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The Donkey in the Pit

The Donkey in the Pit

A parable on pain and gain


Once, when one of my daughters was eleven years old, she complained about a pain in her knee. Seeing nothing wrong with her knee, I suggested that it was probably growing pains. My daughter didn't like the explanation. "Why can't we grow without pain?" she demanded.

Unfortunately, in real life, growth is often associated with pain. As the famous saying goes, "No pain — no gain." While we may not have control over the "pain" part, especially when it’s caused by others, we do most definitely have control over the "gain" part.

Most of our learning and growth in life comes not from the good times but rather from the difficult times. During the good period we are happy and therefore do not want anything to change. It is during the bad times, when we are unhappy with the status quo, that we learn how to change things — how to make our world better than it is.

When life throws challenges at us, we have a choice. We can feel sorry for ourselves and cry and complain, "Why me?" Or we could stop and say to ourselves: "What can I do, given the new circumstances that have arisen?"

I once asked an elderly wise person whom I used to approach for advice, "Where do you get such good judgement from?" He answered, "Good judgment comes from bad experience." He related to me the following story, which had a profound effect on me.

One day, a donkey fell into a pit. The animal cried and whined for hours while his owner tried to figure out what to do. Finally, the farmer decided that since the animal was old, and the pit needed to be covered up anyway, he'd just bury the old donkey right there. He got a shovel and started filling in the pit. The donkey kept up its wailing, but then fell silent. After an hour of furious shovelling, the farmer paused to rest. To his amazement, he saw his old donkey jump out of the pit and trot away!

At first, when the donkey realized what was happening, he cried even more piteously. But then the wise animal hit on a plan. As each spadeful of dirt hit his back, the donkey would shake it off and take a step up on the growing mound of earth. Eventually, the mound grew high enough for him to jump out of the pit.

Life is going to shovel dirt on you, all kinds of dirt. The trick to getting out of the pit well is to shake it off and take a step up. We can get out of the deepest pits by not stopping and never giving up. Just shake it off and take a step up.

Try it, it works!

Rabbi Yaakov Lieder has served as a teacher and principal, and in a variety of other educational positions, for more than 30 years in Israel, the U.S., and Sydney, Australia. He is the founder and director of the Support Centre to aid families struggling with relationship and child-rearing issues. Click here for more articles by Rabbi Lieder.
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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Lucifer Quezon City January 15, 2014

When you are given lemons, make lemonade Don't forget to add sugar to enjoy it. And I just gained new respect for donkeys. Reply

Anonymous San Francisco September 29, 2010

Shalom For a while I was strugling with some inner turmoil, but when I llok back I realize my greatest growth occured at and right after this turmoil. So I reasoned maybe next time I could just go up higher( Do much more good) right away and that way ignore the extended turmoil. Reply

tavosky okc, ok via August 17, 2010

witty and inspirational I will use this witticism myself and forward it to all i know. Reply

lawrence Quezon City, Metro Manila,Philippines August 15, 2010

hi wat an inspiring story.. Reply

Susan Fayetteville May 4, 2010

arise, shake off the dust That donkey could teach us a profound lesson about how to deal with being stuck in a rut--just stop digging and figure out even unlikely ways to get out of it! Reply

Florence Caplan maple, ontario October 4, 2008

Pain and Gain This is very profound.
Thank you for sharing it.
I think we should all display this story
in our kitchens for all of us to remember. Reply

greg klein June 15, 2006

thats an amazing mashal, thanks rabbi Reply

Natana Kulakofski Worcester, MA/USA November 9, 2004

There it is - in a nutshell bh
Rarely have I heard it summed up so succintly: how to deal with life's tsouris, how to deal with life, period.... This is one of those articles you need to print out, put into a sheet protector, and read it every once in a while... Reply

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