By: Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner
Once upon a time there lived in the city of Worms a man called R. Bunem, who assisted in the burial of the dead.
One day an old man died and, as usual, R. Bunem accompanied the body to the grave. The next morning, when R. Bunem went to the synagogue, he saw at the door a man dressed in a shroud and with a wreath round his head. R. Bunem was frightened, for he believed he was a demon and started to run away, but the man in the shroud said to him: ‘Do not be afraid, come here, do you not know me?’
R. Bunem replied: ‘Are you now the man I accompanied to the grave yesterday?’ Then R. Bunem said to him: ‘Why did you come here, and how are you getting along in the other world?’
He replied: ‘I am getting along very well, and am held in high esteem in Gan Eden…If you do not believe me, I will give you a sign which will convince you. When you put the shroud on me yesterday you tore one of my sleeves.’
Then R. Bunem said: ‘What does the wreath on your head mean?’
He said: ‘It is made of good herbs of Gan Eden and keeps the evil demons from doing me harm.’ Then he asked R. Bunem to mend his sleeve, for he said he was shamed of the other spirits, who had whole garments, while his were torn. Then the dead man disappeared.
This story comes from The Ma’Aseh Book, a Yiddish anthology of stories from Talmudic, Midrashic, and early medieval texts published in Basel, Switzerland in 1602. The Ma’Aseh Book contains a fraction of Judaism’s once well-known, now largely forgotten stories of heaven, hell, ghosts, demons, reincarnation, and resurrection.
If you’d like to learn more about these hidden worlds, then our new Ta Shma series is for you! Starting on January 8th, join us on Second Saturdays for a taste of the fantastical with Ta Shma: Other Worlds and Underworlds:
January 8: The Soul
February 12: Resurrection, Reincarnation, and Olam Haba
March 12: Heaven and Its Angels
April 9: Hell and Its Demons
May 14: Dybbuks, Ghosts, and Other Spirits