(translated from the Yiddish by Neil Kramer — ok, not really)
The wealthiest man in town went to the village Rabbi and said, “All my life, I worked hard. I have become rich and successful. But now everyone in town feels jealous of me, and I feel like a stranger in my own village. What should I do?”
The Rabbi pondered this question, like Rabbis tend to do, and then replied, “You need to convince the others, that despite your great wealth, you are the the same as they are, a man of flesh and blood, a man who laughs and cries.”
The wealthiest man in town nodded, understanding the Rabbi’s wisdom.
So, on Shabbos, the wealthiest man in town went to the home of the poorest family in the village and shared their humble Sabbath dinner. He ate their radishes and bread. He shared stories, and he laughed and he cried, and after the meal, he announced, “I am just like you,” and then he called his horse and carriage to take him back to his palatial home on the hill.
The next day, the wealthiest man in town returned to the Rabbi and said the plan was as unsuccessful as getting a donkey to carry a bucket of water with his teeth. The minute he returned to his home on the hill, everyone hated him again. Not one person in town believed that he was “just like them.”
The Rabbi stroked his beard and thought and thought, analyzing the situation. Finallly, he spoke. “I think our villagers are a insecure bunch with self-esteem issues,” he said. “Rather than telling others that you are “just like them,” which doesn’t impress them, since they don’t think very highly of themselves anyway, it is better if you say “You are just like me,” so that they will feel ennobled and inspired that you — the wealthiest man in town — see them as equals.
So, that Shabbos, the wealthiest man in town invited as many villagers as could fit into his dining room and offered them a grand feast of duck and beef and exotic vegetables, all brought in from Prague, served on his best Polish dishware. After the meal, he toasted the group with a glass of wine and said, “You are just like me,” and then the villagers returned home, on foot, down the hill, along the dusty, rocky road, their faces souring like Kosher pickles with each step closer to their dingy village.
The next morning, the Rabbi was already stroking his beard when the wealthiest man in town arrived at the shul. The Rabbi had already heard the not-so-favorable gossip about his grand announcement of, “You are just like me,” which was as pleasing to the town as the off-key singing voice of the butcher’s wife, who could sometimes be heard warbling Yiddish lullabies as she chased the chickens in the yard before they were killed.
The wealthiest man in town was desperate, and Rabbi was determined to find the answer. “This appears to be a problem that even King Solomon would struggle with in solving.” he said as he opened the Talmud. “The villagers were offended when you said, “I am just like you.” And they were insulted when you said, “You are just like me.” Perhaps the only solution is NOT to make any announcements at all. True?”
The wealthiest man in town nodded, and left the rabbi, but in all honesty, he was dumbfounded by the Rabbi’s vague wisdom, but since he was the only Rabbi in town, the wealthiest man in town was stuck with his advice, and figured he better follow it.
So, on Shabbos, the wealthiest man in town suggested that the entire village throw a dinner in the center of town, with each family bringing a dish of their choice. It was a beautiful sunset and as the darkness covered the sky like a warm blanket, the stars opened their eyes and flickered like candles. The villagers dined on the large selection of food, from simple beans to expensive fish, which was all spread on one enormous table covered in a pearl white cloth, and the wealthiest man in town ate and drank and danced and flirted and prayed with all of the others until the next morning, and never once did he say, “I am like you” or “You are like me,” and for the first time in years, he felt like he was part of the village, and they accepted him.