Here’s a story I’d like to share and discuss with you all, where one of the central characters is the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hassidism. Hassidism is a Jewish movement founded in the eighteenth century that can be described (in an over-simplistic way) as spiritual, mystical and populist. The Baal Shem Tov had a legendary reputation as a miracle worker.
I found this story in a book written by Protestant scholar Franklin Littell.
Martin Buber has told of a rabbi whose grandfather was a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov, founder of Hassidism. Once upon a time, when the rabbi was asked to tell a story, he said: A story must be told in such a way that it constitutes help in itself. My grandfather was lame. Once they asked him to tell a story about his teacher. And he related how the holy Baal Shem used to hop and dance while he prayed. My grandfather rose as he spoke, and he was so swept away by his story that he himself began to hop and dance to show how the master had done. From that hour on he was cured of his lameness. That’s the way to tell a story.
I am asking every reader to please leave a comment, especially if you’ve never commented here before. In your comment, you may (but you’re not required to) address any of the following questions:
- How many story tellers are there in this story?
- Do you find a miracle in this story, and if so, what is it? There can be more than one!
- Does it matter to you whether the miracle(s) really occurred?
- What is the point of the story? The miracle? The memory? The tradition?
- The story says that stories should “help”? Does this story “help”?
BTW, and I know this is asking a lot, I’d be particularly interested in getting the reaction of children to this story.
(h/t to Stephanie Hammer for helping me frame the questions)