Thursday, April 14, 2011

Rabbi Nachman Story: The Cripple

  There was a Sage who, when he was about to die, called all his sons to him and gave them his last words. "Your task shall be the watering of trees," he said to them. "You may occupy yourselves with other things also, but you must never forget to water the trees." The Sage died, and left many sons. One among them was a cripple who could stand on his feet, but could not walk; and as he was unable to work for a living, his brothers gave him a share of their earnings. Their gifts were greater than his needs, so that little by little he saved a goodly sum of money. Then he thought, "I can now earn my own living by setting myself up as a merchant." As he could not walk, he bought a carriage, hired a servant and a coachman, and put all of his gold into a casket to take with him on the road to Leipzig. His brothers thought well of the cripple's plan to become a merchant, and gave him more money that he might thrive in his undertaking.
He rode forth on the highway. When the wagon came to a village the servant said, "Let us pass the night here" But the cripple wanted to go further, and commanded the servants against their wishes. They drove on, and lost their way in a forest.

Once there had been a famine in that land; then a man had come into the hungering city and cried, "Whoever would eat, let him come with me!" Many men ran to him, and he chose those of whom he had need. To one he said, "You might do as a workman," to another, "You might be a watchman," and so he
gathered many clever young men about him and took them into the forest where he taught them to be thieves, for he said, "The highway to Leipzig and to Breslau passes through these woods, and many rich merchants go that way."
When the carriage of the cripple passed, the robbers fell upon it. The servant and the coachman, who had legs, fled; but the cripple could only remain on the wagon.
The brigands came up to him and cried, "Why are you sitting there?"
"I am a cripple, and cannot move," he told them. So they took away his casket of gold, and they took the horses from the wagon, and they left him sitting there alone.
The cripple ate all the food he had brought with him, but when that was gone he did not know how he would live. At last he threw himself from the wagon to the earth.
Night came; he was alone in that wilderness. There were strange noises, then everything was still, and he became so frightened that his remaining strength went from him, and he could no longer stand on his feet, but could only drag himself along the ground.
In the day, he was very hungry, and he ate the grass that grew about him. When he had eaten all the wild grain he could reach, he pulled himself farther along the ground, and ate again. And so he lived, until one day he came to a plant that was like no other plant he had ever seen. He had eaten many sorts of grass, but never found any that pleased him so much as this, and he decided to pull it out entirely by its roots. As he did so, he found a four-sided token tangled in the
roots of the plant. On each edge of the token another message was inscribed. On one side, he read: "Whoever takes hold of this side of the token shall be carried to the place where day and night meet, and where the sun and moon come together." Since the cripple had taken hold of the token by that side when he found it in the roots of the plant, he was at once transported to the place of the sun and the moon. Then he heard the sun talking with the moon.
"There is a great tree that has many branches," said the sun, "and it is covered with leaves and fruit. Every twig, every leaf, every fruit has a power in itself. One brings wealth, another brings children, while still others heal all sorts of illnesses. If only that tree were watered, it would have a wondrous growth! But I am powerless to water the tree; instead, I shine upon it, and make it more arid and thirsty."
Then the moon said, "You are worried about others, but I have my own worries. For I have a thousand hills surrounded by another thousand hills, and there the demons live. They have no strength in their legs, for their feet are the feet of fowls; because of that, they steal strength out of my legs, and no strength remains in me. Once, I found a dust that healed my feet, but the wind came and blew the dust away."
The sun said to the moon, "I can tell you of a remedy. I know of a Way that divides into many ways; one is the path of the Tsadikim, for if the dust of that path is spread under a man's feet, and he steps upon that dust, he is at once a holy Tsadik; then there is a way of Unbelievers, for if the dust of that path is spread before a man and he walks a few steps upon it, he
becomes an Unbeliever; and there is a way of Madmen, for the dust of that path makes men into Madmen. There are all sorts of ways, many of which heal illnesses, and among them is a path for those who have no strength in their legs. Holy men have been persecuted and led in chains by their over-lords, until their legs could support them no longer; but when their chained feet walked upon the dust of the healing way, they had new strength, and could walk. Go there, for the dust is thick on that path, and it will be a remedy for you."
