Lessons from The Seer of Lublin

Autumn, New BrunswickLast night we went to the synagogue for a healing service and to recite selichot in preparation for Rosh Hashanah. During the service one of the Rabbis told a story about the Seer of Lublin, a Hasidic Master who lived from 1745 to 1815.

Briefly the tale is this. A Hasid travels some distance to see The Seer who looks at him and tells him that since he (the visitor) is to die that night, he should go to a hotel in a nearby village to do so. The Seer explains that as it is the Sabbath a dead body in his house would create enormous problems. The man dutifully sets off for the village, only to meet a cart filled with Hasidim on their way into Lublin to spend the Sabbath with The Seer. They ask him why he is going in the WRONG DIRECTION, and he explains that the Rabbi has sent him away to die. The Hasidim respond that if he is to die he should certainly come with them so as not to die alone. He climbs into the cart and they set off for the city. Soon the men ask our tired journeyer, seeing as he obviously has money, to buy spirits to keep them happy and warm on the trip. He complies and soon all are happily singing and swapping tales. As they travel towards the city our Hasid is heaped with praise, blessings, and hopes for a long a prosperous life. When finally the crew arrives back at the Rabbi’s house, the Rabbi looks at our traveler and says, “Oh, you are indeed lucky. The blessings of your fellows have warded off Death.” It is said the man lived well for several more years.

Having told the tale, the Rabbi spoke to the power of blessing. She assured us she was not convinced blessing another has power in itself, and express concern about magical thinking. She was more certain that gathering in community opens the door to healing. She also spoke about what she saw as shamanic elements in the story. I have long considered the best Hasidic Rebbes to be shamans. Indeed, in many texts The Seer is portrayed as a great shaman, as are many of the best Hasidic Rebbes. After all, he can see the future, determine whether something is fated, and utilize whatever wiggle room is available to aid the members of his extended community to a different fate.

Today I’ve been thinking about the story, as well as the service. It seems to me The Seer saw a way to awaken the Wise Healer within the traveler. Perhaps he knew the man would meet fellow Hasids on their way into town, as The Seer’s congregation was far-flung, yet united in the task of reaching the Rabbi’s home before darkness and the beginning of the Sabbath. Maybe he felt secure in the likelihood his congregants would never let a fellow Hasid die alone.  Maybe he, like the founder of Hasidism, The Baal Shen Tov, could, through the good graces of All That Is, intervene directly in the man’s fate. We do not know, and that, too, is part of the mystery and the story.

So we approach the Jewish High Holy Days, the time of remembrance, atonement, and forgiveness, a time we are invited to thoughtfully consider our individual and communal lives. Although I am not Jewish, the rest of our household is, and over the years this time of year has become dear to me. Like the Rabbi I, too, have doubts about magical thinking. Yet, I also believe in the power of compassion, prayer, and joy to awaken the Healer Within persons and communities. Luckily, we have these stories, arising from many traditions, to remind us of our connection to the Creator, one another, and the larger world.


4 thoughts on “Lessons from The Seer of Lublin

  1. Niggun: Stories behind the Chasidic Songs that Inspire Jews Mordechai Staiman has put together a book of 39 stories about niggunim, the wordless melodies composed by Hasidic rabbis and their disciples. These tales range from those of the famous rebbes of Eastern Europe to a story about the late Leonard Bernstein. Staiman wrote the book because, at the time, he was living in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights and was fascinated by all the niggunim he kept hearing.

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