“Over the next few generations, more and more of the Baal Shem Tov’s miracle-making ritual was forgotten, so when the fourth Hasidic leader was told a now-familiar tale of woe, he was crestfallen. ‘Alas,’ he said. ‘We are a diminished people. I don’t know the chant, I can’t build a fire, and I have no idea where the clearing in the woods is.’”—Burt Kempner
By Burt Kempner
“Be joyful, though you have considered all the facts.”—Wendell Berry
GAINESVILLE Florida—(Weekly Hubris)—October 2018—A story has come down to us that the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the mystical Jewish sect, the Hasidim, once received word that his people were undergoing great suffering. He made his way into the deep woods to a clearing, built a fire and sang a wondrous chant. Conditions immediately improved for the Jews.
Years later, the Baal Shem Tov’s chief disciple received similar news. He called his followers to him. “I don’t know the words to the chant our Master sang, but I do know where the clearing in the woods is and I also know how to build a fire.” He worked with these attenuated tools and the outcome was similarly successful.
Over the next few generations, more and more of the Baal Shem Tov’s miracle-making ritual was forgotten, so when the fourth Hasidic leader was told a now-familiar tale of woe, he was crestfallen. “Alas,” he said. “We are a diminished people. I don’t know the chant, I can’t build a fire, and I have no idea where the clearing in the woods is.” Tears rolled down his cheeks, but suddenly his face lit up in a smile. “But I DO know the story!” And, lo, that was enough to save the day.
I have always described myself as an optimist, but I stopped doing it this year. I can no longer assume a happy ending. But I do know the story—and I’m sworn to keep telling it —so I continue to hope. I hope we will finally figure out that all living things are interconnected and act accordingly. I hope we will recognize that while violence might be part of human nature, so is art and music and medicine. I hope we will banish the phrase “It can’t be done,” and make a start anyway.
I’ve heard it said that hope is pernicious because it’s future-based and prevents one from living in The Eternal Now. I don’t buy it. I hold with the Iroquois that making major decisions based on how it will affect the next seven generations is just and honorable and I hope it will become the guiding principle of the post-Corporate Age.