The Things We Carry
Two monks, as part of their vows, have promised never again to touch a woman. One day, while walking, they come to the edge of a river, where an astonishingly beautiful woman stands. Unable to cross unaided, she asks the monks for help. The first monk refuses, explaining that to help her would require that he break a solemn oath. The second monk reflects a moment and then picks the woman up and carries her across the stream. Once safely across, he sets her down. The two monks continue on their way.
As the hours pass, the first monk grows increasingly agitated. Finally, unable to remain silent, he turns to the other monk and says, “I can’t go on without speaking to you of something.”
“What is it?”
“You and I both took an oath never to touch a woman as long as we lived.”
“It is true. We did.”
“But back there at the river, you carried the woman across.”
“Yes,” the second monk replies.
“So you broke your sacred vow.”
“Well, it is true, I did carry the woman across the river, but then I put her down,” the monk says. “You have been carrying her ever since.”
In used to give a Parsha class (Portion of the Week) in a second floor classroom in my synagogue in Los Angeles. One evening as I approached the stairs I saw a beautiful woman sitting in a wheelchair. She was speaking to one of the men about to go upstairs:
“I’m here for the class. Can you carry me up the stairs?”
“If you wait a moment, I’ll try to find someone to help me carry you up.”
“You don’t need help. I’m very light. I am paralyzed, but my injuries are such that I can’t be carried up in the wheelchair.”
“I’m not very strong.”
“I’m not very heavy. Are you hesitant because you are scared of dropping me, or because I am a woman?”
“Both,” he said.
“Thank you,” she said, “people usually don’t see me as a woman because of the chair. Please carry me up. I hate the feeling of being stuck.”
She then said something to him that gave all of us an entirely new strategy for confronting our Evil Inclination: “Use the fear of dropping me to overcome the fear of carrying a woman.”
He did not carry the woman any more than up the stairs.
I have carried her lesson for more than twenty years.
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