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Teaching Tales from the Sufi & Hasidic Traditions
by Michael Berman
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The Passover Elf Helps Great-Grandmother

One Saturday evening in fall, after the holidays, my great-grandmother was standing beside the stove rendering down goose fat. She was all alone in the kitchen; the house was hushed and still. Suddenly in the chimney corner, she saw a tiny hand stretched out, palm up, as if it were asking for something. She felt terribly frightened but forced herself to remain calm while she put a piece of crackling into the little hand. The she started to pour the rendered fat from the frying pan into containers. But no matter how often she poured from the pan, it stayed full. She poured and poured until every vessel in the house was brimming with fat. Every pot, every pitcher, every tub. And the fat continued to flow as from a spring.

About midnight my great-grandfather woke up and saw that the kitchen was brightly lighted and his wife was still standing at the stove. He got out of bed and said irritably, “Why are you fussing with that fat at this hour? It’s almost dawn.”

“Well,” said my great-grandmother, “there went that. Too bad. Our household was being blessed: we had an elf, a shretele, in the house, and now you’ve chased it away.”

Instead of being victims, we can take responsibility for what happens to us. The question that forms the title of the next tale could be replaced by the following: “Who’s in control of your life?”

Who's Milking The Cows?

There was a dairyman who had several cows that gave a great deal of milk. When they suddenly went dry, he realized that someone must be milking them. He watched them carefully all day but saw no one, yet when he tried to milk them the next morning, he couldn’t get even a glassful from them. That night at nine o’ clock, the man went into the cow barn. He lighted a candle and set it under a great barrel, hid himself in a corner, and settled down for the night. At two in the morning he heard footsteps; then a tiny man and a tiny woman came into the barn. They both wore little caps, and the woman’s hair was braided and tied with pretty ribbons. He watched as they seated themselves on milking stools, set buckets under the cows, and started in to milk. At that the man upended the barrel, and when his candle lit up the barn the kapelyushniklekh, the little cap-wearers, started running. The male got away, but the dairyman was able to catch the female, and he beat her severely. She pleaded with him, saying, “If you spare my life we’ll never come back, and your cows will give you double the amount of milk they used to.”

And that’s exactly what happened.

Now for some examples from the Sufi tradition. For many of us life is spent searching for something that we never seem able to find. The reason for this can perhaps be found in the following tale:

The Key

A drunk is searching the ground under a street lamp. A friend sees him there and asks him what he is doing. The drunk slurs, "I'm looking for my key." The friend helps him search everywhere. Half an hour later they still have not found the key. The friend asks, "Are you sure you lost it here?" "No," replies the drunk, "I lost it inside my house." "Then why are you looking here?" "Because the light is here."

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