Leo Tolstoy had a marvelous metaphor about the need for us to set definite boundaries on our own appetites. It is called “How Much Land Does a Man Need?"
There was a peasant named Pahom who worked hard and honestly for his family. He always remained poor and thought, "If only we had our own land, it would be different."
Close to Pahom’s village there lived a lady who decided to sell her land. Pahom and his wife scraped together half the purchase money, then chose a farm of forty acres and bought it.
Within a year Pahom had managed to pay off his debts to the lady and a loan from his bro-in-law. His heart was filled with joy.
Then one day Pahom was sitting at home when a peasant, passing through the village, happened to stop in. He came from beyond the Volga, where there was much land for sale.
It was so good that the rye sown on it grew as high as a horse, and so thick that five cuts of a sickle made a sheaf.
Pahom’s heart was filled with desire. "Why should I suffer in this narrow hole," he thought, "if one can live so well elsewhere?" So Pahom sold his land and homestead and cattle, all at a profit, and move his family to the new settlement.
Everything the peasant had told him was true, and Pahom was ten times better off.
At first, in the bustle of building and settling down, Pahom was pleased with it all, but when he got used to it, he began to think that even here he was not satisfied.
One day a passing land dealer said he was just returning from the land of the Bashkirs, far away, where he had bought 13,000 acres of land for only 1,000 rubles. Pahom decided he must try it.
The chief of the Bashkirs listened, then said "Choose whatever piece of land you like. Our price is always the same: 1,000 rubles a day. As much as you can go around on your feet in a day is yours.
"It will all be yours but there is one condition: if you don’t return on the same day to the spot whence you started, your money is lost."
Pahom exclaimed, "What a large tract I will mark off I can easily do thirty-five miles in a day."
On the next day he was up waiting for the sun to appear above the rim. "I must lose no time, and it is easier walking while it is still cool."
He went 1,000 yards, dug a hole, and placed pieces of turf upon one another to make a visible marker. After a while he concluded he had walked three miles and decided to another three,
then turn to the left.
"This spot is so fine that it would be a pity to lose it. The farther one goes, the better the land seems."
At noon he sat to rest, ate, and realized it was terrible hot. Still he went on thinking, "An hour to suffer, a lifetime to live." As he was about to turn left, he perceived a damp hollow. "It would be a pity to leave that out," he thought. "Flax would do well there." By midafternoon he was still ten miles from the goal.
As he went straight for the chieftain on the hill, he walked with difficulty. He was done up with the heat, and his legs began to fail. He went quicker and quicker, pressed by still far from the place. He began running.
"What shall I do," he thought again. "I have grasped too much, and ruined the whole affair." His shirt was soaked, his mouth parched. His breast was working like a blacksmith’s bellows, his heart beating like a hammer.
Though afraid of death, he could not stop. "After having run all that way, they will call me a fool if I stop now." Darkness was falling, but the chiefs on the hill were higher and could still see the sun, so they urged him on.
With all his remaining strength he rushed on, bending his body forward so that his legs could hardly follow fast enough to keep him from falling. Just as he reached the hill, suddenly it grew dark. He rushed ahead, fell forward, and reached the starting point with his hands.
"Ah, that’s a fine fellow" exclaimed the chief. "He has gained much land." Pahom’s servant came running up and tried to raise him, but he saw that blood was flowing from his mouth. Pahom was dead
His servant picked up the spade and dug a grave long enough for Pahom to lie in, and buried him in it. Six feet from his head to his heels was all the land he needed.
"So are the ways of everyone who is greedy for gain; it takes away the life of its owners" (Prov. 1:19).
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