no longer yearning for the day that the Temple will be rebuilt. They are like the family in the pit that has long since dismissed the story of the beautiful world outside as an ancient myth. Life moves on and unshackled by the burden of history, they can enjoy what they have today. If they only knew what they were missing!
The same is true for all of us in our own lives. Who wants to deal with the hassle of keeping Shabbos or kosher? Of putting on tefillin every day and being burdened with commandments? So at some point, many of us had a grandparent or great-grandparent who said, ‘Why bother? My life is fine without that ancient myth.’ And they dropped it all.
But life is not the same. The gift of Shabbos is gone. The ability to have a relationship with the Almighty is gone. And of course, the greatest tragedy is that the ultimate reward outside the pit of this world – Olam Haba (the World to Come) – will be out of reach for generations of children and grandchildren who never knew G-d’s purpose for us on earth.
You have the power to change the course of history for yourself, your children, your grandchildren and all generations to come. Know that the world outside the pit is real. It is very real. The world that you see around you is the myth. It is a short-term fix until you can return to reality. All the effort is worth it because one day you will see a beautiful world beyond your wildest imagination.
Look forward to that day and prepare yourself for your elevation to the real world!