By Rabbi Steven Bayar
This is Rabbi Bayar’s most recent post for Rabbis Without Borders-My Jewish Learning. This post was published on January 10, 2016.
Each of us is the main character in the story of our lives. We share ourselves with others by telling our narratives. It is through narratives that we often learn the greatest lessons. We live within the framework of tales about success and failure or good and evil. Our self-perception is seen through these accounts.
There is a reason that the Torah begins with stories. The entire book of Genesis and the first half of the book of Exodus tells the story of our people. These texts have a power that transcends time and history.
There is a story that is told about a Prince who thought he was a rooster. The King and Queen tried every remedy available but they could not convince him that he really was a human being. After many attempts a Rabbi came forward and promised a remedy. He introduced himself to the Prince as a fellow rooster and lived with the Prince for two weeks.
After that time he asked the Prince, “Why are we sleeping on the floor?”
The Prince replied, “that is what roosters do.”
The Rabbi asked, “Even roosters can sleep in beds.” So they began to sleep in beds.
You can guess the rest of the story. Eventually the Rabbi had the Prince eating, sleeping and talking just like a human being. As the Prince was about to resume his responsibilities, he turned to the Rabbi and asked, “How can I be a Prince when I know inside that I am just a rooster?”
The Rabbi replied, “Just because you are a rooster doesn’t mean you can’t act like a Prince.”
This story is the story of our people. No matter what we think of ourselves, it is what we do that determines who we are. And each person’s potential is unlimited. Look at our models: Moses had a speech defect and the Patriarchs had dysfunctional families. Some of the greatest rabbis in the Talmud were blind and deformed. We can achieve great heights.
It is also the story of the liberal rabbinate: How do we convince Jews that the most important aspect of one’s identity is self-perception and not the opinion of others? How do we educate those around us that judgmental attitudes are toxic ultimately self-defeating?
These beliefs are a great and awesome beauty within our tradition. Despite being mistake-prone human beings we can fly on eagle’s wings. All we have to do try. This kind of work has its rewards; it provides light in times of darkness and heals the wounds life gives us.