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SOS: SEARCHING OUT STORIES AND INFORMATION ABOUT RABBIS
Advice, Comments and References from Storytellers, Teachers and Librarians
(excerpts from Storytell posts plus original research)
Book titles and online links are in blue and underlined. Click on them to get more stories and information.
Story titles are in quotation marks.
To retell any stories, get permission from the copyright holder if the material is not in the public domain.
Alphabetized for your convenience with short descriptions to save you research time.
Posts are added chronologically as they are received by Story Lovers World.
1) "The Story of Baal Shem-Tov"
The great rabbi Baal Shem-Tov loved his people. Whenever he sensed they were in danger, he would go to a secret place in the woods, light a special fire, and say a special prayer. Then, without fail, his people would be saved from danger. Baal Shem-Tov passed on and his disciple, Magid of Mezritch, came to lead the people. Whenever he sensed his people were in danger, he would go to the secret place in the woods. "Dear God," he would say, "I don't know how to light the special fire, but I know the special prayer. Please let that be good enough." It was, and the people would once again be saved from danger. When Magid passed on, he was succeeded by another rabbi, the Rabbi Moshe-leib of Sasov, and whenever he heard that his people were in danger, he would go to the secret place in the woods. "Dear God," he would say, "I don't know how to make the special fire, I don't know how to say the special prayer, but I know this secret place in the woods. Please let that be good enough." It was, and the people would once again be saved from danger. When Rabbi Moshe passed, he was succeeded by Rabbi Israel of Rizhyn, and whenever somebody told him that his people were in danger, he didn't even get out of his armchair. He could only bow his head and shrug his shoulders. "Dear God," he would pray, "I don't know how to make the special fire. I don't know how to say the special prayer. I don't even know the secret place in the woods. All I know is the story, and I'm hoping that's good enough." It was, and his people would be saved.
2) I wonder if this is the story you are looking for: 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 the fire, say a special prayer, and the miracle would be accomplished and the misfortune averted. Years later when a disciple of the Ba'al Shem-Tov, 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, another rabbi, 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. The years passed. And it fell to Rabbi Israel of Ryzhyn 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 tell the story, and this must be sufficient." And it was sufficient
The Gates of the Forest: A Novel by Elie Wiesel, 1966.
3) There's a collection titled Stories of the Spirit, Stories of the Heart: Parables of the Spiritual Path from Around the World, edited by Christina Fieldman and Jack Kornfield. Its source is listed simply as "Chassid," which I interpret as meaning that this is a Jewish tale from the Chassidic tradition.
4) I googled with monastery messiah story and learned the story lists the source The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace by M Scott Peck, published by Arrow Books Ltd.
One source listed is Anthony deMello, Taking Flight: A Book of Story Meditations, 1988. This story is also in our own Elisa Davy Pearmain's book Doorways to the Soul: 52 Wisdom Tales from Around the World, with source listed as unknown.
5) The gist is that a once thriving monestary is falling into decline. The last brothers are old- no young men are coming to stay anymore. The brothers pray for an answer and all have the same dream... a hermit rabbi has the answer. I read it in: The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace by M. Scott Peck. It's in the preface, I think.
It's been re-published I think, as Soul Food: Stories to Nourish the Spirit and the Heart. It's a more expanded version, nicely written.
6) The story can also be found in The Sower's Seeds: One Hundred and Twenty Inspiring Stories for Preaching, Teaching and Public Speaking, Revised and Expanded by Brian Cavanaugh, T.O.R. In that collection it's called "The Rabbi's Gift" and the author is the old, famous Anonymous.
7) I am sure that there are several versions however, the quickest references I found in my library are:
"The Rabbi's Gift" from Stories for the Journey: A Sourcebook for Christian Storytellers by William R. White.
"The Rabbi's Gift" from The Sower's Seeds by Brian Cavanaugh.
Note: Cavanaugh cites the story as Anonymous. White credits Francis Dorff, however, I don't know who or if Dorff is the actual "author." White may have been citing his source. BTW, I highly recommend White's three books Speaking in Stories, Stories for Telling and Stories for the Journey. Well worn and much beloved, these titles are among three of the first books I acquired when I decided "to become" a storyteller. Each title is an excellent collection of world folktales, categorized by themes such as Love & Compassion, Wisdom & Foolishness, Peace & Justice, etc., which I have returned to again and again over the years.
8) I have a version of this story in my collection, Doorways to the Soul. I found a version in print other than, but similar to, Peck's. It is called, "The Rabbi's Gift," and the author is Francis Dorff, and it is published in a New Catholic World 222 (March-April l979), pg. 53. I found it when doing my research for the book, and it may have been a source that I got from Peck's book, or maybe not. I don't remember. I also found it in Stories of the Spirit, Stories of the Heart as mentioned earlier. On STORYTELL I read a wonderful Jewish version adapted by storyteller whose name if memory serves me is Susan Stone, called "The Rabbi is in the Woods." This one was set entirely in a Jewish village.
9) Doug Lipman tells a wonderful version
10) I am looking for a story that I told about 5 or 6 years ago. A rabbi was asked a question. I think it was how had he come to be so holy. He replied with a story about walking through the village on a very hot dry day. He saw a very ugly dog skulking in the shadows of a building. There was a puddle in the street and the dog was thirsty. Twice the dog walked up to the puddle, bent his head to drink, but ran away when he saw the ugly reflection in the puddle. The third time the dog ran up to the puddle, jumped in and drank deeply. I am trying to find the source or at least a source for this story. I don't have a print or a taped copy. I will appreciate any help.
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Created 2004; last update 9/9/09
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