Stories by Cantor Andrew Bernard

 

When kids ask me whether some of the more fantastic or contradictory stories in the Tanach are true, I usually respond by asking them whether they go to annual family reunions. For those that do, I ask whether they hear the same family stories year after year, often told by their grandparents or their grandparents’ generation. The kids tell me that they do, indeed, hear those stories all the time. “Does everybody tell it the same way?” I ask. “No,” is usually the answer. “Does it matter whose version of the story is correct?” They think about it for a moment and usually answer, “No, not really.”

We then go on to have a conversation about the importance of family stories. It’s not which version of the story is correct, but what those stories say about us as a family. Whether it’s grandpa Sol or great-aunt Harriet who have the facts straight, the nature of the story and the fact that it is important to us to simply repeat it again and again gives it its power.

We are those stories. Those stories are our personal Torah. So much of our outlook — how we act toward others and in the world — is rooted in those stories.

I like to teach through stories. The stories themselves are not all that important, but what they tell us about how we live our lives and how we view the world can be illuminating.

For me, the most powerful stories are those that make us think about how we deal with issues of brokenness or loss. Watching both children and adults respond to some of life’s most difficult challenges gives me inspiration and insight. Their stories make my world much bigger. Their stories make my world richer and imbue it with new meaning.

For me, the most important technique in story-telling is doing it in a way that allows others to see their story in my story. The facts of my story are unimportant. But understanding the meaning and motivation behind what people do and making it our own can lead us to new understandings and help us access personal resources we may not have known we had. When we allow other people’s stories to become our stories, our lives are enriched and our horizons becomes broader.

I am fortunate that my work connects me with other people’s most powerful stories. While I hope that I’ve been able to help and support others, their stories have certainly helped me grow and find strength. And over the years, I hope that the stories I’ve shared with you have given way to insight or courage or wonder or love.

When we take the stories of others into our hearts, we carry those people with us throughout our lives, wherever we might go. Even when distance or circumstances cause us to grow apart, the essence of those relationships is preserved and treasured through the stories we’ve shared.