The great rabbi Baal Shem-Tov loved his people. Whenever he sensed they were in danger, he would go to a secret place in the woods, light a special fire, and say a special prayer. Then, without fail, his people would be saved from danger. Baal Shem-Tov passed on the next generation’s was led by Magid of Mezritch. Whenever he sensed the people were in danger, he would go to the secret place in the woods. “Dear God,” he would say, “I don’t know how to light the special fire, but I know the special prayer. Please let that be good enough.” It was, and the people would once again be saved from danger. When Magid passed on, he was succeeded by another rabbi, the Rabbi Moshe-leib of Sasov, and whenever he heard that his people were in danger, he would go to the secret place in the woods. “Dear God,” he would say, “I don’t know how to make the special fire, I don’t know how to say the special prayer, but I know this secret place in the woods. Please let that be good enough.” It was, and the people would once again be saved from danger. When Rabbi Moshe passed, he was succeeded by Rabbi Israel of Rizhyn, and whenever somebody told him that his people were in danger, he didn’t even get out of his armchair. He could only bow his head and shrug his shoulders. “Dear God,” he would pray, “I don’t know how to make the special fire. I don’t know how to say the special prayer. I don’t even know the secret place in the woods. All I know is the story, and I’m hoping that’s good enough.” It was, and his people would be saved.
“He didn’t even get out of his armchair.”
He knew the story, he believed that God heard him when he prayed, and that was enough. There was no need for a long trip to the woods; he didn’t ask his attendants to burn sage or light some candles. He didn’t fall to his knees and pray the prayer of petition. His action was not backed by ritual or custom, save for the only thing that was actually passed down to him: FAITH.
Do you find yourself asking, after reading this story, “Well why didn’t Baal teach Magid how to light the fire? And Magid, who already lost a piece of the tradition, surely he should’ve known to at least tell Moshe the special prayer!” The answer is simple — the rabbis did not waste their time teaching rituals and practices, they demonstrated and illuminated the power of faith through connection. Baal knew that God listened, and that is what he passed down to Moshe, who passed it on and on, and now their message is being spoken here today. The Universe is listening, she is eternally responding to your intentions by creating your world as a reflection of your heart. Who knows why Baal went to the woods way back when, maybe it was to get away from the noise of the town. Who knows why he lit a fire, maybe it was just dark and creepy in the woods. It seems to me that his prayer was not all that special, and his meditation may have been a nice way to past the time!
It could be that at some point someone taught Moshe that in order to have a clean heart he needed to do those things. But he was a wise man who quickly discovered on his own that ritualized activitiy does not create a clean heart. He knew this only came by living congruently with your faith on a moment to moment basis. That is what he passed down to later generations. And the message became so clear, so well established in his tribe, that by the time Israel came along he hardly felt the need to move a muscle. Having already been established in his connection with God, he says:
“I know the story: When we need you, you come running; When it’s dark, you bring the light; When we get weary, you renew our strength. We were hungry in the time of Moshe and you sent bread and milk. The invaders came to the edges of our town and your storms drove them away. I don’t need any more evidence of your grace nor a grand gesture of petition, because you are already here, with us, saving us, delivering us.”
This story is a reminder to not get stuck in tradition and ritual while forgetting about the connection they were created to symbolize. Light your fires, but remember who you are. Say your prayers, but remember who you are. Sit in silent contemplation while remembering who you are. It is never the practice of the ritual that sets us free — it is always the faith in our oneness with divinity and the living of that faith on a daily basis, that gives us power. Do not be fooled into thinking that you ever have to go somewhere, pay some fee, or prostrate yourself in front of some altar, in order to be heard by the gods of your heart. Right here, right now, is your altar.
It is impossible to be separate from God, it is only by being deluded by the dominance of the mind-body that makes us believe such a thing could happen. You can immediately and constantly affirm your worthiness for healing, for peace, for “worth-while success,” with no ritual required.
May you know yourself today.
*DAILY DOUBLE* Here’s a bonus story!
When the spiritual teacher and his disciples began their evening meditation, the cat who lived in the monastery made such noise that it distracted them. So the teacher ordered that the cat be tied up during the evening practice. Years later, when the teacher died, the cat continued to be tied up during the meditation session. And when the cat eventually died, another cat was brought to the monastery and tied up. Centuries later, learned descendants of the spiritual teacher wrote scholarly treatises about the religious significance of tying up a cat for meditation practice.