all that matters are the stories

I was talking today with an old acquaintance who has been through a lot of different roles since becoming a rabbi–he’s done the really out-of-the-way  place pulpit/teacher/candlestick maker, the less out-of-the-way places where candlesticks were already in existence, but not much else, the straight teaching thing, and now he’s in the middle of nowhere but getting good money doing kiruv.

For those of you who don’t know what kiruv is, I guess, if you’re Jewish, you would be a candidate for it.

So let’s go to the source to find out what it means.

Orthodox Jewish outreach commonly referred to as Kiruv or Keruv (Hebrew: קירוב‎, “bringing close”), is the collective work or movement of Orthodox Judaism that reaches out to non-Orthodox Jews to believe in God, engage in Torah study, and practice the Mitzvot in the hope that they will live according to Orthodox Jewish law. The process and act/s of any Jew becoming more observant of Judaism is called teshuva (“return” in Hebrew) making the “returnee” a baal teshuva (“master of return”). Orthodox Jewish outreach has always reacted to and worked to foster and enhance the rise of a modern-day baal teshuva movement.

And just for fun, but really doesn’t satire bring out the reality (is the definition of pshat satire? or is that drash?)

But that wasn’t what I was thinking about writing now. It was about the stories. He told me anecdote after anecdote of his experiences in this new line of profession, and at one point, he said point-blank “All that matters are the stories.”

And the point is that, even though I can’t recall all of them, or the punch lines, the emotional impact was clear. And that is the point of the story-telling.

So I could tell you about the guy who came to him to learn Hebrew, even though he wasn’t even Jewish and he had to break his teeth on the gutteral sounds. And you might think that he decided to convert, but that wasn’t it. He really loved the learning, and he kept going, with various different Jewish texts. And he reported back to our friend about how he went to a dinner and got up in the middle of it because something bothered him, and when he came back, he told his friends that he had to leave because they were speaking lashon hara. That kills three people–the person who is being talked about, the person who is doing the talking, and the people who listen. And he didn’t want to get killed.

Or I could tell you about the kid who was learning about being Jewish, but really wasn’t the book type, so when he went in to take a test at school and realized he hadn’t done a lick of studying, he took out his kippah (that he had recently bought with his own money) out of his pocket , said the Shema, took the test, and took out his kippah and said Shema one more time before he turned it in to the teacher. When the teacher was ready to hand the test back, he asked him if he had studied, and the kid answered truthfully that he hadn’t but he had prayed. “Well, it worked. You got a C. Keep praying!”

You see what makes these two stories so powerful? They’re like great jokes–when the punch line is unexpected but delightful.

Not every story is delightful, but every grown-up story has an ending that you weren’t expecting.

We hope for happily ever after, but we have to settle for something else because we don’t want ever after. We want another story to come after that.

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