Why is it we are always looking at some short pithy cliched aphorism, tacked onto a photo, lacking in texture, feeling or understanding but given out as if the person offering was a guru. It’s the post modern, post ironic, post truth world, everyone is a Guru for 15 seconds or 15 millennia. We all seem to be looking for an answer without ever framing the question properly. Our longing to connect, to give and receive meaning, is at odds with a business world plugged in to tech, that has lost its way and won’t admit it.
In Hasidism the founder was known as Ball Shem Tov he was a religious genius and a pioneer. One day a calamity threatened the community in which he lived and so he called his chief disciple and said ‘come let us go into the woods’ They went to a special spot that the master seemed to know and he built a particular kind of fire and offered up prayer. He said ‘Oh God, thy people are in dire need, please help us in this moment of distress’ The he said to his disciple, ‘its all right now. everything will be alright’. They went back and indeed found that the calamity which had been impending had somehow been averted.
So the master died and in the next generation the disciple became the new leader, and in his day there was another major disaster that threatened to wipe out the community. So he took his chief disciple into the woods, but he had forgotten just where the right place was, though he did remember how to light the fire. So he said ‘Oh God I dont know where the place is but you are everywhere, so let me light the fire here. Your people need you, calamity threatens. Please help’ After the prayer he turned to his disciple and said ‘ it is all right now’ and they went back they were greeted with the amazing news that the threat had been removed..
Well then that disciple became the master in the next generation and once again catastrophe was imminent. This time he went with his disciple, he no longer knew the place and he had forgotten how to light the fire, but he still knew the prayer, and said ‘ God, I dont know this place very well but you are everywhere, I don’t know how to make the fire, but all the elements are in your hands, your people need you, please help’ then he turned to his disciple and said ‘its all right’ lets go back. They went back and it was alright.
Now here we are in this generation we do not know who the leader is, or even what leadership is, we have no understanding of discipleship, we do not know the place, we no longer know how to make the fire and we dont even know how to pray, so all we can do is tell the story and hope that somehow by telling the story itself it will help us in our hour of need.
I rather like this story as an echo of the sense of need, that so many of us seem to have, of something that is lost. This not about religion or even self, but a sense of who we are as a whole.