Once there was a woodcutter, and as is the case in all stories about woodcutters, he had many children and was always working. He had been burning the candle at both ends gathering firewood in order to sell it, otherwise his wife and children would starve. Thus, they lived from hand to mouth.
One day, as he was feeling quite downhearted, he went to visit an old sage there in the neighborhood.
“Sir, …”, he said, “I wonder why we people are all equal, but yet so different? Some are rich and loaded, some are kings, and others throw money around like it’s nothing. But look at my situation. Have I sinned against God? Is this supposed to be fair? You are a wise man and must know: Who is it that gives each man his lot in life?”
“Don’t you know that God is the one who created you, created all people, and governs over each man’s livelihood?” said the man.
As he was talking, though, the woodcutter turned around and walked away without saying a word.
“Wait,” said the sage, “I have more to tell you…”
“There is no need. I know now with whom I need to speak and I am headed to him.”
It seemed that his poverty, need and hunger were driving him crazy. He left his country, and was walking down the way when he was sent an angel from God.
“Where are you heading my son?” said the angel.
“I’m heading to the One who gives each person his livelihood to see why he doesn’t care about me.”
“Would you like me to show you the way?”
“Of course, thank you for the offer!”
“Walk down that way and you’ll be there. But be careful, no matter what you see, don’t say a word, whether good or bad. Just keep looking.”
As the woodcutter took leave of him and an hour had passed, he saw a countrywoman spreading a net on the ground and filling it with firewood. This was his profession, and just as when you meet a shoemaker and they notice your shoes, or a hairdresser and they notice your hair or a tailor noticing your clothes, he stood there observing the woman filling the net with firewood. She filled it, tied it, and was trying to carry it on her back, but in vain. Each time she lifted it, it fell down. So, when she opened it up, he thought she would reduce the load, but instead, she began looking for more firewood to add to it.
“What!” he said, “But she can’t carry it, and now instead of reducing it she is adding more?”
So, she secured the load again and was about to carry it when she fell down. She reopened it, and this time he thought she would surely reduce the amount of firewood, but she began looking for more to add until she had made a mountain of it. She was about to tie it, but then found that she was out of rope. So she took off her belts, linked them to the rope, and tied it all together. She tried to lift it but couldn’t even move it.
“But ma’am!” he said, “Instead of reducing it, you’re adding more?! How could you carry all of that?”
He was just completing his sentence when the woman and all that mountain of firewood suddenly disappeared. There was nothing left there except the angel who had showed him the way.
“Didn’t I tell you not to say anything no matter what you see?” asked the angel.
“I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help myself, I wanted to advise this old woman. Anyway, I’m good now and I won’t talk again.”
“It’s ok, you may go on.”
The woodcutter left. After an hour or so, he saw a hunter holding his rifle, running fast and furious and sweating profusely. He was chasing a rabbit, but he was himself being pursued by a lion that was gaining on him with its mouth wide open and was one step away from attacking him.
“Run! A lion!” yelled the woodcutter.
Suddenly, the rabbit, the hunter and the lion disappeared. Only the angel was left standing.
“You just don’t get it, do you?” he said. “What am I going to do? Didn’t I tell you not to speak?”
“It’s not like I was yelling blasphemies! The man was about to be eaten up by a lion, shouldn’t I have alerted him? Would not religion compel me to advise him?”
“Fine, then do whatever you want. I will go my way.”
“No, please forgive me. I won’t do this again. Here, I am closing my mouth.”
“Good, now go on.”
The woodcutter went on his way. He entered a town and began to explore its neighborhoods and markets until he arrived at a butcher’s market. There, he saw a butcher hanging lambs whose meat was fresh and tender, but there were no customers. The butcher – out of boredom and frustration – passed the time swatting down flies.
The wood cutter went a little further and he saw a crowd of people who were not only jostling against each other and shouting loudly, but who were also arguing and attacking each other. This ruckus was causing quite a mess leaving shredded clothes and hats on the ground. So he thought “There must be a big event that has made such an uproar.” He tried to get through the crowd and was finally able to slip through despite all the pushing and shoving. What did he find?
He found that all of this commotion was to visit another butcher. Although his meat was foul, rotten and putrid in every way, people were snapping it up. One person wanted 400 grams, another wanted a kilo and everyone was trying to purchase as much as they could. He turned around and tried to get out of the crowd but eventually leaned on a wall and watched all the mystery and wondered “What’s going on with this town?”
Suddenly, he saw someone coming in who was well-dressed and whose clothes were embroidered and well ironed and whose jewelry was all of gold. He was hastening and seemed worried like he would miss something very important. The man made it to the crowd and was pushing the people trying to get in. The woodcutter felt sorry for him. He went to pull the man out and said “Hey brother, you seem like a well-mannered honorable person, how could you let this crowd attack you and shred your clothes just so you can get some rancid meat that even dogs wouldn’t be willing to eat? Come with me and let me show you the best meat just over here.”
He was still talking when everything, the town, the butcher and the crowd all suddenly disappeared. Nothing was left except for the angel.
“You, son…” said the angel, “you cannot reach your goal because you never learn. You better return back to your home.”
“You’re right, sir… I would rather go home and live from hand to mouth, than to see all this insanity. How could anyone be shown such senselessness and not react to it?”
– “Son, those were only signs. For I was sent from God to help you understand.”
“But what is it that I need to understand? Everything was clear enough.”
“No, nothing is clear enough for you. As for that countrywoman that was carrying firewood and falling down, she represented the human being of today and the firewood represented their sins. Instead of decreasing their sins with good deeds and prayer in order to be pure, they thoughtlessly increase their load. The hunter also represented human beings, the rabbit represented money and possessions, and the lion represented death. The human being runs after money without even caring about its source and the proper way to attain it, nor do they work on insuring a good end to their life. As for the town, where people were buying rotten meat while fresh meat was ignored, those people had always been making money dishonestly. Do you now see the inevitable destiny of that ill-gotten money? It is destined to darkness. There is nothing better than money earned from honest work. Living from hand to mouth but having gained your money virtuously, will always be better than being rich as Croesus but having attained it sinfully. Do you understand?”
He had learned his lesson. He repented and went back home to his wife and children. He returned to work as normal, always remembering the name of God the Merciful, until he became a rich man resulting from a life of pure honest work.