There was once a Swiss guard who worked at the border of Austria. He had worked there for many years and took a great deal of pride in his work.
One morning an Austrian man arrived at the border, riding a bicycle. On the front of the bike was a basket filled with sand. The guard eyed the man suspiciously, and suspecting that the Austrian might be a smuggler, brought out a special comb he kept for just a purpose, and began to sift through the sand in the basket.
He found nothing, only sand, and waved the man through the gate.
The same thing happened the next month, as the Austrian arrived on a bicycle with the basket filled with sand. The border guard went through the same process, at first eyeing the Austrian with suspicion, then sifting through the sand with his special comb, and until, finding nothing, allowing the Austrian to again cross the border.
The scene repeated itself month after month, year after year. During this time the border guard engaged the Austrian in small talk - learning his name (it was Yosef) learning about his family (he was married with a wife, who was a school teacher, and had 2 children), and of course his reason for crossing the border (to visit a favorite aunt and uncle). Each month they exchanged pleasantries, and as time passed the border guard still remained suspicious, and though he never found anything, he kept on looking... month after month...for 30 years!
Finally, one day, the Swiss guard said to the Austrian man,
"I must ask you a question that has been on my mind many years. This is my last day of work - I am retiring. After all these years, I still suspect you have been a smuggler, and it is driving me near mad. Now I ask you - I must know - are you indeed a smuggler?"
The Austrian man hesitated, and the Swiss guard reassured him.
"Do not worry - I give you my word of honor that I will not arrest you. But for my own peace of mind, I must know."
"Very well," said the Austrian. "Then I will tell you - I am indeed a smuggler."
"Ha ha," laughed the guard, relieved at last to know that his suspicions had not been unfounded. "I knew it!"
He hesitated for a moment and then continued, "But each month I looked through your basket and found nothing but sand. Tell me, please, what have you been smuggling?"
And with eyes smiling, the Austrian replied,
(Story re-crafted by R' Mark Novak)
My late rebbe, R' Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, zt"l, (זכר צדיק לברכה) was a master storyteller. He taught: "a good story is one where the mind surprises the heart". "A Year of Stories" is dedicated to his memory. I invite you to forward the link to these stories so that they find their way into the hearts of other listeners and tellers.
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Mark Novak is a "free-range" rabbi who lives in Washington DC and works, well, just about everywhere. In 2012 he founded Minyan Oneg Shabbat, home to MOSH (Minyan Oneg Shabbat), MindfulMOSH (Jewish mindfulness gathering), and