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I've read and heard many times a parable about a poor man who visits an island where the roads are paved with diamonds and/or jewels. Over time, however, he starts amassing what's valuable there - potatoes/onions/apples/shells/schmaltz/fish. The nimshal is the soul, which comes to this world to collect mitzvos, but focuses on money instead.

I've heard that the Chafetz Chaim came up with this parable.

  1. Is that true? If not, who was the real author?
  2. What was the worthless item (symbolizing material wealth) in the original version?
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You can try Candide, when Candide reaches El Dorado. – Danno Jan 10 '14 at 18:21
@Danno Candide retained his appreciation for gold and diamonds, and he left El Dorado with 50 animals laden with treasure. He just lost them due to a series of misfortunes. – Fred Jan 10 '14 at 20:28
Fred, true but I was just looking at the fable of reaching someplace with different priorities and things of "value" -- streets of gold/diamonds. When he, at the close, learns to "tend his own garden" it indicates (according to one reading) an appreciation for the foodstuffs or something analogous with the foodstuffs as asked in the question. – Danno Jan 11 '14 at 23:25
For a somewhat similar parable in an earlier source, see the parable given by the nefesh in Chovos Hal'vavos (Gate of Service of HaShem, ch. 9). – Fred Feb 16 '14 at 23:56

The following appears on page 253 of the The Maggid Speaks: Favorite Stories and Parables of Rabbi Sholom Schwadron, by Paysach J. Krohn. This would support the attribution to the Chofetz Chaim. In this version of the story (possibly changed from the origina), it is indeed given as "fats (oil or shortenings) used in baking and frying".

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I do not know how much I can help you, but I will write what I know. In "sefer Torat haBait" of the Hafetz Haim, Torah study is often compared to a treasure that people do not appreciate because of its abundance, see chapter 1 and 4 (third point). However I couldn't find a complete rendition of the classical parable you mention. In particular the story in chapter 1, about the son of the king who goes to a place where precious stones are abundant but the simple people do not recognize them for what they are, does not involve a "worthless item".

I remember of a story where the worthless item was "torchs", or "candles", as the traveler finds that in that land they don't have artificial light and starts to build some, thus becoming rich. However I cannot find that story in particular.

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