The following story, related by Rabbi Moshe Weinberger of Kehillas Aish Kodesh, which takes place in the Ukraine in the early nineteenth century, is among my all-time favorites. The imagery is powerful; the message, thought-provoking.
Rabbi Yitzchak Kalish, the Rebbe of Vorka, and Rabbi Avraham Twerski, the Trisker Maggid, were close childhood friends. As they assumed their respective rabbinic positions, they were saddened by the prospects of not being able to spend time together. As they resided in neighboring towns, they resolved to correspond via letter on a weekly basis. One of the followers of the Rebbe of Vorka volunteered to be the mailman, and every Friday, for many years, he would traverse the forest between the two towns to deliver the letters.
One Friday, the mailman was overcome with a tremendous desire to read the correspondence between these two holy men. He picked up the envelope from the Rebbe of Vorka, and in middle of the forest, away from prying eyes, he carefully took out the letter. He was shocked to see that it was a blank piece of paper. The mailman was confused and angry. How could his Rebbe send him on a fool’s errand for so many years? In spite of his hurt feelings, he was determined to be a faithful messenger and delivered the letter. The Trisker Maggid opened the envelope, perused its contents and became very emotional. He retired to the privacy of his office where he took quite some time to compose a response. The mailman, upon receiving the return envelope, was bursting with curiosity. He could not contain himself. As soon as he was out of sight of the Trisker Maggid, he opened the missive and much to his chagrin he found this paper too to be blank. The mailman was in utter shock! These two holy men, whom he revered, had been playing a cruel trick on him for so many years! He was furious. He was so outraged was he that he could barely look at the Rebbe of Vorka as he delivered the letter.
The mailman resolved that he would no longer maintain any connection with the Rebbe of Vorka. Indeed, that entire Shabbos, the mailman did not attend any prayer services, meals or gatherings together with the Rebbe. Upon the conclusion of Shabbos, the Rebbe sent a messenger to ask the mailman to come over for a visit. Upon his arrival, the Rebbe asked the mailman why he had not been in attendance all Shabbos. The mailman replied that he was deeply hurt by the Rebbe’s actions . He related how he had wrongly opened both letters and found them both to be blank. How, he asked the Rebbe, could you do this to me all these years, sending me with empty papers, taking up so many hours of my time, each and every Friday?
The Rebbe responded. “When Moshe Rabbeinu came up to heaven to receive the Torah, he saw what the Torah looked like in its heavenly state. It appeared to him as black fire superimposed over white fire. The black fire took the shapes of the Hebrew aleph-bet, and the white fire was the background parchment.” Asked the Rebbe, “Why was the white fire necessary? Why couldn’t the black fire in the shape of letters merely have the clear sky itself as the background parchment?” Answered the Rebbe, “The Torah is comprised of two components. The first is the words, which represent the curriculum of the Torah, the do’s and don’ts of how to live a Torah life. This is represented by the black fire. The second part is the relationship that the Almighty has with each and every Jew, and that every Jew can feel for Hashem. The relationship is so deep it simply cannot be distilled into words. This is represented by the blank white fire. Both components are important and necessary.”
Said the Rebbe to the mailman, “On a typical Friday the letters are filled with words, thoughts, feelings and ideas, and that is what you would have seen had you opened the letters another week. However, every so often the feelings that the Trisker Maggid and I feel for each other are so deep, they simply cannot be distilled into mere words. On those occasions, we go into our rooms and pour our intense emotions and feelings into the paper, and that is what you got to see.”
May we all merit that the Torah and mitzvos we observe be set upon a strong foundation of an intense relationship with Hashem.