The Power of Stories

Flashback to 2009, when my middle son was 5 years old:

“Tell me a story,” he asked. Not, read me a story. Tell me a story.

“Ok,” I replied. “You pick the characters.”

“A rabbit and a porcupine,” he said. And, thus began our family tradition of telling stories.

Most of the main characters have been animals, named after my sons, and all of the stories have a moral. Be a good friend. Tell the truth. Help someone in need. While every story was original, made up on the spot, the tradition of telling stories and the values learned from them are steeped in Jewish history and wisdom.

Stories are powerful. That is why there are books upon books of Jewish stories told through the ages (a couple of my favorite collections: Three Times Chai and Ten Classic Jewish Children’s Stories). Stories engage both children and adults and are a great mode for transmitting our values. The Torah, and even the Talmud, one of our most sacred rabbinic texts, are filled with stories!

Our sages knew the emotive power of stories. They connect us to our past, grounding us in generations of collective memory and shared wisdom. They give us guidance on how to live our lives today. And, they intimate our hopes for the future. Jewish stories often allude to a more perfect world to come that will be revealed if we follow their lessons.

These ancient stories speak to us and call on us to add our voices to this rich tradition. Whether it’s crafting new ones to share our own words of wisdom or recounting tales of family exploits and experiences, our personal stories have a place in history, too.

As I write this, I’m sitting at a state writing competition in which my son is participating. I’m wondering what stories he will write and, someday, what stories he will tell. Will they be about animals named after his children? Will he share the stories he’s heard about ancestors he never had the opportunity to know, about his great great uncles who were gymnasts, or how his great grandmother escaped the Cossacks in Russia? Will he tell stories from his childhood, about our family trips to Maine or how he once cut his thumb on a frog craft for Passover and had to get stitches? Will he share stories about Shabbat at summer camp, or the times he volunteered to lead Shabbat services at a retirement community? Will he tell Jewish stories of loving your neighbor, judging others favorably, and providing for those in need?

Whatever stories he remembers and relays, I hope they make him feel the strength of connection to his Jewish family. I hope they guide him to make good choices and embrace Jewish wisdom. I hope the stories he keeps in his heart are the ones that make him feel supported, inspired and loved.

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