A story. The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism, was legendary in his ability to beseech God and thereby gain protection for his people. On one occasion, when the people of his town faced a grave danger the Baal Shem Tov left his modest home and walked deep into the forest. He found there a particular spot and kindled a fire. As he sat by the warmth of the fire, he recited a prayer asking for God’s protection and care. The great rebbe arrived back to town and discovered the threat had passed. Everyone believed that it was the Baal Shem Tov’s actions that had saved the community.
Some time later the Jews of the town again found themselves facing danger. Their rebbe, the Baal Shem Tov’s disciple, remembered what his teacher had done a generation earlier. He resolved to do the same. He walked deep into the forest, found the exact same spot, and likewise kindled a fire. Then he realized that he did not remember the words of the Baal Shem Tov’s prayer. And so he sat by the fire and meditated on God’s protective nature. Once again the danger passed and the town was spared.
A generation later the same situation arose. Again the Jewish community felt threatened by its neighbors. The leader of the community, the Baal Shem Tov’s disciple’s disciple, went into the forest. He soon discovered that he did not know where in the forest to go and he also did not know the words of the master’s prayer. Still he found a spot and lit a fire. And again the danger passed and the community survived.
The Rhizener rebbe, four generations after the Baal Shem Tov, found himself facing a similar struggle. He did not know the prayer. He did not know the place in the forest. He did not even know in which forest the Baal Shem Tov prayed so many generations earlier. He did not know how to light the special fire. What did he do? He told the story of the Baal Shem Tov and his disciples. The community was once again spared.
Sometimes all we require is a story.
Rosh Hashanah is about retelling our stories. It is about reconnecting with our past. It is about rekindling the fire.
Whether we know the exact place or even the words of every prayer, we are united by our common story.
On Rosh Hashanah it is written and Yom Kippur it is sealed…