When the sun sets the light returns to the lamp

The title of this entry is a quote from a four-year-old boy. Because he is my grandson, I allow myself to call him ‘Mr. Little’ and he agrees. He has another one, “There’s water in the ice and they come out of the holes.” It joins another his mother said when she was his age, “My mother waves her baton and a song comes out.” What caught my attention in these three charming statements is the initiative to give a tangible container to something that does not exactly hold form, and it is not entirely clear where it comes from – light, water, music.

I recalled these quotes during a discussion we had recently, in a group of community storytellers. The discussion dealt with the four sons of the Haggadah and what we can learn from there about how to treat different people in a circle of learners. A Midrash appears immediately after the part about the four sons:

One may think that [the discussion of the exodus] must be from the first of the month. The Talmud says, `On that day.’ `On that day,’ however, could mean ‘while it is yet daytime’; the Talmud says, `It is because of this.’ The expression `because of this’ can only be said when matzah and maror are placed before you.

Meaning: there is an order to remember the Exodus from Egypt every day. The reminder appears in the daily Morning Prayer. There is another order – to tell the story of the exodus from Egypt. It is a big story, which we are ordered to tell once a year in a family gathering titled the night of the Seder.

According to the Midrash, someone asked if it was possible to begin the telling and discussion from the beginning of the month of Nissan, and not only on the Seder night. It is said – only on the day of the holiday. So maybe we can start the day before or in the morning? It is said – except when there is matzah and bitter herbs in front of you, which is only on Seder night.

Only when there is something concrete in front of you, from which you can start explaining and telling stories about things you do not know enough about to even ask relevant questions. Again, this matter of giving a concrete container to something that does not exactly hold shape, and it is not entirely clear where it comes from.

Which reminded me of a small event with a Jewish-Ethiopian woman whom I helped find her exodus story; she had a story, she managed to get it out. In one of our later exercises, we recorded turning points in the story onto small notes. When we finished the documentation, she looked at the set of notes and said, “Now I have a story.” As far as I was concerned, she had a story before; she felt it as real only when its skeleton was recorded on the notes – another expression of the need for a tangible container.

The “story stick” was mentioned as a common practice in storytelling events, were an ornate stick passes from hand to hand. The person who holds it is the person who gets the permission to tell a story. Anyone who demands it for himself knows that he has a story to tell and that it’s time.

Another practice is using a large stone that passes from hand to hand. Whoever holds it agrees with all those present that it is his turn to speak. Or a sub-example from the storyteller Arik Schmeidler of blessed memory – a carved stick from which he “pulled” his stories, and to the contrary, perhaps the stories carved through him the stick to tell them. Who knows…

From there we continued to one of the familiar issues of storytellers, the matter of the “costume.” I’m not relating here to the out-of-place phenomenon we see in Israel in recent years: parents do not buy tickets for a storytelling event if the storyteller does not come with costumes and accessories. The group’s discussion revolved around the need of storytellers to help them make the transition to their own storyteller character. There are beautiful and interesting examples. Yet the truth needs to be told – they are not necessary. A storyteller can come up with nothing but his own skills and engage an audience for a long time.

Yet, there is an internal need. It relates to the idea that runs along this entry – the need to give a tangible container to something that does not exactly hold form and it is not entirely clear where it comes from – like being a storyteller – the need to illustrate this part of your identity. A storyteller is a “uniform-less” occupation – until the narrator opens his mouth. In a world that has so many uniforms, symbols, tangible representations of identities, occupations and roles, it is hard to hold on to a uniform-less profession.

And there is another need related to the same matter: the need to make the transition to that “place”. It’s a little different from being your “normal”. It’s not another character; it’s more of an internal movement towards a place within me from which I am directed to tell stories; to communicate with people, to listen deeply, to clear all the noise outside the court of storytelling. There are those who solve the transition using a clothing accessory such as a hat, or a certain garment that is not exactly an outfit but a “working” garment. There are those who use a vocal warmup for passage, there are those who need seclusion or silence before an act and some like me who just switch. In any case, there is a transition there and this passage has a very concrete expression, even if it is not visible.

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