Jewish Calendar - Rosh Hashanah - song
|Numberless tales have been told and retold
for generations since the days of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1700-1760),
founder of the Hasidic movement. He and his disciples employed the story
or anecdote to inspire their followers with the love of God and man. The
following tale, like so many others, contains profound insight into the
spiritual significance of the Days of Awe; it focuses on the founder of
the movement himself, the Master of the Good Name.
The enemy did not forswear
the battle, but came out openly and spread his iron wings between the earth
and heaven. The wings were as thick as a mountain is high, and all through
they were made of heavy iron. He wrapped his wings around the earth as he
would enclose it within the two cups of his hand.
On earth, all was darkness. The wings of the enemy pressed forever closer
to the earth, and crushed the spirits of men.
When Rabbi Israel was about to enter into a synagogue, he stopped outside
the door and said, "I cannot go in there. There is no room for me to
But the hasidim said, "There are not many people in the synagogue."
"The house is filled from the ground to the roof with prayers!"
said the master.
But as he saw the hasidim taking pride because of his words, he said, Those
prayers are all dead prayers. They have no strength to fly to heaven. They
are crushed; they lie on top of the other, and the house is filled with
And he returned to Medziboz.
He felt the weight of the wings of the enemy pressing ever closer upon him.
He sought for a way to pierce that iron cloud, and make a path to heaven.
Not far from Medziboz,
there lived a Jewish herdsman. This man had an only son; the boy was twelve
years old but so slow-witted that he could not remember the alphabet. For
several years the Jew had sent his son to the heder, but as the boy could
not remember anything, the father ceased to send him to the school, an instead
sent him into the fields to mind the cows.
The boy took a reed and made himself a flute, and sat all day long in the
grass, playing upon his flute.
But when the boy reached his thirteenth birthday, his father said, "After
all, he must be taught some shred of Jewishness." And he said to the
lad, "Come, we will go to the synagogue for the holidays."
He got in his wagon, and drove to Medziboz, and bought him a cap and new shoes.
And all that time, David carried his flute in his pocket.
His father took him to the synagogue of Rabbi Israel. They sat together among
the other men. The boy was very still. Then the moment came for the prayer
of Musaf to be said. David saw the men all about him raise their little books,
and read out of them in praying, singing voices. He saw his father do as the
other men did. Then David pulled at his father's arm.
"Father," he said, "I too want to sing. I have my flute in
my pocket. I'll take it out, and sing."
But his father caught his hand. "Be still!" he whispered. "Do
you want to make the rabbi angry? Be still!"
sat quietly on the bench. Until the prayer of Minhah he did not move. But
when the men arose to repeat the Minhah prayer, the boy also rose. "Father,"
he said, "I too want to sing!"
His father whispered quickly, "Where have you got your fife?"
"Here in my pocket."
"Let me see it."
David drew out his fife, and showed it to his father. His father seized it
out of his hand. "Let me hold it for you," he said." David
wanted to cry, but was afraid and remained still.
At last the prayer of Ne'ilah. The candles burned trembling in the evening
wind, and the hearts of the worshipers trembled as the flames of the candles.
All through the house was the warmth of holiness, and the stillness as before
The boy could hold back his desire no longer. He seized the flute from his
father's hand, set it to his mouth, and began to play his music.
A silence of terror fell upon the congregation. Aghast, they looked upon the
boy; their backs cringed, as if they waited instantly for the walls to fall
But a flood of joy came over the countenance of Rabbi Israel He raised his
spread palms over the boy David.
"The cloud is pierced and broken!" cried the Master of the Good
Name, "and evil is scattered from over the face of the earth!"
Levin, Meyer, Classic Hassidic Tales (Citadel Press, NY, 1966).
Reprinted in The Yom Kippur Anthology, ed. Philip Goodman (JPS,