Passover--First Day--Hasids

The first day of Passover comes after the first night.

Part of the reason we celebrate/observe (Lenny Bruce said Jews observe; goyim celebrate) Passover or any other holiday, aside from nostalgia, is the longing for the belief of our ancestors. They were sitting around a seder table, just like we are, and they actually believed. At least we think so. We would like to think so?

Can we think so without being condescending?

The Hasidic story of the disciples who go out into the woods. Here it is, told by poet Coleman Barks, translator of Rumi: "When the Baal Shem Tov had difficult work to do, he would go to a certain place in the woods, where he made a fire and meditated. In the spontaneous prayers that came through him then the work that needed to get done was done. A generation later the Maggid of Meseritz was given the same work. He went to the place in the forest and said, 'I no longer know how to light the fire and meditate, but I can say the prayers.' What needed to happen, happened. A generation after that it came to Moshe Leib of Sassov to do the work. He went into the woods and spoke, 'I do not know the fire meditation or the prayers, but I still come to this place where the Baal Shem and the great Maggid came. I hope that's enough.'
And it was. After another twenty years, Israel of Rishin was called to the task. 'I do not know the place, the fire, the meditation, or the prayers but here, inside, sitting at table I can tell the story of how it used to go.' The story had the same effect as the wilderness retreat, the fire meditation, and the prayers that came to the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid, and Rabbi Moshe Leib.' One might follow the sequence of the anecdote and say that it shows the diminishing of a living tradition. Or one can hear in it that the mystery of doing work takes many forms, and the same continuous efficacy is there no matter whether it's the Baal Shem in solemn silence before the fire in the woods or, generations later, Israel of Rishin indoors telling the story to a table of friends. The vital God-human or human-God connection can break through anywhere at any time. There's no diminishing of it and no fading of grace."

OK, I was with him till the God part.

Let's call it transcendence.

To further analogize--The Hebrew word for Egypt is Mitzrayim (from the Hebrew metzar-"a narrow, tight place of being"). The exodus from Egypt was going out of a tight place. The interpreters ask, What is the narrow place that you are trying to escape from?

From Martin Buber's Tales of the Hasidim: Early Masters: "The maggid of Koznitz said: 'Every day, man shall go forth out of Egypt, out of distress.'"

And: "A hasid complained to the rabbi of Lublin that he was tormented with evil desire and had become despondent over it. The rabbi said to him: 'Guard yourself from despondency above all, for it is worse and more harmful than sin. When the Evil Urge wakens desire in man, he is not concerned with plunging him into sin, but with plunging him into despondency by way of his sinning.'"

And yet I, Cancer Bitch, see today's Hasids on the train or the street, with their black hats and payess (ear locks) and I think, Such backward fundamentalists these people are. These men will not touch me because I am a woman, and they do not think I am a real Jew because I do not believe in the Torah as the divine word. Feh. But--

Such is the power of story.

Do not mistake the teller of the story for the story.

2 comments:

barbara said...

I read once (4 decades back) that the Evil Urge can be a source of powerful energy for both creative and distructive purposes. Is that an idea from Tales of the Hasidim?

It's hard to let go of religion in its human, companiable, familial incarnation. To say "I don't believe" is easy; to give up the Christmas tree and the carols and all the family being together just because it's Christmas -- that leaves emptiness in one's life.

Susan M said...

Oh, good. I was waiting for the Passover commentaries. Thanks.

Re: the four kinds. It's as much about four kinds of parents as four kinds of children. And it's also about "kinds" in general. Like think of all the kinds of ways that people respond to the horseradish--they long for the rush, they fear the rush, they make a joke about the rush, and so on.