The god of death sent his angel to earth as an emissary to bring back the soul of a woman who had just died. The angel found himself in a dilemma because the woman had given birth to triplets. All three were girls: one was still sucking milk from the dead mother, another was crying and the third was so exhausted that it had fallen asleep. Such was the state -- three little babies, the mother lying dead and no one to look after them, since the father was already dead and there was no one else in the family.
The angel returned without the woman's soul and told the god of death: "Forgive me, I did not bring back the woman's soul. You can't be aware of what I have just witnessed: there are three little babies that this woman has given birth to, one still suckling at her breast. There is no one to care for them. Can't you allow a little time to the mother so that the girls are big enough to look after themselves?"
"So you have become very clever and wise, it seems," said the god of death, "perhaps wiser than he who wills both death and life to all mortal beings. You have committed the first sin for which you shall be punished. You will have to return to earth and, until such time as you laugh three times at your own foolishness, you shall not return."
Understand this: laugh three times at your foolishness. The ego always laughs at the nonsense of others. When you can laugh at you own absurdity, the ego breaks. The angel readily agreed to undergo the punishment. He was quite certain he was right under the circumstances, and wondered how he would find an opportunity to laugh at himself. He was ejected from heaven.
It was almost winter. A cobbler, who was on his way to buy warm clothes for his children, came upon a poor man, bare to the bones and trembling in the cold. It was none other than our friend the angel. The cobbler felt sorry for him. Instead of buying the children's clothes with his hard-earned money, he went and bought clothes and a blanket for the naked man. When he also came to know that he had nothing to eat and nowhere to go, he offered him the shelter of his own house. However, he warned him that his wife was bound to get angry but he should not be upset, everything would be all right later on.
The cobbler arrived home with the angel. Neither the cobbler nor the wife had any idea who he really was. As soon as they entered the door the wife fired off a volley of abuse at her husband for what he had done.
The angel laughed for the first time.
The cobbler asked him why he laughed. "When I have laughed again I shall tell you," he answered, knowing that the cobbler's wife was unaware that the very presence of an angel who was her unwanted guest would confer a thousand benefits.
But how far can the human mind see? For the wife it was a loss of warm clothing for the kids. She can only see the loss, but not what had been found -- and free of cost, at that. So he laughed, because she didn't know what was happening around her.
Within seven days he learned the shoemaker's trade, and within a few months the cobbler's fame had spread far and wide. Even kings and noblemen ordered their shoes here, and money began to flow in an endless stream.
One day the king's servant came to the shop, bringing special leather in order to have a pair of shoes made for the king. "Take care you make no mistakes, for this is the only piece of leather of its kind," said the servant. "Also, remember, the king wants shoes and not slippers." In Russia, slippers are worn by a dead person on his last journey. The cobbler gave special instructions to the angel to be extra careful with the king's orders, or else they would be in trouble.
In spite of this the angel made slippers for the king. The cobbler was beside himself with rage. He was certain now he would be hanged. He ran to beat the angel with his stick. The angel laughed out loud at the very moment that a man came running from the king's court, saying, "The king is dead. Please change the shoes into slippers."
The future is unknown; only He knows what is to be. Man's decisions are all based on the past. When the king was alive he needed shoes, when he died he required slippers. The cobbler fell at the angel's feet and begged forgiveness. The angel replied, "Don't worry. I am undergoing my own punishment." And he laughed again.
The cobbler said, "What makes you laugh?"
The angel said, "I laughed for the second time because we do not know the future and we still persist in desires which are never fulfilled, because fate`has different plans. The cosmic law works, destiny is set out, and we have no say in the matter. Yet we raise a hue and cry about things as if we are the makers of our destiny. The king is about to die, but he orders shoes for himself! Life is drawing to a close and we keep planning for the future."
Suddenly the angel thought of the triplets: I did not know what their future was going to be. Then why did I intervene unnecessarily in their affairs?
Soon the third event took place. Three young girls, accompanied by an old rich woman, came into the shop to order shoes. The angel recognized the girls as the daughters of the dead woman who had been the cause of his punishment. All three girls were happy and beautiful. The angel asked the old woman about the girls, and she said, "These are the three daughters of my neighbor. The mother was very poor, and died while nursing her new-born babies. I felt pity for such helpless babies and, since I had no children of my own, I adopted them."
Had the mother been alive, the girls would have grown up in poverty and suffering. Because the mother died the girls grew up in riches and comfort, and now they were heirs to the old woman's fortune. They were also to be married into the royal family.
The angel laughed for the third time.
He told the cobbler, "My third laugh is because of these girls. I was wrong. Destiny is great, while our vision is limited to what we can see. What we cannot see is so vast. We cannot imagine the enormity of that which we cannot see and of that which is to be. Having laughed at my foolishness three times, my penalty is completed and now I must leave."