I recall times when as I child I lay sick in bed. My mother would gently rub Vick's VapoRub on my chest, and then cover it with a dry wash cloth. So warm, so soothing, so mentholated. Even now I can feel my mother's hand doing its magic. And when I look at my hands, I see
hers - freckled, thin, and yes, aging. If only my hands could pass on comfort as my mother's did.
This story took place in the north of Lebanon in the village of Hamadin. And the happening, as told, goes like this:
In the village lived a widow and her beautiful daughter, an only child. One day the daughter became ill and was ordered to rest. And so she lay on her bed near the window and looked out at the only tree in the yard. Thus, days, weeks, and months passed, and the autumn came. But the girl's condition didn't improve. On the contrary, she grew worse. And so, one day, as she looked at the tree, she said weakly, "You see, Mother, see those leaves. When the last leaf falls, I will die." The mother's heart grieved, and she watched anxiously as the leaves fell.
One cold night the wind howled, and the mother's heart was full of despair, as she saw the wind taking the last leaves. With every leaf her heart sank even deeper. At last there was only one leaf left. What could she do?
So the poor woman ran outside, unaware of the cold, the gusts of wind, and the storm. She approached the wall in front of the tree, and there she painted, on the wall, a picture of the last leaf. So good, so accurate was the drawing, that it looked like the last leaf itself.
When the girl awoke, she looked out the window, and there she saw one lonely leaf. Days and weeks passed. From time to time she looked out, amd always she saw that last leaf, still hanging on the branch of the tree, A new spirit entered the girl. Slowly, slowly she recovered, and at last she got well.
But the mother, by going out on that windy night, had caught cold. She developed tuberculosis, and soon died.
When the girl was able to leave her bed, she went outside to see the miracle that had occured: Why had that leaf not fallen?
And what did she see? The painting, done by her mother, which had cost her her life for her child's sake.
Then the girl realized her mother's great love, and grieved greatly for her mother who, in her own death, had given life to her.
The Mother, a Lebanese Folktale, retold by Barbara Rush,
from The Jewish Spirit: A Celebration in Stories & Art
My late rebbe, R' Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, zt"l, (זכר צדיק לברכה) was a master storyteller. He taught, in the name of Abraham Joshua Heschel zt"l: "a mayse is a story in which the soul surprises the mind". "A Year of Stories" is dedicated to his memory. I invite you to forward the link to these stories so that they find their way into the hearts of other listeners and tellers.
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Mark Novak is a "free-range" rabbi who lives in Washington DC and works, well, just about everywhere. In 2012 he founded Minyan Oneg Shabbat, home to MOSH (Minyan Oneg Shabbat), MindfulMOSH (Jewish mindfulness gathering), and