The rabbi (Adam Morris, aka Rabbi Mo) at the temple Fred and I are about to join (Temple Micah in Denver) had a couple of stories tonight. The second, which resonated particularly with me, was one of the Baal Shem Tov's -
A man goes from town to town in search of justice, and is continually disappointed in the people he encounters - "Does no one care?" he asks himself. "Is no one righteous?" He enters a very dark forest, and when he is far within, sees a strange light. He approaches - it's coming through the windows of a tiny hut. The door is ajar so he steps in. The hut is filled with an unimaginable number of wicks in oil, each wick alight. The flames flicker and dance, and he stands transfixed, utterly amazed. An old man appears who explains these lights are souls - each represents a living person.
Naturally the man wants to see his own, so the old man leads him to another room where he points out one of the scores of lights. But as the man looks at his own wick, he realizes it is dwindling, and its oil nearly gone. The old man has disappeared, leaving him alone with this soul of his. The man is grieved and disturbed to see how soon he will die. A wick near his has much more oil. He reaches out his hand to give himself just a little more, when a hand clamps upon his outstretched arm.
"Is this the justice you seek?!" the old man thunders.
The man awakes in the forest, alone, in darkness.
I thought that was a fine story, but in the garden of forking paths* which is the creative mind, I had a different version. In mine, the man comes to the hut, and seeing the door ajar, steps inside. There he sees countless wicks, their flames dancing, and every wick draws its life from a single great bowl of oil. Some wicks are small and others long, but they have one source from which to burn.An old man appears who explains each flame is a living soul.
And when the man sees this, he understands he draws his life from the same pool of spirit that sustains all souls. Some give greater light, some lesser, but each is alive with the flicker of its own fire even as it feeds from a common origin. In appreciating the wholeness that is the basis of these individual lights, he sees that the notion of separateness is mere illusion.
When he can recognize in others what he is proud to believe about himself, he will find the justice he seeks.
* a concept for which we thank Jorge Luis Borges.