An angel once disobeyed God, and summoned before the throne of judgment, the angel begged for a chance to redeem himself. And God said, “I shall not punish you, but in atonement for your disobedience you must return to earth and bring back to Me the most precious thing in the world.”
The angel flew down to earth and traversed hills and valleys, seas and rivers, in search of the most precious thing in the world. Finally after a number of years, the angel came upon a battlefield and beheld a brave soldier dying of the wounds he had received in defense of his country. With parched lips he cried out, “Water, water!” Hearing the cries, another dying comrade crawled his way over to the soldier gasping out his last breath, uncorked his water bottle and held it to his lips, letting the slow liquor trickle into the smiling man’s dying mouth. As the last drop spilled out of his water-bottle the angel seized it and brought it to the throne of glory and said,” “Lord God, surely this is the most precious thing in the world.”
God said: “Indeed, O angel, this is precious in My sight, but it is not the most precious thing in the world.”
And so the angel returned to earth, and after many years of wandering, came to a hospital where a nurse lay dying of a dread disease that she had contracted through nursing others. As the last breath passed from her lifeless form, the angel caught it up and brought it to the throne of judgment, saying, “O Lord God, surely this is the most precious thing in the world.”
God smiled at the angel and said, “Indeed, O angel, sacrifice in behalf of others is precious, but go once again and bring back to Me the most precious thing in the world.” The angel returned to the earth and this time wandered for many years, and then it happened that the angel beheld a villainous-looking man riding through a dark forest. He was armed with sword and buckler, spear and arrows. He was going to the hut of his enemy to kill him. As he approached the enemy’s house, light streamed from the windows, and the members of the household, unsuspectingly, went about their tasks.
The villain approached and looked into the window. There he saw a wife putting the little son to bed, teaching him to pray, instructing him to thank God for all his blessings. As the villainous man looked at this scene, he cast aside his purpose in coming. He remembered his own childhood – how his mother had put him to bed and taught him to pray to God. The man’s heart melted and a tear rolled down his cheek. The angel caught the tear and flew to bring it before God, saying “Dear Lord, surely this is the most precious thing in the world – the tear of repentance.”
God beamed upon the angel as he spoke: “Indeed, O angel, you have brought Me the most precious thing in the world. Repentance opens the gates of heaven. It is indeed most precious in My sight.”
This story was first given to me in the mid 1980s by Rabbi Minard Klein, of Blessed Memory.We were serving as Chaplains at the Shapiro Developmental Center
in Kankakee, Illinois.
I miss our Tuesday morning times of Torah study, discussion and of course a little nosh!The story is taken from an out-of-print book by Certner, Simon. (Ed.). (1961), 101 Jewish Stories for Schools, Clubs and Camp. New York: Jewish Education Committee Press.