The beloved mentor of the yeshivah in Rishon Letzion, Israel, Rabbi Chaim Shaul Brook (1894-1965, affectionately known as Shoiel), was known for his wit and clarity. Once, while encouraging his students to increase in their studies, he told of a certain chassidic rebbe who had a custom at the conclusion of Shabbat: he would ask someone to share a story or a vignette relating to current events. The rebbe would then find and share a takeaway lesson. At one such gathering, the following story was shared:

There was a governor who went on a hunting trip with his close aide. Everything was wonderful, and they were having a great timeAs night fell, they tried to find their way out of the soggy forest together. After several successful hours, the clouds rolled in and the sky darkened. Lightning began to flash, thunder roared and a torrential downpour began. At first, the pair tried to find shelter under a tree, but the rain was too heavy, and they got soaked to the bone.

As night fell, they tried to find their way out of the soggy forest but, blinded by sheets of rain, they could not find the right path. Just as they began to panic in earnest, they saw a glimmer of light in the distance. They began to trek toward the light and arrived at an old bungalow.

They knocked on the door and out came a burly and unkempt man dressed in dirty rags. “What can I do for you?” he asked with a gentleness that belied his rough demeanor.

“We want to stay overnight until the storm passes,” they replied in unison.

The owner of the shack invited them in and began to excuse himself for not being able to adequately accommodate them.

“In the past, this place was a rest area for travelers,” he told them wistfully. “Over time people stopped coming, and I became bankrupt. I still have a goat, and I can offer you fresh warm milk if you’d like.”

The governor and his aide were delighted to refresh themselves with some goat’s milk. Soon after, their host offered them straw mattresses to sleep on. Exhausted, they were not picky and soon fell into a deep sleep.

The pair was greeted the next morning by sunshine streaming through the trees. The governor and his aide asked their kind host for directions and thanked him for his hospitality. They were soon on their way back to the governor's mansion.

A few days passed, and a noble carriage rolled to a halt outside the bungalow. A liveried officer descended from the carriage and invited the owner to come to the governor's mansion. The man began to tremble. “What did I do wrong? What will become of me?”

He was ushered into the mansion and the governor greeted him warmly. “Do you not recognize me? I am one of the two people you hosted a few days ago in your bungalow!”

Tailors were summoned, and they measured the man. They soonEven a glass of goat's milk was enough to restore his spirits returned with new, well-fitted clothes for the dazed woodsman. The governor also gifted him a house in the city and a generous monetary gift.

This was the story that was related, and the chassidim now turned to the rebbe to hear what he would add.

After a brief moment of silence, the rebbe began: “Let us imagine the woodsman’s friend asks him, ‘How did you make it big?’ He’d answer, ‘I gave the governor and his aide some goat's milk and a straw mattress to sleep on.’”

The rebbe continued: “Now, if the friend took this advice literally, and showed up to the governor's mansion with some goat’s milk and a straw mattress, would he be rewarded as the bungalow owner was, or would he be risking punishment for offending the governor?

“When the governor was away from his mansion and in distress, even a glass of goat’s milk and a straw mattress was enough to restore his spirits. But when the governor is in his mansion, all the gold and silver in the world is not sufficient to satisfy him.”

The rebbe raised his voice and exclaimed: “In these times of exile, when the Shechinah (Divine presence) is exiled along with us, ‘all our hardships are His hardships,’1 even a small service, represented by goat’s milk and a straw mattress, is sweet and desirable to G‑d, and much reward is in store for those who do it. But when Moshiach will come, and the Shechinah will rise from the dust and return to its rightful place, even if we toil and exert ourselves to what we think is the highest levels, it will not be enough."

Reb Shoiel concluded to his students: “Hurry and seize the opportunity and increase a bit in goodness before it is too late.”

(Translated and adapted from Sichat Hashavua 863)