Thoughts on Judaism

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Chasidic Story Template

Is it just me or do Chasidic stories all seem to be the same story, rewarmed as leftovers?

First of all, all of the characters in the story are either good or evil. There is never any multidimentional, dillema torn Yidel who keeps what he needs for expenses. Secondly, the good guys (black hats in this case) always win. Period. Thirdly, the mystical magic works, even in the reality of the story. Fourthly, no part of the plot is ever left unresolved, as in real life. The designated tzadik of the story will converse with heavenly beings if necessary to make sure that every aspect of the story is concluded positively.

This is the template more or less:
Once upon a time, a long time ago in (Eastern Europe town), there was a Chasid who was (humble / poor /extremely wealthy but philanthropic / a hidden tzadik) but totally unlearned. He was completely nullified in existence to his rebbe, whom he saw once every several years. He had to travel (uphill in twenty feet of snow / across raging rivers / in his Lincoln Towncar / with no shoes / with shoes no laces / his horse had no shoes / no snowshoes / no snow tires) to see his rebbe, to whom his life was devoted. After a long day's work as a (water carrier / tailor / tax consultant / real estate con man), he began his two week trek to see his rebbe about a very important, life consuming problem he was having. He was (poor / childless / ill or dying, himself or relative/ smart and his children were ignoramuses / an ignoramus and his children were smart / being investigated for real estate fraud / a monomonastical fundamentalist whackjob). Upon arriving in town, he immediately found lodging even though he was extremely poor, because when you are going to see your rebbe, everything is magically prepared for you.

At Shacharis the next morning, he went right up to the rebbe who recognized him immediately. After shacharis, he sat down with the rebbe who had nothing better to do than listen to this guy kvetch. After hearing the problem, the rebbe consulted with (his gabbaim / the malachai hasharais / the Satan / a real estate criminal lawyer / his relatives who all had their own chasidic sect, since they were all the grandsons of HaRav Aryeh Dreitmirakopf of (East Europe town), who was the only descendant of the Rav of (even harder to pronounce East Europe town) who all happen to be in town that very day / an invisible visitor, whom he referred to as Eliyahu). The rebbe disappeared into his private room, where we can assume he (flew across the ocean by magic / obtained some magical cure by magic / obtained some holy object with kabalistic, ie magic, powers / bent a spoon with the power of his mind). When he emerged, he (had salt water in his beard / gave the magic object to the Chasid). He told the Chasid to (do some unintelligible thing with the magic object / mix the magic cure into some unknown potion / go to some far away place / sit with a therapist and deal with his issues), any of which should have no effect on his problem, but will miraculously at the end of our story prove the wisdom of this particular flavor of Judaism, and backhandedly put down some other group with which our flavor is perpetually at war.

In this town, there also lived a poretz (a goy, who is by definition, evil, stupid, antisemitic, and always drunk). He was planning to (commit a pogrom / harm a Jew / raise taxes / commit real estate fraud, which for him would be a bad thing / open a competing business with a Jew / open a university). Somehow, this Jew, whom the rebbe sent on this adventure, goes on this quest, even though his starving wife and 85 children are at home and he is not even earning the meager living that he normally does to sustain them over the course of several weeks. Since they should of all rights starve to death waiting for the father to return, we do not include this aspect in the story. Meanwhile, he runs into the poretz, the situation becomes dire, he telepathically communicates with the rebbe or finds the instructions that the rebbe had presciently written on a note and sereptitiously hidden on the person of the Chasid, which tells him what to do with the magic or holy object or whatever at the very last possible second, and by following the rebbe's advice, the Jew's problem is solved, the poretz is (thwarted / killed / thrown in jail, even though he is the only guy who throws people in jail in this town / meets with unfortunate circumstances), everyone is safe at their respective bases, even though, by common sense, the rebbe's advice should have resulted in the deaths of millions of people, or at least an inning ending double play. The rebbe then (talks to the angels again / talks to the mysterious beggar, Eliyahu, again / opens a sefer and reads a random page / consults the local Yenta) and explains the hashgacha protis behind all of this maaseh in every detail, and the rebbe's cryptic instructions.

The moral of the story is:
1) Always listen to your rebbe, even if his advice makes no sense or sounds dangerous.
2) Always trust in holy objects and magic, if you are guided by chasidic custom.
3) Our flavor of Chasidus is good, not like other people who shall remain nameless.
4) Your rebbe wears a giant R on his shirt under his (sartuk / capota / Old Navy sweatshirt)
5) Everyone is either good or evil, and such is evident in each person.

Oh yes, and remember the old Yiddish dictum:
Oif a maaseh, freg nisht kashas.


  • Best beginning of a chasidic story:

    Rabbi Raditz of Poland was a very short rabbi with a
    long beard, who was thought to have inspired many
    pogroms with his sense of humor.
    (Stuart Konigsberg)

    By Blogger Phillip Minden, at 6:12 AM  

  • Huh, you really are a computer guy.

    By Blogger Menuval, at 4:04 PM  

  • Hee hee,
    that was great !

