Monday, February 22, 2010

More from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and a Great Children's Riddle

More from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and a Great Children’s Riddle

I am still reading To Heal a Fractured World by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. As my daughter Talie tells me, the sign of a great book is when it is difficult not to underline and reread every line. True! I find this to be especially the case in this book. I am only reading a few pages at a time and then digesting what they have taught me before continuing. This, I think, is the way this book is best read. So, this past Shabbat (on which of course, I am not underlining, which is definitely a benefit in many ways – however, I did go back and add the appropriate indicator of emphasis on Sunday) I was reminded by Rebbe Sacks of an old children’s riddle. He uses it to remind us of the nature of G-d. That works. I want to take some poetic license here and use it to make a point about human rights and our responsibility to the world in which we all live. Here goes!

There are three people who have worked together to accomplish a task and in the course of the day they have earned seventeen gold coins. Because of the fact that they have each made different contributions to the accomplishment of the task, they decide to divide the coins proportionally, according to the contribution each has made. They decide as follows: The first person should receive ½ of the total payment; the second person should receive 1/3 of the total payment; and the third person should receive 1/9 of the total payment. They try and try and cannot come up with an equitable way to divide the coins. What should they do? They come to you for the solution.

Think about this. What can you do as they have come to you for the solution? What can you offer them? What advice and WORDS will you offer them? Is there something else you should be giving them in their attempt to solve their problem? As the puzzle or riddle continues, the solution is suggested as follows:

You should add one gold coin to the collection, making a total of eighteen gold coins. NOW each person can take their appropriate pay – The first person received nine gold coins; the second gets six gold coins; and the last person receives two gold coins. Guess how many are left! YOU get YOUR COIN back!

What is the lesson here? In the riddle, you have not only given advice and words, but you have given from your resources as well. In the end, the three people have a solution, and you have NOT LOST A THING! How wonderful if we could see community service and helping others in the same way. Sure, we give time, money and resources to help others in our world. But in so doing, we are creating solutions for others, while not losing anything of value in terms of who we are and what we have. Further, in creating and facilitating solutions, we are helping ourselves by creating a more sustainable and reasonable environment in which we can all live.

Thank you Rabbi Sacks for reminding me of this wonderful riddle and its solution! To be sure, it teaches an important lesson about G-d and what gives us. Further, it reminds us that we should follow the example G-d sets for us and be gracious, for in giving to others, we get so much in return without losing a thing!


  1. I knew the answer to the riddle this time :)

    But after thinking about it for a little, I have one problem with it. Is getting the coin we initially put in, returned to us in the end so necessary? To help others, I think we should be willing to give something up. Most of the time, we will recieve something in return for helping others, whether it be seeing the formation of a solution, a thank you, a feeling of personal gratification, or a gold coin. But I think there will be times when we give of ourselves (our words, our time, our money) and receive nothing in return. It might be because we were unable to help find a solution and we feel dejected, or because people were not appreciative of our efforts or some other reason. I think with those expereinces of giving, where we have lost something, we must realize that while we may not have as much as we did before, our efforts are a merrit in themselves....kind of like the idea that we do not make brachot on mitzvot ben adam l'chaveiro because the action itself is the bracha.

  2. I do agree with this idea, to be helpful to a person in need, material objects don't always need to be given. Being there and giving hope or just physical help is enough.