Illustration by Daniel Kabakoff
Hasidic Tales and Their Interpretation
A man journeyed to the provincial town of Melch to seek the advice of the Rebbe, so wise he was known as the Seer of Melch. The man wished to attend the ox races for which the town was known. He inquired if it were permitted to do so.
“No problem,” said the Rebbe, “so long as the races do not take place on the Sabbath. But there are better things for a Jew to do than to attend ox races.”
The man remained silent for a moment, then said, “since I don’t know whether the food sold at the race course is kosher, I will bring my own. But I do not know whether to bring milkhic or fleishic?”
“Bring parveh,“advised the Rebbe. “It is parveh for the course.”
This tale is actually a commentary on the brilliance of the Rebbe. “No problem,” says the Rebbe in his very first utterance. What he is really saying is: There is no problem I cannot solve (with Heaven’s help, of course.) He advises the man to refrain from attending the ox races. The petitioner disregards the sage advice, or advice of the sage (most authorities support the latter interpretation). Because of his disregard, he receives his comeuppance at the end in the form of a poor pun. Had he been more respectful, he would have received a rich pun.
A man who could not marry off his homely daughter visited the sainted Rabbi Ben David of Cracow. “I am looking for a match for my daughter, Zylpeh,” the petitioner explained.
“Matches haven’t been invented yet. Still, you are in luck. You could have been looking for a cigarette lighter for your daughter. That comes even later.”
The man was so pleased with this answer that on his return, he told his daughter, who was greatly comforted. So much so that she later married a faggot seller or a flame swallower, the sources being unclear.
Here is a tale full of secret meaning for those willing to be sufficiently illuminated by it. I wish them luck. Hint: none of the characters in the tale represent Rabbi Hananiah in disguise.
A man journeyed to Vilna in order to seek the advice of the great medieval rabbi, Shlomo.
“Rebbe,” the petitioner petitioned, “where can I find peace?”
The Rebbe surveyed him. “Where did you come from?” he finally asked.
The man mentioned the village Mendel, some good versts away.
“You’re in luck,” replied the Rebbe. “you might have come from the Middle East.”
The man thanked the Rebbe profusely and made a large contribution to charity.
This tale is remarkable for a number of reasons. First of all, Mendel was known for the reticence of speech and pocket of its inhabitants. Yet the petitioner was reticent in neither. This suggests that he didn’t really come from Mendel but from somewhere else. The careful reader may derive exactly where. A variation of this tale has the Rebbe saying, “You’ re in luck, you might have come from the Middle East in the twenty-first century.” Scholars are divided over which version is authentic.
Larry Lefkowitz’s book of Jewish stories, Enigmatic Tales, published by Fomite Press, is available in print from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and as E-book for most devices. 27 stories, including that some that appeared on Sasson. The book is not designed specifically for Orthodox readers.
Daniel Kabakoff is an award-winning watercolor artist. firstname.lastname@example.org