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April 11, 2014  RSS feed
Rabbinically Speaking

Text: T T T

The power of the ‘Master Story’

By Rabbi Michael Torop Temple Beth-El, St. Petersburg

Everybody loves a good story! Within Jewish tradition, folklore and storytelling play an important role in capturing essential truths about ourselves, our relationships to one another and the place of the Holy within our lives. We are all aware that we experience life and the passage of time as an inherently narrative experience. Stories are central to human experience, and therefore, central to the activity of faith, the composing of meaning at the level of ultimacy. Every religious tradition offers imagery and narratives that enrich the community to which the individual responds in faith.

“Master Stories” are the shared narratives that guide the development of faith across the lifespan and provide the context for people of faith to develop and grow into ever more adequate understandings of themselves, others, and God and the interrelationship between all three. Each tradition’s Master Story offers a truthful (expresses eternal truths, which may or may not be historical) symbolic (or metaphorical) way of relating to the world while providing a guide for acting in it as well. The essential questions of our lives can be answered in part as we own these Master Stories as our own. Who are we? What is our world like? How must we respond to others? to God? to the world as a whole? What are the moral and ethical demands of our Master Stories, and how do we need to act on a daily basis?

One of the keys to understanding the essential differences between faith traditions is to recognize that we have different Master Stories that frame our lives and our faith, demanding a different way of acting in our world. The theologian Michael Goldberg opens up a powerful way of understanding the relationship between Jews and Christians, for example, by detailing the differences in our Master Stories. For Christians, the Master Story is the Passion Narrative, which is the Easter story of Jesus’ crucifixion, death and resurrection. For Jews, it is the Exodus experience that we reenact and relive each year around our Seder tables.

The haggadah demands that each of us is obligated to see ourselves as if we, personally, went forth out of Egypt. The Exodus narrative, the story of Passover, shows that the world carries with it the possibility of being fully redeemed in the future. As we live out the narrative, we embrace the core message that there is a God who cares about the world and about us. We affirm that no human power is absolute, for God transcends human power. We commit ourselves to a moral code and an ethical stance that demands we treat people on the basis of affirming their freedom and the sacred value of their lives, rather than asserting power and control. The Exodus is not only at the core of the upcoming festival of Passover, but is also embedded in the weekly celebration of Shabbat (in the words of the Kiddush), in the daily ritual of prayer (in the liturgy following the Shema/V’ahavta when we sing Mi Chamocha), and in the 36-fold repetition of the Torah’s ethical mandate not to oppress the stranger, remembering that we were once strangers in the land of Egypt.

So when we all sit down this year to our sedarim, and we take out the haggadot with their familiar wine stains and the crumbs of last year’s matzah falls out from between the pages, let us all embrace the precious opportunity to recount and retell, to relive and embrace this Master Story as our own. May we search through the symbols and the metaphors, finding images and meanings, moral lessons and powerful insights that will strengthen our vision of a world whose brokenness we can repair. May we discover anew that in sharing this same Master Story, as Jews we are linked to one another in a shared quest for life’s meaning. And may the story of the Exodus provide the context for our own personal stories deepening our sense of self, our relationships to one another and opening up a place for God to dwell in our hearts and in our lives.

Chag Sameach to one and all!

The Rabbinically Speaking column is provided as a public service by the Jewish Press in cooperation with the Pinellas County Board of Rabbis. Columns are assigned, on a rotating basis by the board.

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