The year was 1964. My husband and I were the proud parents of a "beybi" boy, Matthew. We purchased a beautiful wooden rocking chair at Restful Fine Furniture in Bayshore, New York. It had a smooth carved back and perfectly positioned arm rests, with intricately designed legs and spindles. Everyone agreed that it was a "perfekt" fit for "der kinder-tsimer" (nursery).
That "shtul" was used for Matthew's two brothers, Jonathan and Daniel.
Chairs come in many styles: Adirondack chairs, bean bag chairs, Queen Anne chairs, ergonomic executive leather chairs, etc.
Rabbi Jessica Locketz (Temple Emanuel of South Hills, Pittsburgh, PA) gave a fascinating Erev Rosh HaShana 5771 2010 Sermon, titled, "Is The Chair You Are Sitting On Empty?"
Is the chair that you are sitting on empty?
"Ridiculous! How can that be?"
"You're right; it can't be...because you're sitting on it."
But it is possible for a person sitting on that chair to feel empty
Then the chair is empty - even when occupied!
These words were taken from Reb Nachman of Breslov. Rebbe Nachman (1772-1810) was the great grandson of Rabbi Israel, The Baal Shem Tov--"Master of the Good Name." Rebbe Nachman was a Kabbalist and a mystic of the highest order. At the same time he was artlessly "praktish" (practical) and down-to-earth. He told tales of princes and princesses, beggars and kings, demons and saints, and he taught of the need to live with "emune" (faith), "erlekhkayt" (honesty), and simplicity.
So, what can one write about a chair--a "shtul"?
I recently had the pleasure of reading Laney Katz Becker's book, "Three Times Chai - 54 Rabbis Tell Their Favorite Stories." There, on page 24, is Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso's favorite story. She says, "It's not just a true story; it is also a truth story."
The story is titled, "Reb Nachman's Chair."
In the early 1800s, a butcher who lived in the town of Teplyk presented a gift to Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, a city in the Ukraine. The gift was a most exquisite and beautiful chair, and everyone who laid eyes on it immediately knew that the chair was something special.
Rabbi Nachman loved his gift; he sat in that chair all the days of his life. One night Rabbi Nachman dreamed that he was sitting in his chair as it flew through the clouds and carried him up to the heavens. In his dream, Rabbi Nachman saw himself approaching Jerusalem, but as he drew closer to the city, he woke up.
After Rabbi Nachman died, his disciples kept the chair in the rabbi's memory. The chair was given a special place next to the ark in the synagogue, where it remained for decades--until World War II.
When the Nazis invaded, the descendants of the disciples of Rabbi Nachman realized that in order to find a way to escape the Holocaust, they would have to scatter. But what should they do about the chair? They knew they couldn't leave it behind, but they knew that the chair was too large for any one of them to carry. So they cut the chair into pieces. Each descendant of the disciples took one piece of the chair. Finally, before fleeing, the descendants of the disciples of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav made a promise to one another: At the end of the terrible war, they would meet again in Jerusalem, and there they would reassemble the chair.
Now, as everyone knows, this was a
horrible time in world history; few Jews
escaped unharmed. But every single person
who carried a piece of that chair survived and arrived safely in the city of Jerusalem.
It was there, in Jerusalem, that the chair was put back together. Reassembled, the chair looked exactly as it had in the time of
Rabbi Nachman, when he had first received
it as a gift from the butcher of Teplyk. To
this day in the Bratslav synagogue in
Jerusalem, you can see Rabbi Nachman's chair exactly where you'd expect it to be:
next to the ark.
Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe recommends that you read "ThreeTimes Chai - 54 Rabbis Tell Their favorite Stories." It is available from Behrman House, Inc., Springfield, NJ.
She agrees with May Sarton: "A house that doesn't have one warm comfy chair in it is soulless."
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