Once there was a merchant's son, who grew tired of helping his father in the family business. Rather than re-living his father's vapid and disconnected life, trading commodities from his wagon, the son wished to become a craftsman; to create, to work with his hands, to be a true man of the earth. So the father arranged for the young man to become an apprentice to the town blacksmith. After a period of time, the son had mastered the craft of iron-working, and returned to his father's house.
The father was pleased with his son's new skill, and asked him to demonstrate his trade. The next day, the son heated four bars of iron, and he fashioned shoes from them with his hammer, for the four feet of his father's horse. In the succeeding days, the father made his regular rounds with an extra enthusiasm, proudly showing off the new horseshoes to all of his customers and clients. The son, however, was not satisfied, and complained to his father that he had discovered a more refined side of himself; that blacksmithing was too coarse a trade for a man of his current inclinations and talents.
The merchant was unhappy with his son's capriciousness, but he was resolved all the same, to please him, and to assist him in his quest for personal fulfillment. He thus made arrangements for the son to be apprenticed to the town coppersmith. Again, the young man studied for a period of time, and became adept at working with copper and bronze. When he returned to his father's house, he began to work, and made a set of three beautiful bronze amphoras; vessels to hold the precious oils and perfumes, that his father sold from place to place.
When the father's customers and clients saw the beautiful amphoras, they each admired the perfection of the vessels, and complimented the merchant on his son's achievements. For a week, the merchant returned home each night with glowing compliments for his son. However, at the end of the week, the son confided to his father that he was becoming morose, and was not satisfied with the craft of coppersmithing.
As his son was already a skilled metalworker, the father was able to arrange for him to become apprentice to the town silversmith. The son worked for a time with the silversmith, and learned his trade. Returning home to his father, he secluded himself in a shed behind the house. And for the entire week preceding a full moon, he worked two ingots of silver into a richly-ornamented mirror, which he then presented to his father.
The father was astounded at the incredible craftsmanship of the mirror. Never had he seen such a beautiful piece of work; it was completely entrancing. He stared into the mirror at every opportunity; admiring the noble qualities of his own visage, which were so much the more obvious, in such an exquisite context. Indeed, as he stared into the mirror's reflection, he could clearly see lofty and noble qualities in his own face, that he had never before dared even suspect himself to possess.
During the next week, the father's customers were all equally amazed; and each night he brought home great praise for the perfection of his son's art. At last, the son said, "Father, as perfect as they say my craftsmanship is, I still feel somehow unfulfilled and incomplete. After all these years of study, I really expected my mirror to reveal the full truth. But now I see that it does not, and can not. I find myself depressed at the very thought of that mirror, or of working again with a metal, at once so flattering, but then so quick to tarnish."
So the next day, the poor father set out and arranged for his son to become apprentice to a goldsmith who worked in a neighboring village. For seven years, the son learned the art of gold working. When he had learned all his teacher could show him, he traveled first to one city, and then to another; learning at each location some small secret of gold working he had previously not possessed.
When at last he returned to his home, the son secluded himself in the shed for an entire year, saying only that there is more to working gold than meets the untrained eye. For a year, he worked on his masterpiece, blending together all of the secrets he had learned in his many years of study. Then at last, on the first day of Chanukah, he emerged with a golden lamp, the likes of which had never been seen.
The merchant was so anxious to show off his son's skill, that he took the lamp straightaway to his neighbor, without really looking at it closely himself. The neighbor admired the golden lamp and the skill of the workmanship. But then, on closer inspection, he noticed a small flaw at the base of the lamp. Once the neighbor had pointed it out, the flaw was blatantly obvious to the father, who then covered the imperfect spot with his hand, as he showed it to the next of his many friends. The very next friend, however, noticed another flaw. It was very small, but again obvious, once it had been pointed out.
The proud father took the marvelous lamp to each of his many friends and customers in turn. Everyone was completely fascinated with it; it was almost as though the lamp was bewitching all who looked upon it. But although each person seemed somehow entranced by the magic of the lamp, the father grew increasingly disheartened at each stop. For even though no one ever noticed any of the flaws previously discovered, each person found a new flaw, which had not been noticed by any of the other observers. At the end of all this, the father could count several tiny flaws in any given part of the lamp.
Returning home, he confronted his son with the fact that that the golden lamp had as many flaws as the friends he had shown it to; and indeed, as he was speaking, he noticed even another small imperfection, uglier than the rest, which had not been noticed before. "Then at last, I am satisfied," the son replied. "My apprenticeship is complete. I am finally master of my craft; and my lamp, as you have probably guessed by now, my father, is a mirror of human souls."
"Each soul is vitalized by one small fault," the son explained. "Life in the human soul, like the fire in the opal, exists only when light refracts through a small and unique internal defect. Thus it is, that the divine spark which first draws you to a person will eventually reveal a hidden and integral fault, without which the spark could not exist. The golden lamp I have made is complete, but imperfect - for in it each person sees the reflection of their own unique fault; and thus the spark of their own imperfect soul."