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Can You See the Turning?

by Doug Lipman

Rabbi Pesach Mendel was playing with the children outside the synagogue. Eventually, the children all got tired and sat down on the ground. The rabbi leaned against his usual tree. He said, "Who has a question, this time?"

A little girl said, "Me."

"All right, Feygele. What is it?"

"Rabbi, why doesn't the baker come to services anymore? He was a nice man. He gave me bread."

The rabbi sighed. "Actually, Feygele, it's because I have to do teshuvah."

"What's that?"

"Well, the word means 'turning' or 'repentance.' But it's really like this: Have you ever seen a stick floating down the river? How it's lined up with the current and floats easily? But sometimes it gets caught on a rock, and gets turned against the current. Then it just shakes. Or sometimes it gets beaten against the rock, and gets smaller and smaller."

They nodded.

"Well," the rabbi went on. "If God is the river, then your soul is the stick. And if the stick gets free of the rock and gets lined up with the current again and floats easy - that's teshuvah."

Feygele screwed up her face in puzzlement. "Can you see if somebody's soul is lined up?"

"No. When someone does teshuvah, you can't really tell by looking at them."

"I could," said the little girl. "I could tell, rabbi."

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First thing the next morning, the rabbi called together a meeting of those who were most important in the running of the synagogue. When they were gathered, he said to them, "I have to tell you something I did - and I don't know how to make it better. Maybe you can help me."

"I hurt the feelings of the baker," he went on. "I complained about his clothes leaving flour all over my office. For some reason, at the moment, it seemed important! That was just a few days ago. I tried to apologize to him. I went to his house. I even went to find him at the bakery one night. But he seems to be avoiding me. Please, help me figure out how to make this right!"

Reb Dovid looked horrified. "You, rabbi? No! For over a month, I've been complaining about the flour he leaves on the bench after morning prayers. It was me!"

The widow said, "Oh, no!" Everyone turned to face her. "My house is right next to the synagogue, and I do have an extra room with its own entrance. But when the baker asked if he could leave a change of clothes there, to put on after his all-night job and before morning prayers, I just thought it didn't look proper to have a man entering my house. I told him, 'No.'"

The rabbi said, "I see. We are all stuck on the same stone."

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The next morning, when the baker came from his night's work, he got to his little house on the outskirts of town - only to see a crowd outside his house. Half the congregation must have been there! They were all pleading with him, "Forgive me! Forgive us!" They were blocking the way into the house. There was no place for him to escape from his embarrassment.

At last, he let the rabbi hug him. The two men held each other a long time, tears in both their eyes. Then the baker let each of the others apologize.

Soon, they were all filing back into town for the morning services. As they came up to the door of the synagogue, they heard the laughter of a little girl.

"I was right, rabbi. Look at you!"

Rabbi Pesach Mendel looked down at the white mark of a baker's hug on his clothes. "I guess you're right, Feygele. Sometimes, when someone has done teshuvah, you can tell by looking."

This story is a sequel to The Wheat Doll.

New! This story will be recorded on Can You Hear the Silence? - Hasidic Stories for the 21st Century, a recording of new Hasidic stories and songs that speak to the joy, humor, mystery, and wisdom we've come to love in Jewish mystical stories - presented in a form that's accessible to listeners of any background. Pre-order in the next 7 days, and save up to 34%! Buy three (great gifts!) and save up to $22.20! Read more at http://storydynamics.com/cyhs.



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This page was last updated on Tuesday, August 5, 2003
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