A king from the Far East wanted to find an advisor who was honest and faithful. In order to pick a man who could be trusted with such an honored and responsible position, he decided to run a test. The king searched far and wide, and he finally decided on five suitable candidates. These were men who had reputations as being wise, who knew how to give good advice and who were talented speakers. He invited all five men in order to put their wisdom to a test. When they arrived, they immediately saw that the king had five rings on his fingers, each one with a large sparkling diamond. The king turned to them and said, “I called you here so that you would tell me the truth. Now tell me: What is your opinion about my strength and courage, and about the glory of my great kingdom?”
Four men replied immediately. The large diamonds shone before them, and they hoped that the king would give them the diamonds. They therefore competed in heaping praise on the king. They compared him to the greatest heroes and the most famous people of all ages. They praised his wisdom, his knowledge, and his great qualities. They noted his great power as the supreme judge who can solve any difficult problem, and as a great ruler who leads his kingdom to glory and splendor. If they had been asked to praise G-d, it is doubtful if they could have found greater praise than the words they used to describe the king.
After the men finished speaking, the king removed four rings from his hand and gave them to the men. He then turned to the fifth man and asked him: “Why are you silent? I want to hear what you have to say about my greatness and my power.”
So the man said, “In my opinion, your great power has been given to you in trust by the Almighty. G-d gave you authority so that you would be able to use it for the good of the people under your rule, and I am sure that one day you will be called to account for all of your actions and for what you did with this great trust. As far as I can tell, your glory and your great name will be lost if you spend all of your time making conquests and erecting glorious buildings instead of utilizing your power for the good of the people.”
The first four men were astonished at the audacity of this fifth man. They did not believe that he would dare to voice such harsh criticism of the king and to even entertain the thought that the king might then choose him as an advisor. There is no man in this world, they thought, who likes criticism, and certainly not this proud and glorious king.
The king said, to nobody`s surprise, “I will not give you a ring.” And the others waited to see what would happen. So the king immediately continued: “But what I will give you is my friendship! I now know that I can trust your advice from now on. Stay with me and be an advisor and a friend. I will always know that you are looking out for the best for my people and that you always think of the good.”
The next day, the four other wise men came before the king with a complaint. “Your majesty, your diamond dealer has fooled you. The diamonds that you bought from him are fakes. They are indeed very good forgeries, and it was not easy to see, but the experts all say that they are indeed forgeries.”
And the king simply laughed. “What did you think? That I didn’t know? I ordered these rings from the forger just the way they are! You regaled me with false praise, and I paid you in the same kind of coin. You received exactly what you deserved for your false praise and your flattery. Your colleague, on the other hand, who spoke the truth as he saw it, received a just reward, and I will always know that I can have complete faith in his advice!”
Source: “Pirkei Avot,” published by the Department of Torah Culture. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with reactions and suggestions for stories. Reprinted with permission from Zomet Institute (www.zomet.org.il). Translated from the Hebrew by Moshe Goldberg. To subscribe to receive the complete version of Shabbat B’Shabbato please write to email@example.com.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.