The Story of the Forest
Barbara Myerhoff, 1935 - 1985
"There is a Hasidic story, repeated to me by Shmuel [a member of the Israel Levin Senior Center, the subject of much of Myerhoff's work] before he died, that sums up my feelings about nine years of work with the...Center people....
"When the great Rabbi Israel Baal Shem-Tov saw misfortune threatening the Jews, it was his custom to go into a certain part of the forest to meditate. There he would light a fire, say a special prayer, and the miracle would be accomplished and the misfortune averted. Later, when his disciple...had occasion...to intercede with heaven, he would go to the same place in the forest and say 'Master of the Universe, listen! I do not know how to light the fire, but I am still able to say the prayer.' Again the miracle would be accomplished.
"Still later, Rabbi Moshe-Lieb of Sasov, in order to save his people once more, would go into the forest and say: 'I do not know how to light the fire, I do not know the prayer, but I know the place and this must be sufficient.' It was sufficient and the miracle was accomplished.
"Then it fell to Rabbi Israel of Rizhyn to overcome misfortune. Sitting in his armchair, his head in his hands, he spoke to God: ' I am unable to light the fire and I do not know the prayer; I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is to tell the story, and this must be sufficient.'
"And it was sufficient."
- Quote from Mark Leviton, "Numbering Their Days," University of Southern California Chronicle Oct. 1980, 26.
- This story of the forest is also told in Elie Wiesel, Souls on Fire: Portraits and Legends of Hasidic Masters, trans. Marion Wiesel (New York: The Bibliophile Library, c1972).