Sunday, 30 December 2012

Why Step Five is important, as teller, and listener


From pages 56–58, "Storytelling: Imagination and Faith"

"On the day the Baal Shem Tov was dying, he assigned each of his disciples a task to carry on in his name, to do some of his work. When he finished with all of them, he had one more task. He called the last disciple and gave him this task: to go all over Europe to retell the stories he remembered from the Master. The disciple was very disappointed. This was hardly a prestigious job. But the Baal Shem Tov told him that he would not have to do this forever; he would receive a sign when he should stop and then he could live out the rest of his life in ease.
So off he went, and days and months turned into years and years of telling stories until he felt he had told them in every part of the world. Then he heard of a man in Italy, a nobleman in fact, who would pay a gold ducat for each new story told. So the disciple went to Italy to the nobleman's castle. But to his absolute horror he discovered that he had forgotten all the Baal Shem Tov stories! He couldn't remember a single story. He was mortified. But the nobleman was kind and urged him to stay a few days anyway, in the hope that he would eventually remember something.
But the next day and the next he remembered nothing. Finally, on the third day, the disciple protested that he must go, out of sheer embarrassment. But as he was about to leave, oh, yes, suddenly he remembered one story, and this would prove that he indeed did know the great Baal Shem Tov, for he was the only one there when the story happened. And this is the story he remembered.
Once the Baal Shem Tov told him to harness the horses, for they were about to take a trip to Turkey where at this time of the year the streets were decorated for the Christians' Easter festival. The disciple was upset, for it was well known that Jews were not safe during the Christian Holy Week and Easter. They were fair game for the Christians shouting 'God-killers!' And, in fact, it was the custom during the Easter festival to kill one Jew in reparation.
Still, they went. They went into the city and then into the Jewish quarter, where the Jews were all huddled behind their shutters out of fear. They were secluded, waiting till the festival was over and they could go on out into the streets again in safety. So imagine how startled and surprised they were when the Baal Shem Tov stood up and opened all the windows of the house where they were staying. And furthermore he stood there in full view!
And looking through the window he saw the bishop leading the procession. He was arrayed like a prince with gold vestments, silver mitre, and a diamond-studded staff. The Baal Shem Tov told his disciple, 'Go tell the bishop I want to see him.' Was he out of his mind? Did he want to die? But nothing could deter this order, so the disciple went out and went up to the bishop to tell him that the Baal Shem Tov wanted to see him. The bishop seemed frightened and agitated. But he went. He went and was secluded for three hours with the Baal Shem Tov. Then the Master came out and, without saying anything else, told his disciples they were ready to go back home.
As the disciple finished the story, he was about to apologise to the nobleman for the insignificance of the story, when he suddenly noticed the enormous impact the story had on the nobleman. He had dissolved into tears, and, finally, when he could speak, he said, 'Oh, disciple, your story has just saved my soul! You see, I was there that day. I was that bishop. I had descended from a long line of distinguished rabbis, but, one day, during a period of great persecution, I had abandoned the faith and converted to Christianity. The Christians, of course, were so pleased that, in time, they even made me a bishop. And I had accepted everything, even went along with the killing of the Jews each year, until that one year. The night before the festival, I had a terrible dream of the Day of Judgement, and the danger to my soul. So, until you came, the very next day, with a message from the Baal Shem Tov, I knew that I had to go with you.
For three hours, he and I talked. He told me that there still might be hope for my soul. He told me to sell my goods and retire on what was left and live a life of good deeds and holiness. There might still be hope. And his last words to me were these: 'when a man comes to you and tells you your own story, you will know that your sins are forgiven.'
'So I have been asking everyone I knew for stories from the Baal Shem Tov. And I recognised you immediately when you came, and I was happy. But when I saw that all the stories had been taken from you, I recognised God's judgement. Yet now you have remembered one story, my story, and I know now that the Baal Shem Tov has interceded on my behalf, and that God has forgiven me.'
When a man comes to you and tells you your own story, you know that your sins are forgiven. And when you are forgiven, you are healed."

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