    I once went to a chabad lunch in some forlon segment of california when I was job hunting, and there was a bar mitzvah in what passed for the shul, so there were a lot of secular folks at the rebbi's house. He proceeded to tell a story, very much to your formula, where the rebbi prays at the edge of a river, or folds up his hat, or something, and it turns into a boat.
    You can imagine the bemused looks on the guests faces. To alleviate the situation the rebbetzin quickly added, "boats from god, boats from god." As if that would make it better.

    Everytime I hear something far fetched I turn to my wife and say, Boats from god, boats from god.

    By Blogger Ben Avuyah, at 8:43 PM  

  • Ben,

    There is something I want to ask you privately. How can I contact you?

    By Blogger Menuval, at 11:26 PM  

    Shalom uBrocha!

    "Reading a story of a Tzaddik is like seeing the angel in the burning thorn bush", The Rebbe writes (Igrot Kodesh, volume 20, page 116). " Spread this to every corner of the world," and "through the inspiration one gains from a story of a Tzaddik, he is given a faith which equals in it's intensity to the observance of all the commandments together, thereby giving him life."


    In 1996 Yael Frishman was invited to a friend's home for the Shabbos meal. She decided to tell a recent story of the Rebbe shlit'a King Moshiach to everyone at the table. No sooner did she conclude the story when someone exclaimed that these stories are all "bobemeises" (fairy tales). Yael did not respond to this remark. Her feeling was that any comment she would make would actually be belittling the Rebbe.

    After the meal, as Yael walked home with her children, her son-in-law commented that the only reason people speak so is because they haven't learnt enough of what the Rebbe taught us. Therefore, they lack the proper faith. In order to cover that fact, they ridicule the person who believes. When they will learn more their faith will be strengthened and they will not laugh anymore.

    Yael had been having some financial problems and decided to try her luck with a lottery ticket. On Friday afternoon she asked her son to buy her a ticket. As it was getting close to Shabbos, when he came home with the ticket Yael quickly took it and put it into a volume of Igros Kodesh which happened to be on the table.

    When Shabbos was over her son-in-law noticed the lottery ticket in the Igros (book of Holy letters of the Rebbe). He assumed it was there to mark the page of an answer from the Rebbe. He opened it to read the letter on that page. After reading for several minutes he began to laugh. Yael did not tell him that she had put the ticket there randomly, as she wanted to hear what the Rebbe was in fact saying on that page. He began to read aloud: "The Rebbe acknowledges her letter of "Yom Shishi" (Friday), (when she put the ticket in)... it is praiseworthy for one to believe. Even if other's laugh, do not go into any arguments over it. Since one only laughs and has doubts because of lack of knowledge. Once they will learn more they will have more faith and will not laugh!" The Rebbe concluded the letter by saying; "This what you write about your debts, you should be careful to give charity before the morning and afternoon prayers and say the Tehillim (psalms) for the day".

    Yael now realized just how much the Rebbe looks out for us! Had she looked in the Igros when she put the ticket in, she would have seen the answer to what transpired later during that Shabbos, as well as the solution to her financial situation!

    Yael Frishman of New-York
    reprinted from
    Ask Moshiach a question and behold a miracle! click here

    Ariel Sokolovsky

    Chabad Moshiach Videos page
    Chabad Lubavitch Travel Service blog
    Geula Investment Trust .com blog
    Moshiach TV blog
    Long Live our master our Teacher and our Rebbe King Moshiach Forever and Ever!

    By Blogger Rabbi Ariel Sokolovsky, at 12:33 AM  

  • I was once at a shaleshutus in NY and the darshan started to tell a maaseh that ran into malaveh malka. As the time went on, one of the baal habatim suggested they end the story where they were, daven maariv and pick it up next week. One of the old men objected to stopping in the middle of the story. The baal habayis responded, "can't stand the suspense? Don't worry! It's a chasidishe maaseh!"

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 6:58 AM  

  • Just once I'd love to hear a contemporary story like that!
    Not one that happened years ago and comes in 5 different versions.

    By Blogger Pragmatician, at 11:02 AM  

  • chabad skeptic,

    By Blogger Ben Avuyah, at 3:55 PM  

  • You forgot the one where the Ba‘al Shem Tov steps on a frog!

    By Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg), at 7:03 PM  

  • I love it. :)

    Is the tag line "about a story you don't ask questions?" My Yiddish is minimal.

    By Blogger BBJ, at 8:08 PM  

  • The interesting thing is that at an interfaith conference some years ago there were a number of Muslims who kept telling Sufi tales in the workshops. At some point, I always realized I had heard this one before except it had starred the Bratslaver, or the Besht, or someone, instead of Rumi.

    I think there may just be only so many stories out there that will show the greatness of your teacher. The good ones run forever.

    By Blogger BBJ, at 8:11 PM  

  • BB

    Correct on all counts.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 11:32 PM  

  • I don't know if this qualifies as a Chassidic story or just nonsense--I went walking in a woody trail near my house one summer afternoon. I was high as a kite. I had read about the seisma of Breslov that was popularized by a preacher that caused some controvery--something along the lines of "Na Nach Nachma Nachman from Uman" and I was repeating this one or two times when a little lovebird swooped down from the heavens and landed in my shirt pocket.

