Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav, (1772-1810) was one of the most renowned of the early Hasidic masters of prayer and one of the greatest Hasidic storytellers.

Writes Professor Joseph Dan in his preface to Nahman of Bratslav: The Tales (Paulist Press, 1978): "Rabbi Nahman's tales should be regarded as a great literary accomplishment of a mystical author who achieved complete identification and unity between external and internal elements, and expressed them in a unified spiritual autobiography, in the guise of folktales. Such achievements are very rare in the history of religious literature, and as one such rare example it should be read in the twentieth century."

The following tale by Rabbi Nahman is retold by Barbara Rush and Howard Schwartz, in A Coat for the Moon and other Jewish Tales (reprinted with permission of the Jewish Publication Society).

Once upon a time the moon came to the sun and said," It isn't fair that you get to shine during the day when it's warm, while I have to shine during the night when it's cold especially in the winter." The sun saw that the moon was unhappy, "I'll have a coat made to keep you warm."

So the sun called together the big tailors of the city, those who were very rich, and asked them to make a coat for the moon — one that would keep her warm even on the coldest nights. The tailors sat down together to discuss making the coat, but no matter how hard they tried, they couldn't figure out how to do it. The problem was that the moon was sometimes small and sometimes big. And a coat that would fit when the moon was small would be too tight when the moon was big. And a coat that would fit when the moon was big would be too large when the moon was small.

After a while the tailors just gave up. They didn't know how to make a coat for the moon.

"Let us try!" begged the little tailors, those who were poor. But when the big tailors heard this, they laughed aloud and said, "If we can't make a coat for the moon, how can you?"

But the little tailors were not about to give up. They talked and talked all through the night. They too had many ideas, but no one could solve the problem of making a coat to fit the changing sizes of the moon.

And so they sat silently for a long time. At last one little tailor, whose name was Yankel, stood up. "What we need is a material that is very light, so that it can stretch. I have been thinking that the clouds in the sky would make a perfect coat for the moon."

Now the little tailors listened carefully, and they agreed that the clouds would be a good material, one that could stretch enough to be a coat for the moon. But then another tailor, whose name was Yosef, stood up looking puzzled. "But the clouds are high up in the sky. We'll never be able to climb high enough to reach them."

And all the little tailors nodded when they heard this, except Yankel. He stood up and cried: "I know how!"

"How?" they asked, all at the same time.

"Oh, it's not as hard as you think," Yankel explained. Have you forgotten that sometimes clouds come down to earth? And when they do, they are called fog. Let us wait until a cloud comes down one day. When it does, we will be ready to cut and sew a coat for the moon. And then when the fog lifts and the cloud rises, it will surround the moon and keep her warm."

Now all the tailors stood up and clapped their hands. Yes, Yankel had shown them how to make a coat for the moon! And just think of what the big tailors would say when they learned that! So the little tailors rejoiced until one of them, who had a sour face, said, "Yes? And how can something as thin and light as a cloud keep the moon warm?" and when he said this, a hush fell upon the little tailors. The tailor with the sour face was right. The cloud wasn't heavy enough to be a warm coat for the moon.

So again the tailors sat down, their hands on their chins, pondering how to solve the problem. Suddenly Yankel leaped to his feet and cried out: "I know how!"

"How?" they asked, all at the same time.

"We'll sew some stars into the cloud," he explained, "and those stars will keep the moon warm with their wonderful light."

The little tailors began to cheer when they heard these words, for Yankel had solved the problem once again. All the tailors agreed, except for the one with the sour face. He hushed everyone and said in his sour voice, "Yes? And how are we going to get stars to sew into the cloud?" And when he said this, the smiles of the tailors turned to frowns, for they hadn't considered this problem.

Again there was a long silence. But Yankel was full of ideas that day, and soon he leaped up and cried: "I know how!"

"How?" they asked, all at the same time.

"Stars aren't to be found only in the sky," explained Yankel. "We all know that there are also stars floating in the river. Let us catch those stars and sew them into the fog."

"Yes, yes, Yankel is a genius!" all the tailors shouted at the same time — all except, of course, the one with the sour face. He looked more sour than ever. "Yes?" he asked. "And how are you going to get the stars out of the river in order to sew them into the fog?"

The situation looked hopeless once again. The little tailors were all worn out.
Suddenly Yankel shouted, "I know how!"

"How?" they asked, all at the same time.

"We'll all go together on a night when the fog rests near the shore of the river," Yankel explained, "and from our friends, the blacksmiths, we'll borrow bellows — those big pumps they use to make the fire blow higher. Then we'll blow the fog into the river, where it will pick up the stars on its own. When the fog floats back up into the sky and becomes a cloud again, it will take the stars with it. And that way the moon will have a coat to keep her warm, even on the coldest nights."

The little tailors jumped with joy, and not even the sour-faced tailor had anything to say. They all did just as Yankel said and waited for a night when a big cloud came down to earth as fog, and settled on the shore of the river.

That night, all the little tailors came together, carrying the bellows they had borrowed from their friends the blacksmiths. With the bellows they blew and blew and blew until they blew the fog over the river. And when it floated on the water, stars stuck to it on every side.

When the fog finally lifted and became a cloud again, the little tailors saw that it surrounded the moon on every side and that a cluster of stars could be seen surrounding her as well. It seemed to them that the moon was smiling that night. And why? At last she had a coat that could grow as big and small as she did — one that could keep her warm, even on the coldest nights.

Anyone who looks up into the sky will see it, for the moon wears that special coat to this very day!


From: Barbara Rush and Howard Schwartz, A Coat for the Moon and other Jewish Tales (Jewish Publication Society, 1999)



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