A Hasidic Parable

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-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.

-- Elie Wiesel, The Gates of the Forest

The Gates of the Forest, originally written in French, is the story of a young Jew named Gavriel.  Situated on the periphery of the Holocaust, The Gates of the Forest follows Gavriel as he hides from Hungarian patrols in a wilderness cave, masquerades as a deaf-mute Christian in a small town, takes to the wilderness again as a partisan, and, finally attempts to make peace with God following the war.

Wiesel opens his book with this Hasidic parable, perhaps as a way of legitimizing story as a response to catastrophe, perhaps as an opening bit of beauty.

If it isn't true, it ought to be.

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