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The Story of the Birthday of the World

August 1, 2010

Rachel Naomi Remen is one of my heroes.  If you’re interested in her credentials as a doctor, you can read about her on  She’s also the author of two outstanding books, Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal, Riverhead Books, 1996, and  My Grandfather’s Blessings: Stories of Strength, Refuge and Belonging, Riverhead Books, 2000.

One of my emails waiting for me when I got home from vacation was a notice that Krista Tippett was rebroadcasting Rachel’s interview on NPR’s Speaking of Faith. I had to listen — immediately.  I’ve been in love with Rachel since I heard her read on a CD produced for healthcare folks who deal with death and dying.  I also heard her speak at a Hospice and Palliative Care conference, I think.  Anyway, I love her perspective on life, death and spiritual living.

This is the  story that Rachel told Krista on this broadcast (  I just had to share it.   Rachel’s Orthodox Rabbi grandfather, a “flaming” mystic and student of the Kabbala, told her this story as her 4th birthday present:

The Story of the Birthday of the World

as told by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.

 In the beginning there was only the Holy Darkness, the Ein  Sof, the source of life.  Then in the course of history at a moment in time this world, the world of 1000 thousand things,  emerged from the heart of the Holy Darkness as a great ray of light.

And then (perhaps because this is a Jewish story) there was an accident.  The vessels containing the light of the world, the wholeness of the world, broke. And the wholeness of the world, the light of the world was scattered into 1000 thousand fragments of light.  And they fell into all events and all people,  where they remain deeply hidden until this very day. 

According to my grandfather, the whole human race is a response to this accident.  We are here because we are born with the capacity to find the hidden light in all events and all people, and to lift it up and make it visible once again, and thereby to restore the  innate wholeness of the world. 

This is a very important story for the world today.  This task is called tikkun olam in Hebrew, which means the restoration of the whole world.  This is a collective task.   It involves all people who have ever been born, all people presently alive and all people yet to be born. We are all healers of the world.

 This story opens a sense of possibility.  It’s not about healing the world by making a huge difference.  It’s about healing the world that touches you. That’s around you.  This is our power.  Many people feel powerless in today’s situation.

I had a long talk with my son-in-law, Stephen, on our vacation.   We discussed how ugly the world seems sometimes, and how huge the problems are.  Each time I think about “the healing of the world” — I know it’s possible, but I can’t imagine how I could possibly be an instrument in that healing.  I have vowed to not become depressed, despairing, or discouraged about anything.  Each time I think or talk about our times now, I walk on the razor’s edge of my vowed-against abyss.

This story is the antidote to the poison that prevents us as individual souls from acting out of our overwhelmedness.  This is the “one day at a time” mantra of the addicted.  This is the wisdom of mindfulness.

Once I asked a Native American Medicine Person if we as healers had to heal all the wounded deer in the forest. His answer to me was, “No, only the ones that cross your path.”  This is loving my neighbor — because my neighbor is closeby and needs the nurturing and caring of a tender heart.  Rachel calls this “listening generously.”  This is my healing power — to listen generously and to see the spark of light in each event and every person I encounter.  This is my work.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 2, 2010 4:56 am

    Nancy, I like this whole concept of helping those who cross our paths heal. 🙂 It is a beautiful thought brimming with charity and self-less love.

  2. August 2, 2010 7:02 am

    You’re spot on, Punam! And I love the way you express yourself. Kisses!

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