Only A Visitor – A Jewish Spiritual Story by Anthony de Mello

In the last century, a tourist from the States visited the famous Polish rabbi Hafez Hayyim. He was astonished to see that the rabbi's home was only a simple room filled with books. The only furniture was a table and a bench.

“Rabbi, where is your furniture?” asked the tourist.

“Where is yours?” replied Hafez.

“Mine? But I'm only a visitor here.”

“So am I,” said the rabbi.

This is from The Song of The Bird, a book of spiritual stories by Anthony de Mello.

The Spiritual Moral / Meaning of This Story

This story about Rabbi Hafez Hayyim offers profound insights into the nature of attachment, simplicity, and the transient nature of life. The rabbi's interaction with the tourist reveals deep spiritual wisdom about what it means to live a meaningful and fulfilling life. Each aspect of the story highlights significant lessons about detachment, contentment, and the essence of true wealth.

Rabbi and a Tourist in the LibraryThe first lesson is about the nature of attachment and impermanence. The tourist is surprised by the rabbi's lack of material possessions, expecting to see more conventional signs of comfort and wealth. The rabbi's response, comparing his situation to that of a visitor, emphasizes the transient nature of human existence. This teaches us that, like tourists, our time in this world is temporary. Therefore, accumulating material possessions holds little true value in the grand scheme of our spiritual journey.

Another moral of the story concerns the value of simplicity. Rabbi Hafez Hayyim's simple living conditions reflect a life focused on essentials rather than excess. This simplicity allows for greater focus on spiritual and intellectual pursuits, symbolized by the room filled with books. This encourages us to reflect on our own lives and consider whether we are weighed down by unnecessary possessions that distract us from what truly matters. Simplicity can lead to a more meaningful and peaceful existence.

The story also speaks to the importance of spiritual wealth over material wealth. The rabbi's contentment with his modest surroundings highlights that true fulfillment comes from within and from one's spiritual and intellectual endeavors. This teaches us that the pursuit of knowledge, wisdom, and spiritual growth is far more valuable than the accumulation of material goods. It challenges us to prioritize our inner development over outward displays of wealth.

Furthermore, the rabbi's response to the tourist underscores the concept of perspective. The tourist, accustomed to a different lifestyle, is initially unable to understand the rabbi's way of living. However, the rabbi's perspective shifts the focus from external possessions to the internal state of being. This teaches us the importance of perspective in understanding and appreciating different ways of life. It reminds us that our assumptions and judgments about others can be limited by our own experiences and expectations.

The story also highlights the theme of contentment. Rabbi Hafez Hayyim's satisfaction with his simple lifestyle reflects a deep sense of contentment and acceptance. This contentment is not dependent on external circumstances but arises from a state of inner peace and fulfillment. This teaches us that true happiness and contentment are found within and are not contingent on material possessions or external conditions.

Additionally, the rabbi's wisdom illustrates the importance of living in accordance with one's values. His lifestyle is a direct reflection of his spiritual beliefs and priorities. This teaches us the value of aligning our actions and choices with our core values and principles. It encourages us to live authentically and to let our spiritual and moral beliefs guide our way of life.

Lastly, the story imparts a lesson on the nature of true hospitality and generosity. The rabbi's home, though simple, is open to the tourist, reflecting a spirit of hospitality that is not dependent on material wealth. This teaches us that true hospitality comes from the heart and is about making others feel welcome and valued, regardless of one's material circumstances.

Personal Reflection Questions:

Spiritual stories are an opportunity to reflect on your own life. Here are 10 questions you can use to go deeper with the teachings in this story:

  1. What material possessions am I attached to, and why?
  2. How can I simplify my life to focus more on what truly matters?
  3. What steps can I take to prioritize spiritual and intellectual growth over material accumulation?
  4. How do my perspectives and assumptions shape my understanding of others' lifestyles?
  5. In what ways can I cultivate contentment with what I have?
  6. How can I align my actions and choices more closely with my core values and principles?
  7. What does true hospitality mean to me, and how can I practice it in my daily life?
  8. How do I cope with the transient nature of life and the impermanence of possessions?
  9. What are the essential elements that bring me true fulfillment and happiness?
  10. How can I practice detachment from material goods while still appreciating the comforts they provide?

A Poem Based On This Story

The Visitor's Wisdom: True Wealth in Simplicity

In a room so bare and humble, sat a rabbi wise and true,
A tourist came from distant lands, with questions fresh and new.
“Where is your furniture?” he asked, astonished by the sight,
A simple room, a table, bench, no comforts to delight.

“Where is yours?” the rabbi asked, with wisdom in his eyes,
“Mine? I'm just a visitor,” the tourist then replies.
“So am I,” the rabbi said, his voice serene and clear,
A truth so deep, it echoed far, for all who choose to hear.

For we are but travelers here, in this world of fleeting days,
Our wealth not in possessions, but in the simple ways.
The books that line the rabbi’s walls, a treasure trove of thought,
A life of rich simplicity, where peace and joy are sought.

The tourist saw a different world, one free from worldly ties,
A life lived full of meaning, beneath the rabbi's skies.
For true wealth lies not in the things that clutter up our space,
But in the heart, the mind, the soul, in every act of grace.

So let us learn from Hafez Hayyim, to live with less, not more,
To find our joy in simple things, in wisdom's gentle store.
For we are visitors in this life, our time here not our own,
Let’s cherish every moment, and make the journey home.