Elijah and the Hunter
Translated and Adapted by Braha Bender
The Midrash tells us a story about Eliyahu HaNavi (Elijah the Prophet).
Eliyahu was going about his business one day when he crossed paths with a Jew who had never learned Torah. The man, a hunter by trade, spent his days knotting together rope out of flax, weaving nets, digging ditches, and laying traps for animals. The hunter was a simple man; straightforward, honest, and hard-working.
Eliyahu turned to him questioningly. "Why don't you learn Torah?," he asked.
“Torah?,” thought the hunter in surprise. “I have no ‘head’ for Torah study -- rabbis and scholars study such things! After all, I am only a simple hunter.”
Turning to the prophet, the hunter muttered in reply, "Heaven did not grant me wisdom."
But Eliyahu questioned again, "Who taught you to knot rope and weave nets? Who taught you the ways of the animals? Who taught you to dig ditches and place hidden traps? Who taught you to hunt so well?"
"Ah, for this heaven granted me wisdom!," the hunter shouted confidently.
Exclaimed Eliyahu, "If your ears only heard what your mouth has spoken! You claim that heaven has granted you the wisdom you need to feed your body, but to feed your soul has granted you none. Would you tell me that heaven has helped you to meet your needs in this world, but for your needs in the eternal world-to-come has completely abandoned you?"
Eliyahu had a simple message to convey to the hunter, and to us. He was not telling the hunter to drop his profession and become a Torah scholar. Rather, he was simply pointing out that just as the body needs nourishment to live, so does the soul.
It is certainly true that there are Torah scholars revealing profound new depths in the Torah and building worlds upon worlds of spiritual beauty. There are also Rosh Yeshivos developing Torah communities whose reach extends to hundreds of thousands of students. There is no doubt that these are the spiritual millionaires of humankind. But this doesn't negate the fact that every person has to live.
Not everyone is a millionaire. Just as in the physical world, there are plenty of simple, hardworking Jews who manage to eke out an honest “living”. They’re not millionaires but they put the spiritual bread on the table. Have you ever heard the saying, "The Torah isn't too small for the biggest Jew, and isn't too big for the smallest Jew?"
Though the skills of the hunter were simple and would never lead him to great riches, they still provided him with food to eat. That was enough for him. Nobody trying to make a living would say it's all or nothing. The same applies to Torah study. At the end of the day, even if you didn't become a big Torah scholar or Rosh Yeshiva, you put something in your pocket. Eliyahu was making a point that all of us need to drive home: even simple Torah study makes the difference between a life of meaning and a life of spiritual starvation.
Torah doesn’t ask any of us to take on more than we can handle. We are obligated to do only as much as we can at our stage of spiritual growth and maturity. We may aspire to tremendous spiritual heights, but the fact remains that no accomplishment is too small, no matter how insignificant it may seem. As the author of the Duties of the Heart put it, "That which is small in your eyes -- is great in His eyes."
This parallel between the spiritual and the material worlds is hinted at in Birkat Kohanim (the Priestly Blessing): "May Hashem bless you" -- financially, and "May Hashem illuminate His countenance for you" -- in Torah. Every Jew has his portion in Torah. It's waiting for you right now.