Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Hasidic Parable Retold

"We are the Pilgrims, master; we shall go
Always a little further: it may be
Beyond that last blue mountain barred with snow,
Across that angry or that glimmering sea

Once upon a time, there was a Rabbi who lived away in a far away town. His father too was a well known Rabbi, known for his scholarship and had a large and devoted following. The son like many others had studied with his father and after finishing his studies, a wife had been found for him and he was being groomed to occupy his father’s seat in time. All was fine. Or so it seemed.

But the young Rabbi led a disturbed life. He did not sleep well and had dreams every night – of a country far away where he had his home and family where he really belonged and that his familiar home and family were strange places. He did not want to worry his wife, but he confided in his father but the old man’s prayers and ministrations did not seem to make any difference. The dreams continued and in fact increased in their intensity.

So one day, in the dead of the night, the young Rabbi crept away from his home, in search of the town and the house that he always saw in his dreams convinced that it was there that his true home lay. He had enough clarity in his dreams to seem to know the direction in which he needed to go; he set out with sure footed steps trying to cover as much distance possible before day break.

He covered as much distance as he could before the sun rose making it too hot to carry on any further. He found a shady tree, took off his bundle to use as a pillow and carefully set aside his sandals by his feet pointing in the direction in which he was to go and lay down. He was tired and for the first time in months, he slept well with no dreams to disturb him. When he woke up, the day was pretty far gone and he hurriedly opened his bundle, had his meager lunch of bread and cheese and threw a crumb at a friendly pup who had joined him under the tree at some point of his reverie.

He hurried up because he wanted to reach before sun down. And as he speeded up, he could gradually identify landmarks that he had seen in his dream and realized that h was not very far away. Finally after walking a couple of hours more, he recognized the house that he had seen in his dream. He walked into the house and was received warmly by his wife and the rest of the family; but strangely no one seemed surprised. The wife was the one he had seen in his dreams but her she seemed only mildly curious. After dinner in his new house, he went to sleep again and for the first time in months, he slept undisturbed.

When he woke up, his father was at his bed side. But his son was confused; for had he not traveled a whole day to the town and house which he had recognized in his dream? The old Rabbi sat down with his son for a final lesson. The house he was in and the house he had seen in his dream and the one to which he had walked was the same. But till now, it was his father’s house where he had a son’s privileges. After the journey that he had made, it was no longer his father’s house where he was the son; it was now his house where his father also lived. What his house was till now because he was born there became doubly his because he had now walked there on his own two feet. The truth that was his till now by virtue of birth and inheritance was now doubly his because he had discovered it for himself and he explored it with a spring in his step and a vigor that he had not known before.

Traditions and values are like that. Parents may teach them to their children, schools and social institutions may “teach” social norms, values and practices; but to be taught me not the same thing as to learn and to be introduced to the tradition and practice of one’s fore fathers is not the same thing as the initiate having embraced it for himself. That journey is seldom encouraged; we are all scared that a journey of discovery may push us or those we love off the precipice and we may never see them again. And it is true; we may not.

Letting go with the hope that our loved ones will find the values, priorities and options that we have come to cherish on their own steam, wearing out their sandals on the journey but eventually getting home is a scary proposition. And so we take the easy way out; clip their wings and cripple the limbs so that they can only hobble when they could gallop, flutter when they could soar away into the sky, but crippled and lame they may be, they at least stay within our short sighted line of vision.

“We travel not for trafficking alone;
By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned:
For lust of knowing what should not be known
We make the Golden Journey to Samarkand

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