All this the cripple heard; then he looked on the token that he held and saw the writing on the second side: "Whoever grasps this side of the token shall be carried to the Way that divides into many ways." He grasped the token on that side, and at once found himself at the parting of the ways.
Then he walked on the dust that was a remedy for crippled feet, and at once he was healed. He went and gathered the dust of all the different ways, and made separate packages, one with the dust of madmen, another with the dust of Tsadikim, and so with every kind of dust; he took the packages, and returned to the woods where he had been robbed.
First he chose a high tree over the robber's lane. Then he mixed some of the dust of Tsadikim with some of the madmen's dust, and spread the mixture upon the road, and climbed into his tree and waited.
The robber chief had sent some of his men out to spy upon the highway; they came, and as soon as they set foot upon the dust they were turned to Tsadikim, and they began to bemoan their days that had been
spent in thieving and plundering, and they tore their breasts for the number of men they had murdered. But since the dust of madness was mingled with the dust of virtue, the thieves became mad Tsadikim, and one began to accuse the other of having brought them to murder, they quarrelled, and struck blows, and fought until they had killed each other, every one. Meanwhile the chieftain sent out other robbers to seek for those who had not returned, and they also walked on the same dust, and became mad Tsadikim, and fought and slew each other.
The healed cripple watched, until he knew that all the bandits had been killed, save the chief and one other. Then he went down from the tree and spread the pure dust of Tsadikim on the ground, and went back to his tree and waited.
The robber chief wondered why none of his band had returned, until at last he went out with his companion to find them. But as soon as he set foot upon the path he became a true Tsadik, and he held his head and moaned for the evil that he had done, and he tore his breast because of the murders he had committed, and he cried aloud over his sins, and begged for punishment.
Now the healed cripple came down from the tree. The chieftain ran to him begging, "Pronounce a punishment upon me!"
"First," the cripple said, "return the casket of gold that you took from me."
Each thing that was robbed, and the name of the person from whom it had been taken, was recorded in the book of the chieftain. "I'll give you your casket at once!" he cried, "and I'll give you all the other
treasures that I have stolen! Only tell me how I may be punished!"
"You must go to the city and say that you are he who once came in time of famine and called out for men to follow you, and you must give account of the robberies you have done, and the people you have killed, and the treasures you have stolen. That is your punishment," the cripple said.
Then the robber gave him all the stolen treasures, and they went into the city, where the robber cried out all his sins.
"Let us hang him," said the people of the city, "as an example for all other robbers." So he was hanged.

Then the healed cripple thought, "I will go to the two thousand mountains of the moon." And he took hold of another side of the token, and came to a place from which he could see all that happened in those mountains; he saw that they were filled with thousands of myriads of demon families whose countless numbers grew ever greater, for demons are fruitful and multiply as men. He saw their King seated upon a throne such as no man sits upon, while his subjects tumbled and sprang before him, and jested with wild laughter, telling him of their pranks.
"I tore an arm from a man!" one demon cried.
"I tore a leg from a man!" another demon boasted.
"I tore a babe from its mother!" cried a third.
And they laughed and were joyous.
But meanwhile the cripple saw two elderly demons,
father and mother, walking and weeping. Then they were asked why they wept.
"Each day our son would go out on his way," they said, "and return in his time; but today the time is long gone by, and he has not returned." Then they were brought before the King of Demons, and he commanded his servitors to go out over all the earth to find the missing one.
As the mother and father went from the King, they met a younger demon who had gone forth with their son, and they asked for news of their son.
"He is in torment!" the young one cried. "For we had an island on the sea, but an Emperor came who owned that island, and he wanted to build a palace there. The Emperor began to build foundations, but your son said, 'Let us tear his strength from him!' So we took away his strength. The Emperor called all his doctors, but they could not bring back his strength; then he called his magicians, and among them there was one who knew the Name of your son's family of demons, though he did not know of mine. By that Name, the magician caught your son, and he keeps him now in his power, and never ceases tormenting him."
The escaped one was brought before the King of Demons, and he told his story again. Then the great Demon said, "Let the Emperor's strength be returned to him, that the boy may be freed."
But the youthful demon said, "Among us there was one who had no strength, and we gave him the strength that we took from the Emperor."
"Take the strength back from your friend, and return it to the Emperor!" the King of Demons commanded.
"But our friend has become a Cloud," the youthful one said.
