On Yom Kippur, The Kedushat Levi, Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev, saw Yankel the tailor in the back of the shul gesticulating and being very animated. So after the long day of prayer was completed he went up the the tailor and said,
"Yankel, I couldn't help noticing how fervently you were praying, I hope I am not being intrusive to ask you what was that all about?"
"Well Rebbe I was talking with G!d about my sins. And I said to G!d, 'I did a few things that I regret this past year. I skimped on thread for the button holes, made hems a little smaller than they should be so I would have thread to patch my children's clothing. I got angry at my beloved wife a couple of times. These were my sins G!d'"
The Rebbe responded.
"Please forgive me, but these don't seem to be such major transgressions as to warrant the intense manner in which you offering your prayers."
"Yes, but I'm not finished explaining," the tailor continued.
I then said to haShem, "But You, You know very well that very close to here there was a progrom, and over there was a flood, and over here was a drought, and in the next town some homes were destroyed by fires. You have a pretty good list yourself. I'll make a deal with You. You forgive my sins and I'll forgive Your sins."
Reb Levi Yitzchak looked at him and said, "You fool. You had Him in the palm of your hand. Why did't you ask for the redemption?"
(Note: This story was recently retold to me by my teacher Rabbi Daniel Siegel. I have re-crafted it, and now it is your story to tell as well.)
Martin Buber, in Hasidism and Modern Man, tells the well known story of Rabbi Eizik, son of Rabbi Yekel of Cracow.
After many years of great poverty that had never shaken his faith in G!d, Rabbi Eizik dreamed that someone told him to look for a treasure in Prague, under the bridge that leads to the king's palace.
When the dream occurred a third time, Rabbi Eizik set out for Prague. But the bridge was guarded day and night and he did not dare start digging Nevertheless, he went to the bridge every morning and kept walking around it until evening.
Finally the guard, who had been watching him, asked in a kindly way whether he was looking for something or waiting for somebody. Rabbi Eizik told him if the dream that had brought him here from a faraway country.
The guard laughed: "And so because of a dream, you wore out your shoes to come here! As for having faith in dreams, if I had had it, I once had a dream that told me to go to Cracow and dig for treasure under the stove in the room of a Jew - Eizik, son of Yekel, that was the name! Eizik, son of Yekel! I can just imagine what it would be like, how I should have to try every house over there, where one half of the Jews are named Eizik and the other Yekel!"
As he laughed again. Rabbi Eizik excused himself, traveled home, dug up the treasure from under his own stove, and used the treasure to build the House of Prayer that is called "Reb Eizik Reb Yekel's Shul."
"Take this story to heart," added Buber, and make what it says your own. "There is something you cannot find out there in the world... there is a place within yourself where you can find it."
Re-told in Spiritual Judaism, by David Ariel, Pg 53
In Ropchitz, the town where Rabbi Naftali lived, it was the custom for the rich people whose house stood isolated or at the far end of the town to hire men to watch over their property by night. Late one evening when Rabbi Naftali was skirting the woods which circled the city, he met such a watchman walking up and down.
"For whom are you working?" he asked. The man told him and then inquired in his turn" And for whom are you working, Rabbi?"
The words struck the tzaddik like a shaft.
"I am not working for anybody just yet," he barely managed to say. Then he walked up and down beside the man for a long time.
"Will you be my servant?" he finally asked.
"I should like to," the man replied, "but what would be my duties?"
"To remind me of the One to who I am of service ."
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Mullah Nasruddin was resting under the shade of a tall and luscious walnut tree. As he sat daydreaming, he noticed huge pumpkins growing on delicate vines snaking across the ground. Then he looked up and squinted to see the tiny walnuts growing on the magnificent tree.
“How strange mother nature is,” he thought, “to make plump pumpkins grow on spindly vines while little walnuts have their own impressive tree.”
Just then, a walnut fell from above and landed with a ‘tock’ on Mullah Nasruddin’s head. The mullah rubbed his sore head, picked up the fallen walnut, and looked high up towards the branches of the tree. Then, he looked over thankfully at the swollen pumpkins growing safely on the ground.
“Oh mother nature, you are wise!
Once a samurai came to the Zen master Hakuin and asked,
“Master, tell me, what's the difference between heaven and hell?”
The master, found meditating on his matted floor, was quiet for some time. At last he slowly turned and gazed at the man.
He asked, "Who are you?"
“I am a samurai swordsman and a member of the
emperor’s personal guard.”
“You call yourself a samurai warrior?” said Hakuin doubtfully.
“Look at you, what kind of emperor would have you for a guard?
You look more like a beggar!”
“What?” the samurai shot back, growing red in the face. He reached for his sword.
“Oho!” said Hakuin. “So you have a sword, do you!
I bet you couldn't cut off the head of a fly with that."
The samurai could not contain himself. He drew his sword from its sheath
and lifted it above the head of the old monk.
Hakuin responded quickly, “That sir, is the gate to hell.”
R' Zalman tz'l teaches that a good maisa - a good story - is one where the heart surprises the mind.