The Broken Bucket
Rabbi Jason Rosenberg
Erev Rosh Hashana, 5778
Our story begins with a woman. An old woman. Very old. This woman had built herself a house, in the middle of nowhere, on the top of a hill. She had lived there for a long time — for as long as anyone could remember. It seemed like she had lived up there forever.
It was a strange thing, building a house up on that hill. There was no one around for miles. No one to talk with, no one to be with, no one to help. But, what was really odd about the decision to live up there was that there was no running water. I guess this was before plumbing, and all of those things which make our lives so convenient. And so, since water doesn’t like to run back uphill, there was no easy way for her to have water in her house.
Instead, she had to get it, for herself, by herself, every morning. Every morning, she followed the same routine. She’d walk outside and pick up a long pole. Next to the pole, there were two buckets, each with a loop of rope over the top. She would take the first bucket, and hang it from the left side of the pole. Then, she would take the second bucket, and hang it from the right. Always the same bucket on the same side, in the exact same way. She would rest the pole across her old, but surprisingly strong shoulders, and she would take the narrow, dirt path down the hill, to the stream which ran past its bottom. She would take the pole off her shoulders, gently and carefully take each bucket off the pole, and then, one at a time, dip each bucket in the stream, filling it with cold, clear water. Then, just as carefully, she would place each bucket back on the pole, oh so carefully lift the pole back up, and back onto her shoulders, and turn to make her way back up the path, to her little house at the top of the hill.
But, that right-hand bucket. That right-hand bucket, you see, had a small crack in the bottom of it. And so, as soon as she started walking up the hill, the bucket would start leaking. A steady persistent drip, the bucket running out of water, step-by-step, so that by the time she reached the top of the hill, the bucket would be completely dry. She would put the right-hand bucket back where it had started, and take the left-hand bucket with her, to use throughout the day. Day after day, year after year, the morning unfolded in the exact same way. Left bucket on the pole, right bucket on the pole. Walk down the path, take the buckets off the pole. Fill the buckets, put them back on the pole. Pick up the pole, march back up the hill. Drip drip drip. Right-hand bucket gets put back where it started; left-hand bucket gets used. Every. Single. Day.
The days passed. The months passed. The years passed. Nothing changed. The same routine, every day. Until one morning. One morning, the woman was getting ready for her day, about to head to the front door to pick up her buckets, and her pole, and then down to the stream, when she heard a loud knock at the door. She was more than a bit surprised — no one ever visited her. Ever. She open the front door, looked outside, and saw – nothing. No one was there. She looked around again, wondering if someone was hiding in the woods around the house, and saw no one. She started to turn back into the house, ready to close the door, when she heard a voice call out. “Hey!” She wheeled around and stuck her head back outside the door. No one. “Hey! Down here!” She looked down, and to her great surprise saw the right-hand bucket, the one with the crack in it, sitting on her front porch.
She stared at it for a brief moment before offering a, “um… Yes?” Not really knowing what she expected to happen. But, whatever she might have expected, it probably wasn’t for the bucket to answer back. “Do you know who I am?” It asked her.
“Why, yes. Of course. You’re the bucket from the right hand side of the pole.” She spoke to it as if this was completely normal, even though it very much wasn’t.
“That’s right. I’m the bucket from the right hand side of the pole. And I. Am. Furious.”
“Furious? At what?”
“At me? You’re furious at me? What in heaven’s name for?”
“For mocking me.”
“Mocking you?” She asked in stunned disbelief. “How? What? What do you mean?”
“Every day. Every single day. You put me on that pole, and carry me down to the stream. You fill me with water, just like a bucket should be filled. Just like a bucket wants to be. And then, you carry me back up the hill, as if nothing was wrong. And I fail. Every single time. Because, I’m broken. And you, you won’t fix me. I’m a bucket. I’m meant to carry water. That’s what I do; that’s what I am. That’s what I’m here for. But I can’t be that, and I can’t do that, because I have this crack, this defect. I’m a failure at the one thing I’m meant to do.
“Do you have any idea — any idea, at all — what it’s like for me? What it’s like to go through this life, day after day, knowing that I’m a failure?. Knowing that I’m useless? All I want is to be a bucket — a proper bucket. A good bucket. A useful bucket. It’s not a lot to ask, but you won’t give me even that much. If you had the common decency to spend a few minutes — just a few minutes — repairing me, I’d be fine. I’m so close to being a decent bucket, but you don’t seem to care enough to help. Instead, you carry me back and forth, up and down that hill, day after day. Each and every time, failing at the one thing I’m meant to do. Failing, one drip at a time, one day at a time. What have I ever done to you to deserve this much cruelty?”
The old woman looked down at the bucket, this bucket which had been on her right side, for all these years, with a look on her face which was a mix of sadness and caring. After a long moment, she began to speak. “My good friend. I’m so, so sorry. I had no idea that you felt this way. You’ve been suffering all this time, and you have no idea at all, do you?”
“What you mean? No idea about what?”
“Here. Let me show you.”
She gently picked up the bucket, and carried it over to the top of the path which they both knew so well. “Look down the right side of the path,” she said. “What do you see?”
“Nothing. It’s just the path. The same path we walk, every day.”
“That’s right. That’s what it is. That’s all that it is. Now look at the other side. What do you see there?”
The bucket looked and noticed that the two sides were nothing alike. Looking down from the top of the path, the right-hand side was bare. But the other side, the other side was alive with color. The other side was covered with flowers, thick and lush, showing off every hue you could imagine. It was so alive, so beautiful.
“I planted those flowers, many years ago,” said the old woman. They’re lovely, but they need a lot of care. And, they especially need a lot of water. So when I found you, I knew I had found exactly what I needed. Every morning, I fill you with water. And every morning, as I walk back up this hill, you sprinkle out, so carefully, so precisely, drop by drop, exactly the right amount of water to keep these flowers alive. To keep them flourishing. To keep them beautiful. This path is the most wonderful place in My entire world. And it’s all because of you.
“I’m so sorry that you never knew this. So, so sorry that you thought that you were broken. That you were a failure. You’re not a failure, and you’re not broken — you’re perfect.”
The bucket stood there, stunned into silence. And the old woman looked at it with ancient, wise eyes and said, “What’s amazing is that precisely the thing that you thought made you broken was the exact same thing which made you so powerful. What you thought was your greatest flaw, was exactly what I needed to make our world a more beautiful place. The crack which you thought made you nothing, was exactly what I needed to make our world holy.”