Horse Sense

A fellow once came to ask the advice of Reb Meir of Premishlan. He complained bitterly that a competitor was robbing him of his livelihood.

“Have you ever noticed that when a horse goes to the river to drink, it strikes its hoof against the bank? Do you know why it does this?”

The man just stared at the rebbe, angry that he seemed to have missed the whole point of his complaint.

“I will tell you why,” the rebbe said. “When the horse bends its head close to the river to drink, it sees its face reflected in the water. Mistaking the reflection for another horse, it stomps on the ground to scare the other away and preserve the water for itself.

“Now, you and I find such behavior silly. We know that the horse’s fear is groundless, and that the river is capable of watering far more horses than just this one.”

“And what does this stupid horse have to do with me and my livelihood?”

“You, my friend, are this horse. You imagine that the river of God’s bounty cannot sustain both you and another, so here you are stomping your hooves to scare away an imagined competitor.”

“Imagined?” the man said.

“God has set the wealth of each of us, and no one can subtract from what God has set aside. Run your business as wisely as you can, and know that whatever comes to you is decreed in heaven. Your only true competition is the reflection of self you see in the river.”


How much time do you spend trying to scare away your own reflection? For any, if not most of us, this can be a full-time job. We look at the world as a pie of fixed size, and then find ourselves in competition with everyone else for a bigger and bigger slice. What determines our competitive approach is our assumption that the pie is fixed. This is called a zero-sum game: If you are to win, everyone else must lose.

But what if the pie is infinite? What if there is plenty for everyone if we would just stop trying to grab and hoard? If this were true, we wouldn’t be fearful or jealous of others; we wouldn’t assume that someone else’s success is always at our expense. Yet, it might still be true that others have more than us.

Reb Meir is not talking about “abundance thinking.” He is not advocating “think and grow rich” strategies. He is simply saying that we are not in charge of our own success. God is in charge; reality will determine your success or failure. All you can do is all you can do. You can make sure your product or service is sound. You can make sure your business practices are ethical. You can make sure your presentation is persuasive. But in the end, you cannot guarantee your own success. You are not in charge of the results; all you can do is maximize the chance of success. Or maximize the chance of failure.

What is the advantage of surrendering the results to God? You get to focus on what you can control: the quality of your own effort. In the end it is this, not any imagined payoff, that will bring you a sense of joy, purpose, and peace.

Published in: on October 16, 2010 at 1:07 am  Leave a Comment  

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