Archive for the ‘Storytelling’ Category

The Empty Sukkah

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009
Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz (1726-1791) was one of the two most significant disciples of the Baal Shem Tov (Besht). Along with the Maggid of Mezrich, he became one of the leaders of the Hassidic movement after the Besht’s death.
His was a powerful and, some might say, intimidating personality. In fact, he preferred solitary study, and frowned upon those who interrupted him. However, as time went by he became more and more well-known, and began to be besieged with disciples and supplicants. And as the numbers of seekers grew, so did his frustration. “All” he wanted was to be left alone to pray and study!
Finally, he hit upon an idea. He prayed to Heaven with great fervor that he should become unattractive, unpopular, downright repulsive to people. So strong was his prayer that it was granted: the supplicants stopped coming to him, and before long, whenever he walked down the street people would cross to the other side rather than encounter him.
R’ Pinchas was thrilled. He dove deeper and deeper into his prayer, meditation and study, and was almost invisible during the Ten Days of Awe.
Shortly thereafter, it was time to build his sukkah, the hut in which the observant live for the week of Sukkot. Normally, there would be a host of students to help – but not this year! No one even spoke to him about the holiday, let alone offer to him. Finally, he had to hire a non-Jew to help him build it, but it was hard to even find the materials, so reluctant were his neighbors to help.
“A small price,” he thought, “for the serenity of study.” And as sundown approached, he headed to the synagogue, for it is a requirement to invite and entertain guests in the sukkah. But no one in the congregation would speak to him, let alone be his guest for dinner – not even the poor and destitute!
Dejected, he made his way back home after services, taking some small consolation from the fact that he would be visited that night by the spirit of Abraham, our Father, the first of the Ushpizin – the seven mystical visitors who attend each of the seven evenings of Sukkot in the huts of the worthy. Arriving in the sukkah, he began chanting the ritual invitation.
But Abraham did not come.
He repeated the invitation, with greater intensity, but still nothing. Finally, after pouring his soul into a third cry – some say the boughs wept at his yearning – the spirit of Abraham appeared, but stood at a distance, unwilling to enter.
R’ Pinchas urged him to enter, but he stood there silently, unmoving. “Why won’t you enter? What have I done?” R’ Pinchas begged.
“Am I not renowned for my hospitality? Was not my tent open on all sides, to receive guests from all worlds? Where are your guests? How can I enter a place where there is no loving-kindness?”
R’ Pinchas’ eyes were opened: he immediately prayed that his former wishes be revoked, and that he should instead learn the lessons of Avraham Imeinu, Abraham our Father. Soon his reputation was restored, and he was sought out by even more supplicants than before. But now, R’ Pinchas understood that the way to learn Torah was not in isolation, but in loving community, and his wisdom continued to increase.

Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz (1726-1791) was one of the two most significant disciples of the Baal Shem Tov (Besht). Along with the Maggid of Mezrich, he became one of the leaders of the Hassidic movement after the Besht’s death.

His was a powerful and, some might say, intimidating personality. In fact, in his early days he preferred solitary study, and frowned upon those who interrupted him. However, as time went by he became more and more well-known, and began to be besieged with disciples and supplicants. And as the numbers of seekers grew, so did his frustration. “All” he wanted was to be left alone to pray and study!

Finally, he hit upon an idea. He prayed to Heaven with great fervor that he should become unattractive, unpopular, downright repulsive to people. So strong was his prayer that it was granted: the supplicants stopped coming to him, and before long, whenever he walked down the street people would cross to the other side rather than encounter him.

R’ Pinchas was thrilled. He dove deeper and deeper into his prayer, meditation and study, and was almost invisible during the Ten Days of Awe.

Shortly thereafter, it was time to build his sukkah, the hut in which the observant live for the week of Sukkot. Normally, there would be a host of students to help – but not this year! No one even spoke to him about the holiday, let alone offer to him. Finally, he had to hire a non-Jew to help him build it, but it was hard to even find the materials, so reluctant were his neighbors to help.

“A small price,” he thought, “for the serenity of study.” And as sundown approached, he headed to the synagogue, for it is a requirement to invite and entertain guests in the sukkah. But no one in the congregation would speak to him, let alone be his guest for dinner – not even the poor and destitute!

Dejected, he made his way back home after services, taking some small consolation from the fact that he would be visited that night by the spirit of Abraham, our Father, the first of the Ushpizin – the seven mystical visitors who attend each of the seven evenings of Sukkot in the huts of the worthy. Arriving in the sukkah, he began chanting the ritual invitation.

But Abraham did not come.

He repeated the invitation, with greater intensity, but still nothing. Finally, after pouring his soul into a third cry – some say the boughs wept at his yearning – the spirit of Abraham appeared, but stood at a distance, unwilling to enter.

R’ Pinchas urged him to enter, but he stood there silently, unmoving. “Why won’t you enter? What have I done?” R’ Pinchas begged.

“Am I not renowned for my hospitality? Was not my tent open on all sides, to receive guests from all worlds? Where are your guests? How can I enter a place where there is no loving-kindness?”

R’ Pinchas’ eyes were opened: he immediately prayed that his former wishes be revoked, and that he should instead learn the lessons of Avraham Imeinu, Abraham our Father. Soon his reputation was restored, and he was sought out by even more supplicants than before. But now, R’ Pinchas understood that the way to learn Torah was not in isolation, but in loving community, and his wisdom continued to increase.

Here’s Looking at You!

