From the Rabbi’s Study: Telling Our Stories

By Rabbi David Lipper

When the Baal Shem Tov saw misfortune threatening the Jews, it was his custom to go into a certain part of the forest to meditate. There he would light a fire, say a special prayer, and the miracle would be accomplished, and the misfortune averted. Later, when his disciple, the Maggid of Mezritch, had occasion to intercede with heaven for the same reason, he would go to the same place in the forest and say “Master of the Universe, listen! I do not know how to light the fire, but I still can say the prayer” and again, the miracle would be accomplished. Still later, Rabbi Moishe Leib of Sasov, in order to save his people once more, would go into the forest and say,” I do not know how to light the fire, I do not know the prayer, but I know the place, and this must be sufficient.” It was sufficient and the miracle was accomplished. Then it fell to Rabbi Israel of Rhizin to overcome misfortune. Sitting in his armchair, his head in his hands, he spoke to God. “I am unable to light the fire and I do not know the prayer, and I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is tell the story, and this must be sufficient.

And it was sufficient.

Stories are sacred. Stories are healing. Our stories tell us who we are, and that, of course, is the deepest healing of all. We are a people of stories. We have always used stories to pass on the wisdom of our tradition. We are Jews because we accept the story of the Jewish people as our own story, at least in part; for some of us an especially important part; for others, just some incidental scenery in the background of a story centered elsewhere. But if it were not part of our story at all, we would not be here. We would not be here if there was not something missing in the story of our lives, which being Jewish filled in, even if only in a small way.

In telling stories we are telling each other the human story. Stories that touch us in the place of common humanness awaken us and weave us together as a family once again. What is your story? What brought you to Temple Beth Sholom? What are your hopes and dreams for your family and how does Temple fit into that story?

Our faith teaches “listen.” Shema. Listen to stories. For spirituality itself is conveyed by stories, which use words in ways that go beyond words to speak the language of the heart.

Rabbi Arthur Green writes:

The light within us needs to be rekindled, needs to have its glow restored. This usually comes about when we see a glimpse of that same light shining in another. There are moments when we catch the glow in the most ordinary of people, usually in moments of giving, sharing, or somehow showing a generosity of spirit that opens their light to our view. The light we see in that moment is that of YHVH the one beyond all form — the being beyond names — the unspeakable word beyond and within all words — the eternal source of inner light.

So many of us have stories we have of loves and losses and hurts that need healing. So many of us have yet to tell our stories. Sometimes the words fail us, and the emotions overcome us. Nevertheless, the healing that comes with being together is important. We may never be able to remember the words, but we can embrace one another as we gather for our stories. Through our retelling of our own stories, we will hopefully lead others on a path towards wholeness and peace. This will be a year of telling our stories and listening to others. Here is one to get us started:

Once upon a time … and there was wholeness and peace.

I look forward to hearing from each one of you. Remember, I love stories. See you soon. Shalom.

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