by Rabbi Liz Hirsch
A story told by Rabbi Bunam: Once upon a time, a woman lived in poverty in a small village outside of Krakow. She had a modest, one room home, heated by an ornate, beautiful fireplace that she carefully stoked each morning. One night, she had a dream. She dreamt of an incredible treasure, riches beyond riches, mountains of gold and silver, buried under the bridge leading to the king’s palace in Prague. She awoke the next morning, brushed it off, tended to her fire and went about her day. The next night, she had the exact same dream. And the next night – again! After the third night, she could no longer ignore the clear message of the dream, and set out for Prague.
When she arrived at the bridge to the king’s palace, she saw that soldiers stood guard on the bridge day and night, and she did not dare to dig for the treasure. Each day, she approached the bridge cautiously and curiously. On the third day, the captain of the guards approached her in a friendly way.
“Are you looking for something or meeting someone?” he asked her.
The woman from Krakow told the captain of the guard about her dream that had prompted her journey.
The captain laughed: “You are a fool! With holes in your shoes you have walked all this way just because of a dream?! Who believes in dreams? I, myself, would have been on a long journey as well if I believed in dreams. Once, I was told in a dream to wander to a small village outside of Krakow and find the house of a certain woman with a modest home with a beautiful fireplace. Nonsense! How would I have ever found such a woman or such a fireplace in all the small villages outside of Krakow! How would I have ever found such a treasure?!”
The woman smiled, thanked the captain, returned to her modest home, and dug up the treasure under her beautiful fireplace.
Martin Buber shares this story in his book, The Human Way. Buber, one of the most significant Jewish thinkers of the modern era, wove this book out of Hasidic tales and his own theological reflections on these stories. Buber’s thoughts on this parable are simple and profound:
There is a certain “something” that can be found only in one unique place in the world. That “something” is a great treasure, namely, the fulfillment of one’s existence. And the place where this treasure may be found is the place where one stands.
Sometimes we read a text, a sentence, hear an idea, a song, and it is as if these words were written for us. For me, reading this story and Buber’s words as I came to live in the Berkshires, to work at Eisner Camp year-round, and to make the Hevreh community our home – these words spoke directly to my soul.
But maybe finding the treasure in the place where I stand has always been the text of my life… or the plot to a much loved movie – one of my favorites, and I’d guess many of yours – the Wizard of Oz.
When I was less than two years old, I began watching this film every day – my parents initially enjoyed the 2 hour reprieve that allowed them to eat dinner together, but eventually grew a little tired of hearing Somewhere Over the Rainbow every evening.
I’ve never been someone who does something halfway – it’s just part of my nature. So as I continued to watch this movie, I took on the identity of Dorothy – I dressed like her, from the blue gingham to the ruby red slippers, and I stopped responding to Liz – I was Dorothy. I outgrew that phase eventually, but I still love the movie, and many of its core messages and quotations have stayed with me.
One scene in particular always stood out to me. Near the end of the movie, Dorothy asks Glinda the Good Witch to help her find her way home, but Glinda tells Dorothy she has always had to power to take herself back to Kansas – she just had to learn it for herself.
“What have you learned, Dorothy?” asks her friend, the Scarecrow. Dorothy replies: Well, I—I think that it, that it wasn’t enough just to want to see Uncle Henry and Auntie Em — and it’s that — if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with!
And with a click of her heels, Dorothy is on her way home.
While the movie would have been a LOT shorter if Glinda had simply told Dorothy about tapping her heels together in the first place, this message remains core for me. Dorothy had to find out on her own that the treasure was at home, in her backyard, under a beautiful fireplace in a small home in a small village outside of Krakow – or should I say, Kansas. The place where the treasure may be found is the place where one stands.
Several years later, ruby slippers gone but not forgotten, I was ten years old and heading off for my first summer at Eisner Camp in Great Barrington. After a few weeks of squishing the name “Piper-Goldberg” onto the labels of my shirts and socks, we loaded up the car and I arrived in the beautiful Berkshires for the very first time.
I remember moving into my cabin and making friends with my bunkmates and counselors instantly. In the blink of an eye that can only be described as “camp time” – where each day feels like a month, but each month feels like a day – I gathered with my new best and lifelong friends around the lake to conclude the summer by singing the prayers of the Havdalah service, the quintessential Jewish celebration of transition, cycles, and separation. I had little reason to doubt but little reason to know that my life had been changed forever.
That first summer set me on the path that brought me to stand before you this moment, this day. I returned to Eisner each summer as a camper, continuing on as a counselor and member of the supervisory staff. Along the way, I spent semesters in Israel, participated in NFTY, and celebrated countless Shabbat dinners with my family and friends. My time at Eisner provided me with a deep, intrinsic connection to Jewish life and identity. We lived Jewish values and we existed in Jewish space and time. I met and learned from rabbis, cantors, and educators who spent time at Eisner. I saw role models and examples of what I could be and what I could do. Eisner set me on my path to become a rabbi and commit my life to working for the Jewish people.
I moved through from camper to counselor to rabbi, but I did not know where my path would take me next.
I did not know that my path would spiral me back to the place where it all began.
I did not know that I would be blessed to give back to the Eisner community, where I found my Jewish self, where I met Neil and countless other friends.
Today, as I walk around Eisner, I see cabins I lived in, the benches on the lawn where I learned how to play guitar. What’s more, campers from my cabin when I was a counselor are now senior leadership staff, guiding the next generation of campers.
The treasure was here all along.
We move together, from Havdalah to Shabbat to Havdalah again. From Rosh Hashanah to Rosh Hashanah. From Bereshit to Bereshit. Each week, each year, we begin again. Judaism is closely linked to these cycles in time. Our journey through the week, the year, and through our lives is anything but linear – it is a circle, a spiral.
Each year, Rosh Hashanah brings us back to the beginning. Rosh Hashanah reminds us that the treasure is buried under the fireplace, in the place where we began, in the place where we stand.
Now we stand at the beginning of the new year, and we have the opportunity to take a deep breath and look around. What treasures await us in the year to come? What treasures are right in front of us, right in our backyards, under our fireplaces, in our homes and among our family and friends, that we didn’t notice last year?
I am so happy my journey has brought us back to the place where it all began. As Neil and I enter this new chapter of our life, we can’t wait to begin again with all of you.