Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Take The Tape Out Of His Back

(Picture courtesy of

When a person tells me a Chassidic story, I often recall a posting from Tzemach Atlas about why he dislikes Jewish stories. In the posting, Tzemach wrote,

"Let's talk about the legends of your past week. I want to listen to what happened to you not some broken telephone feel good honeydew dude in Podolia. I feel that the stories that were intended to open us up to the miraculous possibilities turned into tired clichés that clog up and severe the possibilities of us relating to one another."

While unlike Tzemach, I think there is certainly an exalted place for Chassidic stories, I do agree with him about the manner in which they are often told. Namely, they are frequently used a replacement for sharing something personal. When a person merely resorts to telling a Chassidic story from his limited repertoire in such an impersonal manner the listener becomes an acoustic reflector and walks away as if he hasn't heard anything at all.

Rav Moshe Weinberger once remarked that a person should not just simply listen to a Chassidic story and think to himself that it was a nice story. Rather, he should contemplate what specific message he could derive from the story and how this message has practical application in his life.

In order for a Chassidic story to make a real impact on another person, the person telling it must explain how he applied the story's message to a difficult or problematic situation in his life and how it helped him. When the story teller does not do this he becomes no more than a human Teddy Ruxpin doll, lifelessly communicating a pre-recorded message.

I want a story teller to take the tape out of his back. I want them to tell me how a 200 year-old story about the Baal Shem Tov helped them deal with a difficult person, how he may have failed to live up to the message contained in a story about Rebbe Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev, or how Rebbe Zusia of Anapol's advice about being an individual helped him overcome groupthink in 2007.

Unlike Tzemach, I want to hear about Podolia. But, I also want to hear how the story from Podolia transformed the story teller.


At August 1, 2007 at 11:47:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i don't necessarily want to know how it applies. when i hear it or more often, read it, i simply want my soul to be open for the help and healing it presents. the story comes from haKodesh bH.

cf"tales of the hasidim" buber
"light and fire of the baalshem tov" buxbaum

At August 1, 2007 at 12:01:00 PM EDT, Blogger blue mom said...

Yay, anonymous! I know Buber is supposed to be not religious enough or something, but Tales of the Hasidim singlehandedly made me want to be a "real" Jew.


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