By Limor Shiponi
One of the groups I work with is a storytelling peers group, looking into Jewish texts as a source of inspiration. After doing some Limmud (learning) each of us goes off exploring, composing, reading, thinking, trying to come up with tales, new stories, interpretations, and create something new.
Limmud in the Jewish tradition is performed in Hevruta – a circle of friend or people who have interest. We all have the text at hand; we read it together, but it’s mission impossible to read through directly. At every curve a question pops up, a thought, a memory, a story. Learning is done through conversation, especially debate, with no real intention of winning it, just going sharper and deeper into reasoning. The more controversial it gets, the more interesting, the more profound and rich.
This season, we are going to look into the role of the Darshan – the seeker, the interpreter – especially the kind of Darshan that looks into stories, not Jewish law. In ancient times, seeking was performed orally. In a way, it resembles the role of a storyteller seeking into a story told, questioning it, asking for clarifications and references, charging the narrative behind the plot to come up with sharper details, character motivations, grounding.
Here is the text we looked at during our last meeting:
After Rabbeinu (our Rabbi) of blessed memory said this speech he said plainly, “Today I have said three things contrary to what the world says:
1) The world says that telling stories induces sleep; but I said that by story tales we awaken people from their sleep.
2) The world says that from talking words no one conceives [a child]; but I said that by the Tzadik’s (righteous one) telling of words, through which he arouses people from their sleep, conception comes to barren women.
3) The world says that the true Tzadik of towering stature does not need much money, because why should he need money? But I said that there is such a contemplative understanding [of the Torah] for which one needs all the fortune of the world.”
[Copyist’s note:] I heard from one prominent follower of Rabbeinu, of blessed memory, that he heard from his holy mouth regarding his will being that they print the Story Tales also in the Yiddish language that we speak; and he said at that time that it can easily happen that a woman who is barren would read some story from them them and thereby conceive for goodly offspring and be privileged to have children; this is the extent of what I heard. [And there is support for this from what is explained in that aforementioned essay, that via these story tales a barren woman becomes impregnated.]
Source: Chayey Moharan Part 1: Conversations, Stories and Circumstances Surrounding All the Torahs and Stories, Pertaining to the Torahs 25, by Nathan of Breslov, the chief disciple and scribe of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.
The third thing the Rabbi said attracted my attention the most; especially because I was wondering why it appears in the same context with the first two. Changing the Tzadik to storyteller, the Rabbi’s idea reads:
The world says that the true storyteller of towering stature does not need much money, because why should he need money? But I said that there is such a contemplative understanding [of the Torah] for which one (a storyteller) needs all the fortune of the world.
You’re invited to stick your teeth into this. Just a friendly reminder – sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. This isn’t the case. Here, every word, description, title, idea, might be hiding or echoing something else. And… Rebbe Nachman of Breslov was an amazing storyteller. He knew something about our art.