A Parable of Teshuvah, for Elul

So he brought down the people unto the water; and the LORD said unto Gideon: ‘Everyone that lappeth of the water with his tongue, as a dog lappeth, him shalt thou set by himself; likewise every one that boweth down upon his knees to drink.’ And the number of them that lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, was three hundred men; but all the rest of the people bowed down upon their knees to drink water. And the LORD said unto Gideon: ‘By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you . . . [Judges 7:5-7]

Five years ago, I wrote a series of parables for the season of repentance that begins with the month of Elul, the current month on the Hebrew calendar. Lacking shame, I’ve decided to recycle these, originally posted on my old blog, for those who either didn’t know me then, or wish I were still doing that sort of writing.

Here is the parable.

A man is marooned in the desert, and wanders for many days. Perforce, he learns to draw water from the thick-leaved plants while eluding the thorns; to capture the dew that settles on his cloak at night; to travel in the early dawn and late evening, and hide from the mid-day heat that would suck the moisture out of his open mouth. And thus he survives on his trek through the wastes.

Many times, he has seen pools of shimmering water on the horizon – especially when he has travelled too far into the morning, and the sun has risen to its full white power, and the rock and sand begin to bend under the blows of the sun. And sometimes he runs out to taste the waters, praying they are sweet and not bitter, only to find that they are neither sweet nor bitter, for there are no waters to taste, only the laughing sunlight.

Then, one day, he comes upon an oasis. There are palm trees here, and the rocks and sand that ring the pool are darkened with moisture, not shining, and the pool lies just below the surface of the land, and the air above is still, not shimmering. This is no mirage.

And yet the man hesitates. Not because he has been fooled before, though that is part of it. But because he fears drowning. So long a wanderer in the desert, he fears what he would do if he immersed himself wholly in these cold waters, whether the cold shock would stop his heart – or whether, worse, he would so love the deep that he would hold his head below the surface too long, and never again take breaths of air.

And so the man stands at the edge of the pool, and cups his hand, and raises a portion of the water to his lips, and drinks from his hand, just so much as one can drink in a single swallow. Perchance he takes two drinks, or three, or more, until he first senses the fading of thirst, then pauses, lest he forget to be thankful.

Perhaps of this man, too, one might say: by [those] men who lapped will I save you.