Translation by Yehoshua Siskin
Three men were working in a quarry cutting stones. The first one was asked what he was doing and he answered simply: I am cutting stones.
the second was asked the same question and answered: It’s my livelihood. That is, he had a higher purpose than the first man. He was not just cutting stones but receiving compensation in order to buy food and clothing. The third one was asked what he was doing and he answered: I am building a palace! He had the vision to see how his seemingly ordinary activity would create something big and important. The three of them were doing the same thing, but each one grasped the meaning of it in a different way.
Rabbi Professor Jonathan Sacks was accustomed to tell this story as a commentary on parashat Mishpatim that we read this past Shabbat. This parasha comes immediately after standing at Mount Sinai and it includes 53 mitzvot that are concerned with the small details of everyday life — laws regarding employment and family matters, holidays and keeping kosher, Shabbat and tzedakah. One moment after receiving the Torah, Rabbi Sacks explained, we were enjoined to take that experience into the midst of daily living. It’s possible to look upon the mitzvot solely as a collection of technical acts, but a deeper look reveals that these acts are the means of perpetuating the eternal message of Mount Sinai.
In parashat Mishpatim, he explained, we receive 53 little stones and from them we build a palace. Shavua tov.