Reb on the Web

 

IS IT LITERALLY TRUE?

Now that we have begun to once again read from the Book of Genesis, it is time to replay all those famous stories. Are those stories really true?  Did God really build the first man out of sand?  Was there really a Garden of Eden?  How exactly did Noah fit all those animals into one ark?  Did Abraham really care so much about God that he was willing to sacrifice his own son Isaac just because God told him to do so?  And how many colors were there really in Joseph's coat?

People want to know - are those stories true or are they really good tall tales?  To be sure, there is not one answer to that question. Certainly many believe these stories to be literally true.  Still others realize that it is possible to find truth in a story without taking it literally.  Perhaps each of these tall tales carries within it an even taller life lesson.  It's all in how you hear the story. If you hear some of these stories slowly, then it will be abundantly clear that there is truth to be found in every sentence and in every syllable.

Let's just take one story and see it slowly.  Jacob gives his favorite son Joseph a coat of many colors.  Why is such a big deal made out of the coat being so colorful?  It is simply the story's way of telling you that Joseph felt the need to stand out.  At first, "standing out" meant parading around in a colorful coat that only he (and not his brothers) owned.  At first "standing out" meant that Joseph believed that he was the favorite and that he should be treated accordingly.  But soon Joseph lost that coat of many colors and instead found himself dressed in a drab prisoner's outfit.  It takes Joseph a good part of his life to realize that you don't need a colorful coat in order to stand out.

My point is that famous stories need not be taken literally.  See a story more deeply and that story will speak to you.

Another example - the famous philosopher Maimonides passed away and a funeral procession was formed to escort his body to be buried in Tiberias.  Legend has it that on the way to Tiberias the funeral procession was attacked by a band of Bedouins.  These thieves got their hands on the casket of Maimonides and tried to cast the casket into the sea.  But legend has it that the casket was so inexplicably heavy that the thieves became convinced that this casket must contain the remains of a holy man.  As a result the thieves rejoined the funeral procession and accompanied the mourners to the final resting place of the great Maimonides.

Did it really happen that way?  Who knows?  But perhaps the real truth of the story is that if we are able to touch the lives of others, then even when we are no longer on the face of this earth the people we have touched will continue to feel "the weight" of our presence.  Sometimes even those who do not know us well will also sense our uniqueness.  That is the lesson I take away from the story of what happened at the funeral. It's all in how you read the story.

This same process can work with almost any worthwhile story.  Sherry Emerson is 22 years old and she recently lost her grandmother.  Sherry loved her grandmother deeply and terribly missed her daily phone calls to grandma.  Sherry solved that by continuing to text her grandmother even though her grandmother was long gone.  This went on day after day and week after week.  Sherry would text her grandmother.  One day Sherry's phone rings.  She looks down at her phone and there is a message from her grandmother.  The text read - I am watching over you and it's going to get better.

Sherry was convinced that her grandmother was texting her from heaven.  What do you think?  Is there a larger message to the story?  Truth be told the phone company had reassigned grandma's phone number to someone else.  This someone else assumed that all the texts he was getting from the granddaughter were, in reality, jokes being texted by his own friends.  Therefore, when the man texted back by saying, "I am watching over you" - he was just making a joke.

So what's the message?  Yes it was all an innocent misunderstanding.  But sometimes the universe has a way of making you feel that a loved one is looking down over you.  Sometimes the universe has a way of letting you know that every day is a blessing and that the soul lives on in ways we cannot possibly fully comprehend.

So the next time you hear a really good story, ask yourself - even if it's not literally true, what's the real message of that story?