The holidays are approaching us here in America, with Thanksgiving and Christmas, and for some of us Hanukkah or other celebrations. There are clouds, some big and some small, that hang over our heads and our plans for this holiday season.* Things just aren’t going to be normal, and perhaps normal feels so foreign right now we wonder if we will ever reach it again.

Spending holidays, any holiday, alone did not used to bother me. I’m an introvert and a cynical curmudgeon, or so I like to paint myself. However, as time has moved on and swept me with it, I’ve been getting more and more despondent about the solitary confinement that is my life and how it is so year round. We’ve all been getting sick of the isolation that COVID has brought, but some of us were living like that before the virus struck, albeit without the masks.

Rituals, I’ve come to believe, are so important to our well-being. They don’t have to be elaborate. It can be how every year the jellied cranberry sauce is sprung from its can with a plop! onto the small dish, and how that embodies Thanksgiving more than any other thing.

One ritual, that is so important when we all gather, is our story telling. That is something that is lacking in these isolated times. Thankfully we do have technological resources, and so we can still connect, still schmooze, still regale each other with stories fit, or not, to be told. They bring us together. Blogging is one way to tell those stories, and it certainly is for me.

In my recent hit-and-miss studying, I’ve come across a delightful tale, one that is probably quite well known in certain sectors of our planet, but was new to me. Elie Wiesel prefaced his 1964 The Gates of the Forest with this 18th C CE story, to which he added the coda.

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,
Has 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-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 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 this must be sufficient.”
And it was sufficient.

God made man because he loves stories.

There are many interpretations to this story, by the way, which is another wonderful thing I’m learning about Judaism. They parse everything and argue about it. That is much more appealing to me than having some guy tell you, “This is it, the only way it is, and just believe that my version is true.” I’m too contrary for that.

A little before Thanksgiving thanks, for the ability to tell my stories and for the honor of reading yours.

*A pet peeve of mine is that we make an entire season out of all of this, but that is really going too far out on a tangent for this post, even for me.

8 Comments

    1. I wish I had a camera (that worked reliably). I inherited the “official” little dish the cranberry jelly would squiggle into. That is one thing I try to do every single Thanksgiving. And I do eat the stuff.

      Weirdly good sandwich: Bread of your choice, toasted is nice. Turkey. Almond butter. (Yup you read that right). Cranberry jelly. A little cracked pepper.

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        1. Zoom and other things that allow people to see while they talk are the best options for these times. We even have Jew Zoom for Shabbat services, and holidays, etc. There are even some benefits OVER real life meetings. 🙂 That neighbors would visit more is probably true, but that’s the point these days, the neighbors NEED to be staying the eff home! So if we were all doing self-isolation back in “the day” we would have been really much more isolated.

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