Tell the Story

Elie Wiesel tells the following story in his book, The Gates of the Forest:

When the great Rabbi Israel 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 celebrated Magid of Mezricth, 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.” And again the miracle would be accomplished.

Still later, Rabbi Moshe-Lieb 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 that must be sufficient.” It was sufficient and the miracle was accomplished.

Then it fell to Rabbi Israel of Rizhyn 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; I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is to tell the story, and that must be sufficient.” And it was sufficient.

Sometimes we know where to go, what to do, what to say. Other times we do not. The circumstances of life leave us feeling lost, incapable, and speechless. In those moments we can only tell and trust the story of those who have gone before us. Somehow, in telling the story we re-member those who have gone before and we make present their actions and prayers. The story transcends time and space. It unites them to us here and now. Their actions and prayers become ours through the faithful telling of the story; and it is sufficient.

3 thoughts on “Tell the Story

  1. Pingback: “Tell the story” « Witnesses to Hope

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