"Send a messenger to the Cloud, and command him to come before me!" the King of Demons decreed.
Then an emissary was sent for the Cloud. And the cripple, who had listened to the Demons all that while, thought, "I will go after the messenger, and see how an evil spirit may turn into a cloud." He went, and came to a city that lay under a vast and darksome cloud. Then the cripple asked a man in the city, "Is your city always so dark and cool?"
"There never before was a cloud over our city," the man replied. "But a short time ago this darkness came and covered the sky."
Just then the Demon's emissary called to the Cloud, and it went away with him.
"I'll follow again, and hear what they say!" the cripple thought. So he followed the Cloud, and heard it talking with the messenger.
"How did you come to take the form of a cloud over that city?" the messenger asked.
The Cloud answered, "Here is the story. Once there was a Sage who lived in a kingdom whose ruler was a terrible unbeliever, and that ruler demanded that all of his people become unbelievers. Then the Sage called together all his kin and said, 'You see that the King would make all the nation into unbelievers. Some of our own kind have already followed him. Then let us go into the desert, in order that we may not be torn from our faith.' All agreed, and the Sage
uttered a Name, and they found themselves in a wilderness. But that desert did not please him, so again he uttered a Name, and they were brought to a second wilderness; this also failed to please him; a third time he spoke the Name, and now they were brought to a desert that pleased him. And that desert was not far from the two thousand mountains of the moon.
"When they had chosen their place, the Sage drew a circle about them; and no power might break through that circle. There let us leave the Sage and all his family," the Cloud said, "while we speak of the Tree.
"There is a Tree that stands just beyond the two thousand mountains, and if that Tree were watered, all of our demon kind would come to an end, for there would be no more ill on earth. In order to keep the earth's water from coming to the Tree, numbers of demons stand near that Tree and dig the earth, day and night, to make a pit around it."
"Why must they remain forever digging?" the messenger asked. "Would it not suffice to dig the pit once?"
The Cloud answered, "There are whispering demons among us who go about the earth and whisper and murmur to one king and another, until they bring the kings to make war upon each other; then the earth quakes with war, and the soil tumbles back into the pit that is digged about the Tree. Then water might come to the Tree, and end our lives. So we must stand forever digging the pit, that no water may come to the tree.
"Whenever a King is crowned among us, and demons tumble and make merry before him, and tell him how they have torn arms and legs from men, and torn apart infants, then the King becomes joyful and his heart feels strong; he gathers about him all the lords of his kingdom, and walks over the two thousand hills with them; he leads them to the place of the Tree, and they try to see who may have the strength to uproot that Tree and put an end to the danger that stands against our kingdom. The King strengthens his heart that he may not fear the Tree, but as soon as he approaches it the Tree sends forth a great cry, and the King is frightened, and must turn back.
"Once there was a great King among us who held a marvellous feast, and when he had heard of the deeds of all his demons his heart was filled with strength, and he went out with his princes to pull up the Tree by its roots; but as he came to it the Tree cried out so terribly that even he was frightened, and he turned away, but with awful anger. As he turned, he saw men in the wilderness, for the Sage and his family lived there. Then the King sought to vent his anger upon them, and he called his demons, and sent them to tear apart that family.
"As the people saw the demons coming they were frightened, but the Sage said, 'Have no fear.'
"The demons could not approach the people because of the magic circle about their place. The King sent more and more armies against the Sage's people, but not all the warriors among all our myriads could pierce the Sage's circle. At last the King, in great wrath, strode to the border himself, and beat against it with his sword, but he could not get in. And when
his fury was spent, he begged, 'Let me come in within your circle.'
"At once the Sage replied, 'Since you ask, I will let you in among us. And since a King must not walk alone, you may bring a companion with you.' Then the Sage opened a little door, and allowed them to come in, and locked the circle after them.
"The King cried, 'How do you come to live upon my land?'
"'It is not your land,' the Sage replied, 'but mine.'
"The King said, 'Are you not afraid of me?'
"The Sage answered, 'I have no fear of you.'
"'You have no fear of me?' the King cried out again, and he drew himself up until his form towered to the very heavens. But the Sage replied, 'I have no fear of you at all; but if I wish it, I can make you fear me.' Then he went away and prayed, and at once a great cloud formed, and there was thunder in the heavens, and thunder is the death of demons."
