There are two things that Jewish people love above all else: talking and eating. My aunt, who lives in Israel, always says, “it wouldn’t be Jewish if we weren’t all around a table talking, laughing, and eating.”
Because God Loves Stories: An Anthology of Jewish Storytelling is the result of 36 Jewish storytellers sitting around a table and telling stories, each of whom spin tales of old to express his or her own visions of Jewish culture. Stories from the Bible are carefully woven through family accounts of Jewish summer camp, Holocaust stories, and stories about the core of the religion itself.
I often found myself talking back to these storytellers, saying out loud how I agree or disagree with their point of view…how their story reminded me of something my great-grandfather used to say…and how I can relate to the pain and confusion that goes along with not knowing where you belong. This is a brilliant look into Judaism and the blood that keeps it thriving. It’s also a great guide for those who are, for whatever reason, separated from their roots, lost in religion, or need some reminder of what anchors them to their ancestors.
For those who are not Jewish or are not familiar with the stories of the Jewish people, do not pass this book up. Chances are there’s at least one story in this anthology that will touch you, inspire you, or motivate you. They are each told with such love and care that it would be impossible not to be somewhat spiritually renewed and regenerated after reading them.
One of my favorite stories in Because God Loves Stories was brought up by storyteller Nina Jaffe. “The Most Precious Thing” is a story with the backbone of a tale from the Talmud spun with themes almost all of us can relate to: love, marriage, and divorce.
In this tale, a couple experiences great sadness after living many years without having children. At that time, the law stated that the couple had grounds to divorce if the woman was unable to have a child…and this thought was brought up by the couple many times over the years. When they finally agreed that a divorce would be the best thing, they sought the advice and help of one Rabbie Simeon Bar Yochai. They told him about their inability to conceive and how they thought a divorce would be the best thing…that way at least the husband can find a woman with whom he could reproduce. The rabbi, who was a very wise man, looked at the couple and could tell that a divorce was really not what they needed. What they needed was each other. He told them to go back home and cook a splendid Sabbath dinner and celebrate the many years they have shared. They agreed and left for their home.
On the way home, the husband turned to the wife and told her how much he loved her and how he was so appreciative of her being faithful to him for so many years. He told her that before she was to leave the following day, she could take the one thing in the house that was most precious to her. She agreed.
That night the couple feasted to their hearts content. The husband ate and drank and eventually fell asleep, exhausted and full. When he awoke, he was in a place he did not recognize. He saw his wife and asked her where he was.
“Don’t you remember your promise to me?” she replied. “You told me before we parted that I could take with me the most precious thing I could find…I looked over all we owned, but I could find nothing as precious as you.”
When he heard those words, the husband smiled and took her in his arms. He brought her back to their home where they continued to do as they have always done…living life happy and content with one another.
Like all Jewish stories, this one has many versions and endings. In one ending, the couple return to their home and shortly after are blessed with a child. In another version, the couple return and live the rest of their years together, always knowing that the only thing they need is each other.
“The Most Precious Thing”, like so many other stories in this collection, could reach anyone of any religion. Because God Loves Stories is solely a collection of the stories we all know…with a few more “oye veh’s” and sprinkled with Yiddish wit.
NEXT WEEK: “IF YOU CONTACT THE AUTHORITIES, WE DISAPPEAR. YOU WILL NEVER KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO HER. WE WILL BE WATCHING. WE WANT TWO MILLION DOLLARS. GET THE MONEY READY. GO HOME AND WAIT. THERE WILL BE NO SECOND CHANCE.” Eeep!
Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.