Have time for a tale or two?

One nice day, the Czar decided to make a surprise visit to an army base somewhere in Russia. Reaching the base, he found it neglected and empty. A wise man, the Czar knew where to find his men: in the local tavern.

Indeed, the tavern was full of soldiers making merry and drinking hard. The Czar, dressed in civilian clothing, stood at the side, observing.

About two hours later, one soldier stood up and reminded his comrades of their duties and how they better get back to the base before the general would arrive.

The next day, the entire division was informed of an imminent inspection by the CzarHanging on each other for support and balance, the drunken soldiers began the mile-long trek home. Foot by foot, step by step, men were falling. What had begun as a group of two hundred soon dwindled to a mere handful. The Czar continued observing.

About five feet before the base's gate, a soldier collapsed. The Czar walked over to him and made a red mark on his neck. Two feet further, another soldier collapsed. Only three soldiers made it to the base.

The next day, the entire division was informed of an imminent inspection by the Czar. The soldiers quickly went into high alert, cleaning and polishing. This was no joke.

The Czar walked through the rows of soldiers standing at attention, oblivious to the cleanliness and effort of the men. He was looking for something; he was after the mark.

And he saw it. He ran up to the soldier, raised his hand and mercilessly slapped the lad over and over.

With the last ounce of his strength, the beaten soldier begged for an explanation. The Czar replied that this was a consequence of his going to the bar the previous night.

The beaten soldier was at loss. "But, but…. everyone else went!" he sputtered. "Besides, I deserve credit for making it back so close to the base."

The Czar looked at him thoughtfully and said, "We are all humans, and humans make mistakes. Am I upset that my soldiers left their posts? Yes, but I can understand and I can forgive.

"Why do I forgive them? Because I watched closely as those drunken soldiers fell to the floor; they all fell with their heads towards the base, demonstrating their commitment and loyalty to the place where they want to be—my army. They failed, okay, but their hearts were in the right place.

"You, on the other hand, made it almost all the way. Your body was in the right place, but your heart was not. How do I know? Because when you fell, you fell backwards, your head away from the base, towards the tavern. Your true loyalties were revealed."

The second story:

A young woman comes back to her matchmaker after the first date and says, "It's over. Why? Well, today our values are on equal ground. The problem is that he is heading south, whereas I am aiming northward. We just happened to meet halfway…"

Sometimes we find ourselves going downhillThe name of this week's Torah reading, Behar, "on a mountain," teaches us that life is about climbing a mountain. Higher and higher we scale; to come closer to G‑d is our goal.

Sometimes we find ourselves going downhill, slipping and sliding on the slopes of morals, tradition and ethics. We get drunk, we ditch our calling. It is unfortunate, and we must change course.

But as long as we are ultimately heading upwards, as long as we are aiming for higher, as long as our heart and mind are in the right spot, we can be sure that we're on the right path.

When will we reach the final destination? With the coming of the Redemption, the time when G‑d will reveal Himself to all, when we will see Him, when we will dance with Him, when the Groom and bride will be united as one.

Safe journey! We are almost by the finish line. Let's hurry along.