Skip to main content

Turning Home

A story by Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav, the unparalleled 18th century Hasidic rabbi.

There once was a Jew who lived in the great and tumultuous metropolis of New York. (Ok, I changed the city from Prague). One night he dreamed that he should journey to San Francisco (I think it works better than Vienna). There, at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge, leading to the overpriced homes of that vibrant and bustling city, he would find a buried treasure.

Night after night he dreamed the same dream. The image of that glistening red bridge, shrouded in fog and connecting San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean, occupied his thoughts. He resolved, he must travel there. He left his family behind and traveled west to California. There he was certain he would find the treasure about which he dreamed.

Given the current age of terrorism in which we now find ourselves, the bridge is under constant surveillance. Finding the buried treasure might prove more difficult than he had planned and bargained for. And so, every day he walked the bridge’s expanse; he explored the rocky coastline; he wandered near the bridge’s supports. He wondered where exactly the treasure might be buried. The police began to take notice.

After two weeks an officer approached the man. He turned to run. The officer grabbed the man by his coat and shouted, “You are not from around here. What are you plotting? Why do you keep returning here, to this bridge, day after day?” The man grew afraid and nervous. He revealed his dream of the buried treasure. The officer burst out laughing. He brought other officers over. “Listen to this New York Jew’s tale,” he said.

After what seemed like hours of laughter and the exhausting repetition of his story to what felt like every San Francisco police officer, in particular the tale of his dream, and the travails of his journey from New York to California (Oy the traffic; the delays at LaGuardia) the officer said: “What a foolish man you are to believe in such dreams. If I lived my life by such visions, I would be well on my way to New York. In fact, last night I dreamed that a New York Jew has buried in his very own backyard a treasure waiting to be uncovered.”

The man returned to New York. He immediately began digging in his backyard and there in his perfectly manicured lawn, among the beautiful landscaping, he found untold gold and silver coins; he discovered unimaginable wealth. He sat down and reflected. “The treasure was always here; it was always in my possession. Why did I have to travel so far to discover this? It was always here within my reach?”

More often than not, treasures are found closer to home. They can be found in the tradition that carries us from place to place. They can be found in the homes where we laugh together at holiday meals. They can be found within our own hearts. So teaches Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav.

The High Holidays and the period of introspection they mark, begin with the first of the month of Elul. This day begins on Saturday. The task of turning begins not on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur but this weekend.
What are the treasures waiting to be discovered here and now, at home and at work, within reach of our very own arms and legs? What untold riches are standing here before our very eyes? This is the question we should focus on during these forty days of repentance. This is the gift of the month of Elul.

This is the question that might open our hearts to our tradition’s season of turning. It is not so much about the sermons, the prayers and even the chanting of Kol Nidre as much as the turning of our heart towards the treasures found within, to the riches found closest to home.

And, In memory of Gene Wilder, and to illustrate part of my inspiration, enjoy this clip from The Frisco Kid:

And take to heart some of his witty advice: “If you're not gonna tell the truth, then why start talking?”  It is the perfect reminder about our tradition’s demand to speak honest words.