The Master and the Unlaved One
Enormous stores of potential energy always seem to be lodged at the sanctuary gates. Further evidence: mended things‘s intensely felt report, which begins with frisson at the church door, then sparks, flares, and mushrooms into in an absorbing vision of a future wherein the mud, praise god, will finally have been flung.
Last Saturday, the first day of the Jewish civil year, I struggled with a similar incident at the gates of another sanctuary that directed my thoughts toward (and diverted my anger from) “prayer” and “community.” In the process, I stumbled across this little tale.
THE MASTER AND THE UNLAVED ONE
Once, it is said, the Master prayed so deeply that he lost track of his surroundings and walked for three days and three nights until he found himself in a deserted region far from home. A large frog appeared and revealed that in a former life he had been a Torah scholar but had fallen under Satan’s influence through neglecting the obligatory ritual of hand washing. The punishment for this transgression was to spend five hundred years as a frog, far from the paths of Jews who might inadvertently bless him by thinking good thoughts as they passed by. The Master prayed over the frog-man until his soul went up to heaven, leaving only a wrinkled amphibian shell behind.
Text: P & C Zaleski, Prayer: A History. Apart from adding a title, I’ve made one other change to the version cited by the Zaleskis–in their version, the “Master” is identified by his honorific, the Besht, a momentous historical figure, particularly renowned for the powers of his ecstatic prayer. Image: prayer at night by mrehan