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

The Sages liked to promote a peaceful resolution of conflict, whenever possible. This peace, they knew, had to begin in the home: “shalom bayit.” So even when it was time to teach about the peace between nations, they would turn it to the need for peace between husband and wife.


“When you approach a town to do battle with it, you shall call to it for peace.” (Deut. 20:10)

This week’s portion, Shoftim, is the basis for one of the more compelling images to call for peace. Even so, there are deeper levels available to us from this “rich” tale…

The sages call to us: “Come and see how great is the power of peace!” There was a woman who was a disciple of Rabbi Meir, listening to his lessons on Sabbath evenings. One time she stayed very late, and her husband was angry at how long she had been away. “I swear that I won’t let you back in this house until you go and spit in his face!” What could she do? He was a great sage, and yet she yearned for her husband. For three weeks, she could not return home.

Then Elijah, of blessed memory, appeared to R. Meir and told him what had happened. The next time the woman came to listen, he called out, “Is there any woman here who knows the charm for a sore eye?” The woman, understanding his meaning, rose and spit in his eye; “Do it seven times!” he enjoined her. When she finished, he said, “Go back and be reconciled with your husband: tell him he asked you to spit in my face once, and you did it seven times!”

See how great is the power of peace.

Midrash Rabbah – Deut. V:15

At the simplest level we must ask ourselves: what are we willing to do to promote peace? How far will we go to help another, someone we barely know? Few of us would ever measure up to R. Meir’s performance. And yet, is he without blame?

The complete midrash speaks of the woman being absent until the Shabbat candles had gone out. Remember, the duty of every couple on Shabbat is to make love – and here she is, “studying” with the Rabbi! Even if their relationship was as physically distant as some of the other tellings make it sound, did not Meir have a responsibility not to interfere in her marital relationship? Is he not guilty of some form of seduction?

And to go deeper still: which is more important – the love of study, or loving another? How wonderful that a midrash can speak to us at so many levels through one “simple” story!

Maggidut in the ‘Cuse!

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

Well, chevre, it was a weekend for a life’s worth of memories and growth. A Jewish Storytelling Jamboree indeed – but far deeper and richer than the word “Jamboree” might imply.

Hundreds of people attended sessions in a half-dozen venues and even more programs: from the very youngest of tykes – pre-school! – to some of the very oldest: 104! Everywhere, Maggid Yitzhak Buxbaum, Carole Forman and I were blessed with the opportunity to help elevate the Spirit and souls around us through stories, teaching, songs and laughter.

The first thing you should know is that this was made possible by a generous gift of a single individual whose love for the Syracuse Jewish community cannot be overstated. While it took the work of many hands – guided by the expertise and patience of Marci Erlebacher and the Jewish Community of Syracuse – to make it all happen, this whole weekend is testimony to the fact that one person’s good acts can effect an entire community. You know who you are: thank you.

I’ve posted the details here, so as not to make this blog entry far too long. Suffice it to say that in each session, all of us learned a great deal, and I developed an even greater appreciation for the great knowledge and love for all people that is contained in that wondrous vessel carrying the name of M’ Yitzhak Buxbaum.

Maggid Yitzhak Buxbaum Maggid Uriel David (Jim) Carole Forman

Jammin’ with Jews: A Storytelling Weekend for All

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

Listen up! A consortium including all the Jewish congregations and major Jewish institutions in the Syracuse community invites all Jews (and friends) to GET JAMMIN’ at the Jewish Storytelling Jamboree from March 27 to March 29, 2009.

Tellers-and-Teachers-in-Residence for the weekend, a gift to the community from an anonymous donor, will be inspired teacher, storyteller and author Maggid Yitzhak Buxbaum; his wife, Carole Forman, an experienced dramatist, storyteller and dancer, and Central New York’s own newly-minted Maggid Jim Brulé, known to the area for his own maggidut.

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What is Truth?

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

It is said that the great Maggid of Mezhirech, Rabbi Dov Ber, at first was cool to the teachings and methods of the Baal Shem Tov (Besht), the founder of the Hasidic movement. The Maggid was known for his tremendous mastery of our holy writings: Tanach, Talmud, Midrash, and Kabbalah; the Besht emphasized a more experiential approach.

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Stories in Judaism – Tonight!

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

Would you like to learn more about stories in Judaism? The different kinds we tell, and the different reasons we tell them? Would you like to learn some of these stories, or at least hear them told? Would you like the chance to learn how to tell a story well? Come to this special three-evening experience, and that’s exactly what you’ll get! Just bring an open heart and an open mind.

In this course, we will explore the different types and sources of stories in Judaism. Each session will be spiced with stories, as well as “tricks of the trade” for telling spiritual stories well.

The sessions will explore the use of story within and beyond Torah, as both a teaching device and a historical tool. We will examine stories and the roles they play in the Talmud and Midrashic literature, Hasidic tales – particularly those of the Baal Shem Tov – and modern stories of spirituality and mysticism.

Come join us tonight and next week at Temple Concord for a great time!

Feedback from Camp Healing Hearts

Friday, September 12th, 2008

Last month I took on the challenge of working with a much younger audience than I am accustomed to. Here’s what the director, Heather Hay, had to say:

“Jim Brulé is a magical story teller who thrilled our campers at Camp Healing Hearts with a unique presentation of classic and original stories. He was dynamic and engaging, and his willingness to share his gift of storytelling supported our mission of encouraging the grieving children at our camp to share their own stories to facilitate healing and positive coping. Hats off to Jim Brulé for a fantastic presentation!”