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Stories from Jewish Traditions

Miracle in the Forest

The Forest
The Forest | Moyan_Brenn DeLight | Creative Commons Licence
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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 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,” 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 this 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 ask You to redeem us, and this must be sufficient.” And it was sufficient*.

– story recounted by Elie Wiesel in the preface to his book Gates of the Forest
*[It’s not the rituals but the heart put into them and the intention behind them that makes rituals powerful.]

G-d and the Garden of Eden

Lucas Cranach the Elder (c. 1472–1553)
Lucas Cranach the Elder (c. 1472–1553) | Public Domain Mark
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G-d became very angry when he saw that Adam and Eve had disobeyed him. As he paced up and down in the Garden of Eden, the Shekinah, his female counterpart tried to comfort him and also to defend her children by saying: “They’re only children. You know how kids are. They have to try things to learn…”
But G-d would have none of her reasoning: “They disobeyed. They must suffer. They’ll get out. Now!”
The Shekinah tried to argue the children’s case but finally gave up. She told him: “Okay, have it your way. But, if they go, I go too.” And she did. She left with her children Eve and Adam and became part of each one of us.
G-d was now alone in the Garden and began to feel very lonely. Not only had he lost his children but also his bride.
Ever since that time G-d mourns their departure and longs for them to come home.
– As told by the Hasidic Kabbalah master Rabbi J. Gelberman

Star of David

Star of David on Wall
Star of David on Wall | © –Colby– | Creative Commons Licence
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A man who hid out in a basement during the Holocaust scratched a Star of David on the wall with the following words: “I believe in the sun, even when it doesn’t shine. I believe in love even when He doesn’t speak.”
– As told by the Hasidic Kabbalah master Rabbi J. Gelberman

Facing Tragedy

Rabbi Gelberman
Rabbi Gelberman | © Rabbi S. Paris

Once day a student asked Rabbi Gelberman: “How one should face tragedies such as the bombing of the World Trade Center and tsunamis that take friends and family from us?”

The Rabbi replied: “You must first of all thank G-d that you are alive.”

An uneasy silence filled the room until another student cried out: “How can that be? How can we say that at such a time!?”

The Rabbi looked gently at the student and said: “When my family – including my beloved wife and my only child, baby Judith – were taken from me during the Holocaust, I asked the question a million times: “Why? Why!” and there was never an answer.

“Then I remembered, and began to pray, a prayer from my childhood. Each morning, even before opening my eyes I prayed: ‘Thank you G-d for the gift of life and for letting me live this day.’

“Little by little, my heart began integrate the grief from my loss and even the guilt of being alive. What happened will forever remain intolerable. Yet once I came to accept that it did happen and that I was still alive, I was freed to dedicate my life to teaching people of all religions how to love G-d, to serve G-d, to walk with G-d and to love themselves and their neighbours.

“Gratitude for life is the key. It freed me to concentrate on the solution rather than the problem. Without acts of gratitude we remain too tied up in our own pain to take care of ourselves and to help others.”