One of Rebbe Nachman's short fables tells about a simple yet greedy villager who the evil spirits decided to have some fun with.
One wintry evening, an evil spirit dressed up like a Ukranian Cossack knocked on the villager's door. "Good evening, honorable countryman," said the Cossack in perfect pre-vodka etiquette. "I'm in need of some quick cash, so I'm selling my horse. He's a thoroughbred worth a minimum of twenty five gold rubles. All I'm asking for is five..."
The intrigued villager stepped outside and saw the most stunning chestnut-brown thoroughbred he'd ever seen. The horse was no more than three or four years old, with its best years ahead of it. It held its head high, projecting an aura of strength, speed and confidence. The villager figured than in the big market of Berditchev, this steed would bring a minimum of one hundred gold rubles. He ran back inside, opened up the pit in the ground under his bed, and pulled out five shiny gold coins with the Czar's portrait engraved on them. The horse was his!
The next day, he made his journey from his hamlet Kalinovka to the city of Berditchev. Confident about the big profit that awaits him, he stayed overnight in the best hotel, ate the best food and drank a bottle of the most prestigious vodka. After a good night's sleep and a hearty breakfast the next morning, he made his way to the marketplace, leading his impressive thoroughbred by a bridle and reins. The whole way from the hotel to the marketplace, people were marveling at the horse - raving, complimenting and shouting offers to buy. The villager said, "Not here - I'll soon the horse in the marketplace to the individual who makes the best offer. This is no ordinary horse!"
The villager didn't realize how prophetic his words were.
Without blinking an eye, the first livestock trader offered the villager one hundred rubles, just as the villager had hoped. But no - a little voice whispered in the villager's ear, "Are you daft? If a horse trader offers you 100 rubles without haggling, that means he'll sell it for at least double. Your horse is worth at least 200 rubles!"
A nobleman overheard the conversation between the villager and the horse trader, and interjected: "Don't sell the horse to the trader. I'll pay you two hundred rubles for such a fine animal - in cash, here and now!"
The villager's jaw dropped; this was double of what he dreamed of! Yet, the little voice in his ear came back and said, "Are you kidding? They think you're a stupid country bumpkin. If a rich nobleman offers you 200 rubles without arguing about the price in the slightest, that means he's willing to pay at least double. Your horse is worth at least 400 rubles!"
At the point, a Cossack colonel and his entourage came into the marketplace. He had never seen such a fine steed, fit for a cavalry general, which he hoped to be soon after his next promotion. He offered 400 rubles.
The little voice told the villager to hold out for 800.
The governor walked by with his assistants and offered 800. The villager refused, trying his luck. The governor said, "Here is my final offer - one thousand gold rubles - take it or leave it!"
This was 200 times more than what the villager paid for the horse, a 20,000% profit!!
The little voice convinced the villager that the horse was worth 2,000 rubles...
Meanwhile, the horse was thirsty. He turned around to the water pump to take a drink, and was sucked up in the faucet, in a flash!
The villager shrieked, "Where's my horse? My horse, my horse!!"
All of a sudden, there was no more horse trader, no more, nobleman, no more colonel and no more governor. A bunch of irate market peddlers gathered around the villager and yelled, "Silence, you imbecile! There is no horse here - what are you yelling about? Stop making so much noise!"
The villager could no longer control himself. His dreams of riches were sucked up by the pump. He continued to moan and wail, "My horse, my horse!!" The more he yelled, the more the peddlers beat him with broomsticks.
The peddlers walked away, and just as the villager was left alone, crying by the water pump, the horse stuck his head out of the faucet and neighed, "Ne-heeheeheeheeheeheeee..."
Once again, the villager screamed and shouted, "My horse, my horse! Here he is!"
The peddlers returned with clubs and sticks and again beat the villager. "Lunatic, you should be in an asylum!"
Again they walked away, and just as the villager sat dejected and bruised on the sidewalk, wailing by the water pump, the horse stuck his head out of the faucet another time and neighed, "Ne-heeheeheeheeheeheeee..."
Once more, the villager cried at the top of his lungs, "My horse, my horse! You see! Here he is!"
The villager was beaten a third time and a fourth time, unwilling to accept the fact that his horse was a fantasy, a prank of the shedim, the evil spirits.
* * *
How many of us are running after "fantasy horse", illusions of no consequence? We harbor these lewd fantasies of profits and pleasures, all which have nothing to do with attaining our soul correction and performing our mission on earth.
Rebbe Nachman didn't chastise directly, but the morals of his fables and allegories are biting. Why wait until life beats us black and blue because we're still stubborn about holding on to our fantasies?
Probably the best bit of self-assessment we can do is to make sure that our brain and heart are not stables for fantasy horses. Some people reach the age of ninety-five without ever having done such self-assessment. Let's not be one of them.
Even more, we have to examine ourselves if we're satisfied with what Hashem gives us. The nasty little voice in our ear that always says we need more is none other than the evil inclination, who in the words of the Gemara, just buzzes like a fly around our ear all day long, telling us that life isn't what it should be. Those who listen to him are never satisfied, until they bitter day that they find out that everything he said was fantasy.
Horses swat flies with their tiles. We can swat flies with emuna, being happy with what we have.