Many of us begin to question when sadness and tragedy strike. And rightly so. Many of us are questioning and doubting after the devastating tragedy that happened in New York this weekend.
For those of us on the path of Kabbalah, for those striving to live this wisdom in the face of difficulty, I’d like to share two true stories that took place among the great Kabbalists who lived a few centuries ago. I will make them as brief as possible.
The first story concerns a husband and wife who lived in the Ukraine a few hundred years ago. Their only child, a young boy, was deathly ill and no doctor could help them. The mother had heard about a Kabbalist who lived in another village so she pleaded with her husband to travel to the village and beg the Kabbalist to help save the life of their only child.
Her husband immediately when to see the Kabbalist, known as the Baal Shem Tov. He knocked his door and when the Kabbalist opened it and greeted the distraught father, the man began to plead with him to help eradicate the angel of death that was hovering over the bed of his only child.
The Baal Shem Tov promised he would try to help the boy that night. Well after midnight, the Kabbalist ascended to the Upper Worlds and he was heartbroken to see that for this young child, the gates of heaven were locked. There was absolutely nothing he could do. The next morning he told the hopeful father the tragic news.
As you can imagine, the father was devastated and broken. He begged the Kabbalist to keep trying. Of course, the Baal Shem Tov already knew that the gates of heaven were locked. But he could not bear to the break the man’s heart a second time. And so he promised he would try one more time.
After the father thanked him and left, a strange idea struck the mind of the Kabbalist. He asked his assistant and carriage driver to gather up ten thieves, the worst possible scoundrels possible. The assistant was naturally stunned by the unusual request. After all, why not round-up ten holy men? But he knew better than to question his master.
The assistant rode his horse and carriage around the village and rounded up the ten worst thieves he could find. After they arrived back at the Baal Shem Tov’s house, and after a bit of small talk, the Kabbalist asked these crooks to help him produce a great and powerful miracle.
The next morning, the parents of the sick child were out in the fields dancing and celebrating along with their boy. Miraculously, their little son was somehow healed during the night. By morning he was as healthy as could be, running and playing and having a wonderful time.
Suddenly, a horse and carriage pulled up by the field. The driver of the carriage summoned the father over. He explained that the Kabbalist was inside the carriage. He had come to see how the young child was doing. Well, as you can imagine, the father was still dancing and he jumped into the back of the carriage and thanked the Baal Shem Tov from the bottom of his heart.
Then he returned back to the field to dance with his wife and child.
The Kabbalist’s assistant was naturally pleased, but at the same time, something still bothered him.
He asked his master why he had to invite ten thieves to help out when he could have easily invited ten righteous men to come assist him.
The Kabbalist smiled. Then he explained the following to his confused assistant. He said that the first time he went up to heaven to try to help the boy, he saw that the gates were locked. When the father was heartbroken and he begged him to try again, the Kabbalist couldn’t say no. He couldn’t shatter the man a second time, even though there was nothing he could do.
After he had promised to try again, the idea to invite the thieves over to his house suddenly appeared in his mind.
That night, the Kabbalist explained, he went back up to heaven a second time to try to help the young boy. Except, once again, the gates were locked.
The assistant to the Baal Shem Tov was now really confused. “If the gates were still locked,” he asked, “how were you able to remove the decree of death hanging over the boy?”
The Kabbalist smiled and said, “This time, I had ten thieves with me. They picked the lock and we broke into heaven, That’s how we helped the child receive his miracle.”
That is the end of the first story.
A second story also concerns a father with a sick child on the verge of passing from this world. The saddened father paid a visit to a great Kabbalist and begged him to help procure a miracle for his child. The Kabbalist used all of his prayers and meditations as he ascended into the Upper Worlds but unfortunately, he was unable to change the decree that was set forth upon the child. The highest of angels had explained to the Kabbalist that this particular destiny must be carried out as part of a larger picture in the tikun and karma of the world and that perhaps, the reason for this could not be understood at this present time.
When the child’s father returned the next day, the Kabbalist shared the sad news with him. The man was grateful for the Kabbalist’s kind effort, but of course he himself was shattered and broken by the news. He wished the Kabbalist well then rode off on his horse and carriage, the tears streaming down his face.
About five minutes later, he heard the sound of horse hoofs trotting along the dirt road behind him. He turned back to see what it was and his eyes lit up. The Kabbalist’s horse and carriage were chasing after him. The man pulled his horse to a stop and wiped the tears from his face as the Kabbalist’s carriage pulled along side of him. The Kabbalist got out of his carriage and went and sat beside the man, taking hold of his hand.
“Are you bringing me good news?” the man asked expectantly. “Something has changed in the Upper Worlds?”
The man was devastated to see that there was no joy on the Kabbalists’ face. In fact, his eyes were red and swollen and filled with tears.
The Kabbalist squeezed the man’s hand tighter and said, “I was unable to bring you the miracle you needed on this occasion. But at least I can come and cry with you and share your pain.” The two men then embraced and shared tremendous heartache and tears together.
That is the end of the second story.
Of all the thousands of stories that have been recorded in history concerning the Kabbalists, right up to present day, and through all the years I have been at the Kabbalah Centre, it’s pretty much been one miracle after another for those students and teachers who walked this path. But there were and are moments when we as students, and when our teachers, are called upon to perform the hardest and most difficult act of sharing possible.
To hold a shattered person’s hand in our own.
To let those tears spill from our eyes.
To feel and share in the heart-rending pain of another.
To have our hearts broken along with the broken heart of those we care about.
To simply bring comfort and support and love and do nothing else when the ultimate, devastating sadness comes to those we know and care about. Sometimes we just have to love and cry and do nothing else.
This painful act also propels our world forward, by leaps and bounds, towards the ultimate goal that we in Kabbalah all seek: The final removal of death, pain and suffering from this world.
But until the work is finally over for good, amid all the miracles we see or experience ourselves, our tears, broken hearts and hand holding will sometimes be required for reasons that we do not always know.
Therein lies the ultimate act of certainty.
Therein lies the most difficult act of sharing with another human being.
It’s our certainty that our love, emotional support, tears and our sharing of another person’s unspeakable pain is moving us all forward to a world where pain no longer exists and dreams coming true becomes our eternal reality.
And, perhaps, most important, our steadfast certainty and sharing profoundly diminishes the doubt in this world, especially among those who are hurting the most, which then gives them strength and clarity to find deeper meaning and experience transformation to a higher level of being.