Every once in a while, Seattle gets a visit from Old Jerusalem. An elderly fellow with a white beard, a full smile, and a strained walk, “Uncle Chaim from Yerushalayim” is how he is known. His sweetness and simplicity endears him to us all. And he likes to tell stories. Sitting in Seward Park, Uncle Chaim has transported us to places as far as Baranovitch, as cold as Lechovitch, and as intense as the inner room of his rabbi. Truthfully, Uncle Chaim has become a story. It got me thinking about stories…
There is something exceptional to the story. Whenever it appears it invites me inside, I accept. It grabs my attention. It stills my roving mind. I am quickly lost within it and live within its reality. But, more than I enter it, it enters me. And that’s what makes it so right for conveying a message. Couched within the lure and authenticity of the story, I am ready to receive its teaching.
So perfect of a vehicle is it that God Himself chose it as a medium of His message. In two ways does the Torah communicate the Divine will to us, mitzvot and stories. Mitzvot instruct, stories demonstrate. Mitzvot tell what is to be done. Stories show how they are to be done. Mitzvot are communicated directly. Stories teach by inference. Mitzvot tell us what we are to do. Stories tell us how we are to be.
Torah is neither a book of history nor a book of laws. It is a book of communication of the Divine will, through two mediums. We mine the mitzvot in study, to derive how they are to be done, teasing the depth out of the written word. We mine the stories in study, to derive an understanding of proper character.
We are told to tell stories. Tell your children what happened in Egypt. Tell it graphically, say the Sages, as if you were there. From the story your children will know there is a God who created, who cares, who is involved, and they may extrapolate it to their lives where God may seem silent. When they are gathered around your table on that majestic night, see them forge a connection with past and imbibe it for their future.
We are told to tell what happened at Sinai not only to our children, but to our grandchildren. Describe the awesome rendezvous, when God united with a people and left them with a way back through a book. As they sit upon the lap of their grandparent, stories sharing, eyes absorbing, share with them also this.
Remember days of old, we are told. “Ask your father and he will relate it to you, your elders and they will tell you.” Tell your children stories of long and short ago — family stories, personal stories to root them in tradition, for “tradition”? No, for a living, vibrant, meaningful legacy.
There is something more to the story. We need to hear stories, for stories expand the man. Hearing about a great person do the very thing you did, but in the way a great person does it, expands your perception of that very thing. I thought I knew about prayer from reading about it. Then I met a man of prayer. I met prayer.
Rav Nachman of Breslov said the whole world tells stories to put people to sleep, I will tell stories to wake them up. The story has the power to awaken. To arouse. To spark. To ignite. To cause to blossom.
Most of all, we have to become stories. Sitting in the company of tellers who carried their stories, were changed by them, were alive from them, I became. When we teach, students and children understand. But when they see, they can become. Hear God’s story. Tell His story. Tell your story. Be a story. Become.