The Fishing Lesson

Many years ago there lived two fishermen, Reuven and Joseph. They were skilled fisherman, and loved to fish. Reuven and Joseph could not only feed their families with the fish they caught, but had plenty in addition to sell to buy other things their families needed. While they fished, they would sit on the bank of the river and tell one another stories. Next to them sat baskets in which they kept their fish until, at th end of the day, they packed up to go home. Over the years, they enjoyed working together and learned many things from each other.

One sunny morning the two fishermen stood on the banks of a clear river, casting their lines into the rushing water. Around noon, Reuven noticed a thin and haggard beggar, coming out of the forest. His clothes were torn, his beard was scraggly, and his hair was covered with thistles. His feet were black with mud, for he wore no sandals.

The beggar hungrily eyed the baskets of fish sitting on the bank of the river, overflowing with fish. "I see that you are having an excellent day," said the beggar, addressing the fishermen. "I wonder if you can spare a few fish for a hungry, hungry person like myself?"

Joseph, who felt sorry for the beggar, quickly reached into the basket and pulled out the biggest trout. He jumped up to bring it to the beggar, but Reuven grabbed his elbow and pulled him back.

"We have no fish to spare," Simon told the beggar. "We need everything we catch to support our families. What we don't eat, we sell to buy clothing, so you see we cannot give you what we have caught, but if you come stand next to me, and I will teach you how fish and you can catch your own."

The beggar hesitated a moment. He seem clearly surprised by Reuven's response to his request. Nonetheless, he joined Reuven at the water's edge. Patiently, Reuven showed the poor man how to make a fishing pole of his own from a long stick and some string which he gave him. Reuven showed him how to use a worm as bait, and how to cast his line far into the water and move it just right to attract fish.

At first, the beggar had no success, and he began to mutter angrily. It would have been so much simpler if these men had been gracious and generous, and shared their abundance with him. After all, they had many baskets brimming with fat fish. No doubt they could spare one or two. But at last, the beggar felt a tug on his line, and pulled a fat, rainbow-colored bass out of the water. Grinning happily, the beggar stuffed the fish into the front of his tattered shirt, and went off to cook his lunch, clutching his new fishing pole to his chest.

After he was gone, Joseph turned to Reuven. "How could you do that?" he said. "Where is your compassion? You shouldn't have stopped me from feeding a hungry human being!"

"Joseph," Simon replied quietly, "if you had given the beggar a fish, he would have eaten it quickly and then he would have been hungry again by tonight. By teaching him how to catch his own fish, we taught him a skill which will last him a lifetime. Now he can get his own food and he will never go hungry again."

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