Butterfly; A Hassidic Tale

Avram Mlotek
April 4, 2013
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Once there was a rebbe who had a special power.  He could answer any question posed to him.  People from far and wide would gather to ask and the rebbe never left his questioners disappointed.

A man arrived in shtetl, in town, and heard of the rebbe’s supposed gift; he was skeptical, to say the least.  Friday afternoon as Shabbes was approaching the townspeople would gather in front of the rebbe’s house as the gabbai, the rebbe’s organizer, facilitated the question and answer process.  Our shtetl guest was surprised as the rebbe answered each person’s question correctly, concisely and with clarity.  But he left the rebbe’s home more resolved than ever.  He took it upon himself to think of a question that would stump the rebbe.

Shabbes came and went and the weekdays slowly passed as well.  Nothing came, no question stood out.  Sure enough Shabbes had arrived, yet again, and the townspeople started to gather in front of the rebbe’s home.

“The rebbe will begin listening to people’s questions!” the gabbai called out.

Still, our cynical guest had nothing.

Suddenly, he had an idea.  The man ran through the crowds into the outskirts of town where there was a meadow.  There were dozens of butterflies frolicking there.  He leaped into the field and caught a butterfly in his hands and held his hands ever so gently so that the butterfly continued to flutter inside.  He then bolted back into the heart of town as he pushed through the crowds to make it to the head of the line, with his hands cupped all the while.

“Yes, yes, I have a question!” he called out, barely containing his excitement.

“Rebbe, great rebbe,” the man said, “tell me.  I have a butterfly in my hands.”  And he satiated the final words before he asked them: “Tell me, is it alive or is it dead?”

The man sighed and smiled and looked at the rebbe.  He had finally done it, he thought.  If the rebbe says dead, the man would open his hands and let the butterfly fly free.  And if the rebbe said alive, then the man would squash his hands ever so subtle.  No more butterfly.  It would be a win-win for our cynical guest.

“Tell me, rebbe!”  the man burst, “Is the butterfly alive or is the butterfly dead!

The rebbe looked at the man for a moment and then smiled back at him.  He raised his hands and said, “ha-kol b’yadecha – it’s all in your hands.”

The smirk quickly vanished from the cynic’s face as he realized the rebbe’s wisdom and the greater lesson behind his words.  Indeed, the butterfly’s life rested in his own very hands, but on a deeper level, there was a lot more at stake.  His attitude, his approach, his tone, the whole enterprise of trying to outsmart the rebbe in the first place.  Hakol byadecha, it’s all in your hands.

Though it may not always feel like we have a butterfly’s life weighing in the mix, choice is always before us, if not in action, in perspective.  Ha-kol b’yadecha.  Let us choose wisely.

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Avram Mlotek is a student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School and performs regularly with the National Yiddish Theatre-Folksbiene Center for Performing Arts. His writings have appeared in The Huffington Post, The Forward and The Jewish Week. Avram was recently named in The Jewish Week's "36 Under 36" as a leading innovator in Jewish life today. He lives on the Upper West Side with his wife and daughter.

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