    I freaked. The bird refused to leave me but clung to my pocket and then climbed into my short sleeve and rested in my armpit. Well, I got a cage and supplies for the bird and put up posters in the neighborhood. This was a very smart and wonderful little bird but the bird also liked company and would cheep cheep dolorously when I went off to work--so I was conflicted when the owner saw one of my posters and contacted me. When I returned the bird to her she explained that the bird had been accustomed to nestle in her shirt when she took it for walks--she had forgotten to clip its wings so it had escaped.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:15 PM  

  • "Nachman from Uman"
    That would be Nachman, M'Uman, Nachman the Faithful. The Mem does not mean "from" in this case.

    This story is borderline, very tame, but I would give it Chasidic story status.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 12:23 PM  

  • tame--not subjectively, t'emin li. So the m comes in front of the same shoresh? live and learn...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:42 PM  

  • Read Buber's 'Tales of the Chasidim' for some truly inspiring stories. And pay particular attention to his introduction, in which he describes his unique view on the 'authenticity' of the stories

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:58 PM  

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    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:15 PM  

  • rebeljew,

    Have you ever read Rabbi Zevin's סיפורי חסידים? If not, do so; specifically the preface. (In certain instances, the preface is just as interesting, if not more, than the book; Zevin is a case in point).

    By Blogger Nathan, at 1:11 AM  

  • Your decontstruction of chasidic stories is spot on. So predictable. Although, I love the way reb sholom carlebach tells stories. very captivating, even though I can predict the endings.

    By Blogger Ittay, at 9:52 PM  

  • Your decontstruction of chasidic stories is spot on. So predictable. Although, I love the way reb sholom carlebach tells stories. very captivating, even though I can predict the endings.

    By Blogger Ittay, at 9:52 PM  

  • And invariably the baddie is a Litvack who hasn't yet seen the shining light of Chassidus. In some stories, he still doesn't see the light, and therefore stays a baddie, and sometimes he converts to the true faith and becomes a good guy. At the end of the day, lots of precious time is spent on silly stories when Torah could have been studied. Why in the world do they invest so much time in that narishkeit?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:56 PM  

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    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:52 PM  

  • I would argue that there are different kinds of stories.

    1. The miracle story. Its intent is to get the person to believe more intensely by pointing out the miraculous nature of belief itself.

    2. The propoganda story. Its intent is to show how good your group is and how bad the opponents are.

    3. The historical story. It has no real intent, other than a kind of oral history lesson.

    4. The morality story. Its intent is to show, through example, how a person should act.

    5. The analytical story. Its intent is not to be taken literally, but to show human nature, and often how to overcome difficulties and to improve.

    An example of the miracle story is any of the "put a letter into the Igros Kodesh" types. The intent may be good, but, the action is a non-Jewish action.

    An example of the propoganda story is any of the "Misnagdim inform the authorities about the Chassidim" stories. This are just sinnas chinum.

    An example of the historical stories is "The [insert historical figure here] came to America to visit" story.

    An example of the morality story is the "didn't follow shulchan oruch, and something bad happened" story. The purpose of these is to make the person a better person, without having to come right out and say "you're a jerk for doing [insert random aveirah here]."

    An example of the analytical story is the "Rebbe gets chossid to improve" story, that is used to show how middos and actions can be better.

    I have problems with the miracle stories, but not the analytical stories, since I recognize them as meant for me to improve my understanding and outlook. After all, that is what stories are meant for, to help someone understand something by providing a mushel.

    By Blogger TechnoYid, at 12:44 PM  

  • There is a story of a chasid of the Rebbe Rasha"b i forget his name. he was sitting with other chasidim (not chabad) and they were discussing the greatness of their rebbes each of them had an unbalievable miracle story to say it was now the turn of the chabad chosid he said that he was once in a terrable finacial state and went to the rebbe for a blessing and he left all sattisfied and month had already gone by and nothing has changed. They looked in surprized and asked wheres the miracle? he responded the miracle is that im still a Chasid.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:23 PM  

  • שבת אהין, שבת אהער

    By Blogger Sholom, at 6:17 PM  

  • Izzy

    I would argue that morality and analytical are the same, not ususally meant to be taken literally, but to make a point via parable. A problem enters when we start learning as if they were all historical. Most nonJews are done with there latter day mythology (Santa, tooth fairy, etc.) by 8 years old. Some of our most learned brethren would not be easily disuaded if some Jewish rabbinic celebrity used these in a story.

    Sholom ????

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 7:25 PM  

  • Especially if you're Chabad:

    Drop the word "Saint" from the name of the Russian city "Saint Petersburg".

    2) Besides the lilting Eastern European accent, pronounced ng and the end of a word like nk.

    Thus a story could start like:

    "There was once a chassid who was walkink in Petersburg."

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:29 PM  

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