INTRODUCTION

From Chicken Soup for the Jewish Soul

Introduction

The metaphor of chicken soup as a source of healing and nourishment has been a Jewish linguistic and dietary staple from time immemorial. Likewise, storytelling as an instrument of healing goes back to the earliest stories of Genesis in the Bible. The Jewish influence on the fundamentals of the Chicken Soup series is long and deep. While this particular collection of Jewish tales has been in the making for several years, it can be comfortably said that every Jewish story, from Adam and Eve to Natan Sharansky, is chicken soup to every human soul. Thus, the entire Chicken Soup series has a very Jewish as well as a universal basis.

Ever since the publication of the first Chicken Soup books, readers have been enthusiastically waiting for a book of Chicken Soup stories with Jewish content. How can there be a series of story books, after all, and not have as one of its most distinguished members a book of Jewish stories?

Many people ask the question: What is the secret of Jewish survival? What other people have been driven from their homeland, time and again, persecuted, beaten down, wandered the four corners of the earth, and yet have had an impact so far out of proportion to their still-small numbers, that it defies the imagination? Perhaps it is because when the People left the Land of their ancestors, they carried their stories with them.

No enemy could destroy an inspiring tale in the heart of a banished Jew. No ravage of disease, dislocation or disheartenment could ever rob the People of the Book of the uplifting and inspiring stories contained in their special Book.

Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel has written that God created the human race because of God’s love for stories. Without creatures on the Earth, what stories could be wrought to bring God the joy, intrigue, curiosity, celebration and sanctification that are imbedded in each and every Jewish story?

Among the stories within the covers of this volume, we have striven to select tales that reflect both the glory and the honor of the proud record of the Jewish people. But even in its times of blackest darkness, its deep collection of legends, anecdotes and narrative traditions of hope and future redemption kept the Jewish people from succumbing to despair or to spiritual or moral deprivation.

The Yiddishisms (who doesn’t know what chutzpah, maven or shlep mean?), the universal Hebrew words (shalom, halleluyah, amen, Sabbath, etc.) have burrowed their way into English and other languages, along with their values, cultural norms and spiritual traditions. So have Jewish stories. Legends and tales from the Talmud, the Midrash, medieval folklore, and modern literary novels contain so much Jewish culture and values that one can say that just by reading Jewish stories one learns much of the history, ideals and sacred occasions of Jewish life.

If Jews have survived for four thousand years, from Abraham and Sarah to Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir, it is because no group of Jews has ever lived their life without carrying a chockful bag of parables, anecdotes and narratives to share with their family, neighbors and anyone who loves a good story. But Jewish stories are not simply stories—they are stories of courage, devotion to education and learning, perseverance, piety, familial love, community solidarity, heroic behavior, noble endeavors and extraordinary achievements.

It is no accident, therefore, that the two coauthors who began this popular series some seven years ago thought of calling it by a Jewish title—Chicken Soup for the Soul. Both chicken soup and stories are quintessentially Jewish. But, then again, most things the Jews have given the world for the last many millennia have become the cultural and spiritual baggage of all major religions, cultures and national groups.

We conclude with a story about stories. This story comes from the Hasidic tradition. Hasidism is that eighteenth-century movement that brought fire, spirit, inspiration, song, love and rich stories back to many Jews who had been bent over by the weight of prejudice and discrimination. Their stories have been resurrected and spread like magical seeds nourishing the earth’s soil by Martin Buber, perhaps the best-known Jewish teacher of the last century.

In the middle eighteenth century, when Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov saw misfortune threatening the Jewish people, he went into a certain part of the forest. There he lit a fire and said a prayer. Then a miracle happened, and misfortune was kept at bay.

Later, when his disciple, the Maggid of Mezritch, was forced to intercede before God on behalf of the Jewish people, he went to that same place in the forest and said: “Ruler of the Universe, I do not know how to light the fire, but I can still recite the prayer.” Once more a miracle occurred, and misfortune was averted.

Still later, Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov, in order to save his people, went to the forest and said, “I don’t know how to light the fire. I don’t know how to say the prayer. But I do know the place to go, and I pray that this will be sufficient.” It was, and again a miracle was accomplished.

Then it fell to Rabbi Israel of Rizhin to conquer misfortune. Sitting in his easy chair, the rabbi spoke to God, “I cannot light the fire. I cannot recite the prayer. I no longer know the exact place in the forest. All I can do is tell the story, and this must be sufficient.” And it was.

The story was all that was left. And it was more than enough. There are times when all we have is the story. And it must be sufficient.

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