The Story of the Long Spoons

There is a Jewish folk tale that tells the story of a man who wanted to understand Heaven and Hell.

First, he travelled to Hell.

Here, row after row of table was piled high with platters of food yet the people seated around the tables were starving to death. Each person held a full spoon but both arms were splinted with wooden slats so they couldn’t bend either elbow to bring the food to their mouths.

Next he went to Heaven.

The setting was the same here as in Hell – row after row of long tables laden with food and all the people had their arms splinted so that they couldn’t bend their elbows. But the people in Heaven were happy and well fed.

He couldn’t work out why things were so different so he watched for a while.

As he watched, a man picked up his spoon and dug it into the dish before him. Then he stretched across the table and fed the person across from him. The recipient   thanked him and returned the favor by leaning across the table to feed his benefactor.

The man ran back to Hell to tell the poor souls trapped there what he had discovered.  He whispered the solution in the ear of a starving man – “You don’t have to be hungry,” he said. “Use your spoon to feed your neighbour and then he will return the favour and feed you.”

But instead of being grateful, the starving man became angry.

“What are you talking about?” he shouted.  “You expect me to feed that man?  I hate him!  I would rather starve than give him the pleasure of eating.”

Then the man understood – both Heaven and Hell offer the same circumstances and conditions. The critical difference was in the way they  treated each other.


Rescue Work – Dayton, March, 1913

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Call Number: LC-B2- 2576-2

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