Friday, August 09, 2013

Martin Buber

I have a secret: I love Hasidic stories. I first discovered them reading "Souls on Fire: Portraits and Legends of Hasidic Masters" by Elie Wiesel, a great book that gives the history of the Baal Shem Tov, the father of what we know today as Hasidism through stories passed down through generations.  Each tale is a life and spiritual teaching lesson, and I've always found them wise and revelatory, changing depending on what is happening in my life.

Another wonderful book is The Way of Man, Jewish philosopher Martin Buber's insights about Hasidic teachings and stories. I like it so much I keep a copy on my nightstand, and sometimes just flip to a random page before I go to bed.  I actually have this little version with "The Ten Rungs," another collection of Hasidic sayings.  In both of these, the religiosity is not too overpowering, or I've been able to ignore what doesn't work for me and listen to what does.

Either way, I do like the stories.  Buber is a philosopher, and not as much of a storyteller as Wiesel, so the book is not as entertaining. It has some great wisdom, though, and that's what I take away. I know I would not be welcomed in any Hasidic community, nor would it be a path I'm interested in, but wisdom is wisdom. Stories are stories and parables are parables. My imagination responds.

Here's what a little of what I opened to last night, and it's a favorite:

I will close this chapter with an old jest as retold by a zaddik. Rabbi Hanokh told this story: There was once a man who was very stupid. When he got up in the morning it was so hard for him to find his clothes that at night he almost hesitated to go to bed for thinking of the trouble he would have on waking. One evening he finally made a great effort, took paper and pencil and as he undressed noted down exactly where he put everything he had on. The next morning, very well pleased with himself, he took the slip of paper in his hand and read: “cap” “pants” — there it was, he set it on his head; there they lay, he got into them; and so it went until he was fully dressed. “That’s all very well, but now where am I myself?” he asked in great consternation. “Where in the world am I?” He looked and looked, but it was a vain search; he could not find himself. “And that is how it is with us,” said the rabbi.

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