All this the Cloud told the messenger. Then he continued:
"All the princes who stood outside the circle waiting for the King were killed at once by that thunder; and only the King and his companion remained alive.

"Then the King begged the Sage to put an end to the thunder; and the thunder ceased. The King was grateful and said, 'Since you are indeed a noble man, I will give you a book in which the Names of all our families of Demons are written. Among mankind there are masters of Names who know how to call one family, and not even all of that family. But you will know us every one, for even the Names of the newborn are written in the book of the King.' Then the
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[paragraph continues]King sent his companion, and thus it was shown how wise the Sage had been to cause him to bring a companion; and the book was brought. The Sage opened the book and saw that it was filled with thousands of myriads of Names.
"The King promised also that not one of the Sage's people should ever be harmed by demons. 'I will keep in my kingdom a portrait of each of your family,' the King said, 'and whenever a new babe is born among you, his image too shall be with us, so that the demons may know not to harm him.' Then the King went out of the circle, and returned into the hills.
"At last the time came for the Sage to leave the world, and he called his children to him and said, I leave you this book of Names, but know that although I have the power to use this book in purity, I have not made any use of it; and you also, even if one of you may have the power to use it in purity, let him make no use of it, but take his strength only from his belief in the Wonderful Name.'
"The Sage died, and his grandson became heir to the book. He, too, had the power to use it in purity, and yet he did not do so, but relied only upon the power of the Wonderful Name.
"But once the evil whisperers came to him, and spoke to him of his daughters. 'You have grown daughters, and no wealth with which to dower them. Make use of the book,' they said. He did not know that they who spoke were demons, but believed it was the voice of his own heart. Nevertheless he was uneasy, and he went to the grave of his grandfather, the Sage.
"He called to the grave and said, 'Grandfather, I
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remember well your command that the book should never be used, and I have until now relied upon my belief in the Wonderful Name. But now my heart tells me to make use of the Demon's book!'
"Then his grandfather spoke to him from the grave, saying, 'Even though you have power to use the book in purity, shun it, and rely only upon your belief in the Wonderful Name. Then the Name will help you.' The grandson returned, and did not touch the book.
"Then there came a day when the Emperor of that land where the Sage's family lived became sick, and no physician could cure him, for he suffered from the heat that was over his city. At last he commanded the Jews to pray for him to make him well.
"Then there was consternation among the Sage's people, for they feared the wrath of the Emperor if they could bring no cure for his illness.
"But our own King of Demons learned that the Sage's grandson had never made use of the book of our Names, although he had power to do so in purity. And our King was grateful to that man, who had power over us, but brought no hardship upon us. And our King desired to reward the Sage's grandson, and all his people, by helping them out of their danger. So the King commanded me to become a cloud and to hang over that city, that it might become cool, and that the Emperor might be healed of his illness. Therefore I became a cloud."
The cripple heard the Cloud tell this story, and then he saw the Cloud brought before the King of Demons. And the King took away all the Cloud's strength and returned it to that first Emperor who
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was building a palace on his island. That Emperor's magician released the imprisoned young demon, who returned to his father and mother. But the young demon was weak because of the punishment he had undergone, and in wrath at the magician who had tormented him. So he plotted with all his family of demons to revenge himself upon that magician.
But there are Whisperers among the demons; they heard the plot and warned the magician. He called to him other wizards who knew the Names of families of demons, and they made ready to do battle.
Then, in the two thousand hills of the moon, it was learned that the Whisperers had betrayed their own kind. And there came a division among the demons; some were with the Families, and some were with the Whisperers.
Once it happened that several of the Whisperers had to stand watch together with several demons of of the Families. Then the Demons of the Families made a plot, and went to the King with a false accusation against the Whisperers, saying they had whispered treason. The King believed the accusation, and at once caused the death of several of the Whisperers.
Now all the remaining Whisperers were furious at this injustice, and they went up on earth and brewed trouble among all the kings of earth, so that there was hunger, and pestilence, and death everywhere among men and among demons of the earth; then the whole world shook with the violence of battle, and earthquakes came of war. And then the walls of the Demon's pit fell inward, and the soil filled the pit and pressed against the Tree, and the water passed through the earth to the Tree, and the Tree drank.
And all the Demons perished.