Thursday, August 8, 2013

Blogging Elul Day 2: Act

When the founder of Hasidic Judaism, the great Rabbi Israel 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 celebrated Maggid of Mezritch, had occasion for the same reason to intercede with heaven, 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 am still able to say the prayer." Again the miracle would be accomplished.
Still later, Rabbi Moshe-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 Rizhin 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 to tell the story, and this must be sufficient."
And it was sufficient.
For God made man because he loves stories.

I shared a version of this story last week at Henry Schenker's funeral, as I think it teaches an additional meaning besides that God loves stories (though She does).

The answer for each generation was not to merely depend on the merit of the previous one. Even Israel of Rizhin acted for the benefit of his community.

It would always be easier for us to rely solely on those who have more expertise, who are masters and scholars. But as much as God loves stories, God loves action. Even if it's incorrect, or in experts especially when it is done with love and for the sake of Heaven.

Our generation doesn't have the place in the woods, or the prayer, or the fire. We have the stories, and we have our own ability to act. How shall we engage both this year?

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