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I.L.Peretz, Poland (1852-1915)


"If Not Higher" is written by I.L Peretz. He was a short story writer from Poland. The story gives the message that selfless service is the path that leads someone to heavenly glory. The person who is dedicated to social service achieves heavenly glory on earth.  The story is about the mystery of where the Rabbi (spiritual leader) of Nemirov goes and what he does during the Penitential Prayers in the days before.

Early every Friday morning at a time of Penitential Prayer (Showing or constituting penance) where religious services were performed, the Rabbi of Nemirov disappeared. He wasn't found at home too. People thought, he went to heaven at that time. They had the strong belief that he ascends to heaven for the welfare of the people. But once, a Litvak came there and laughed at them. Pointing out the story from Gemraha, he mocks at them and said that Moses was suspended two and a half feet below heaven.

The Litvak decided to test the rabbi, and secretly entered the room of the rabbi. Hiding under the bed, he remained awake throughout the whole night. Early morning, when others were praying for the people of Israel, the rabbi disguised himself as a peasant and left the house. The Litvak followed him. The rabbi, who passed by the village checked every house and headed towards the jungle, cut the firewood, made a bundle of sticks, and returned back to the village. He stopped in front of an old hut where a lonely old Jewish woman was living. The rabbi sold the firewood for six cents. But the woman was so weak that she wasn't able to put the fire on. So, the rabbi helped her to burn the fire. When he put the firewood in the oven, he recited the first portion of the penitential prayer. When the fire was in flame, he recited the second portion of the penitential prayers and recited the third portion of the penitential prayer when he set the fire.

After seeing this, Litvak comes to believe in the Rabbi and his work, and becomes his disciple.


In this story, the writer is trying to tell us that one should help needy people to get heavenly pleasure. The greatest religion in the world is humanism. Heaven is there where one finds the pleasure of helping poor, sick and old people. The true spirit of religion is to help others. Visiting temples and praying to god does not make people religious and spiritual. One can please God by helping the helpless ones. The Rabbi of Nemirov showed the value of religion by setting himself as an example. The story also tries to show that heaven is at the service of humanity.


Although this story teaches us a high moral lesson, some of the ideas are less convincing. Is it possible for a mortal to go to heaven when he is alive? It says one can get heavenly pleasure by serving others or by sacrificing one's pleasures. For others can we really apply it in our lives? Do modern people believe in the existence of gods and heaven?  Is it possible to find such an idealist person like the Rabbi of Nemirov in real life? How can Litvak follow the rabbi everywhere without being noticed by him? So, I don't support the writer's ideas fully. 


This story has impressed me a lot and has taught me a good lesson. After reading this story I learnt the meaning of the importance of selfless human service and the value of the service of humanity as well as work. Before reading this story, I used to think only about heaven where one can go after his/her death. But now, I know that heaven is also here in Earth. I have a great desire now to serve humanity and reach heaven like Rabbi I have realized that selfless service and work are the paths towards heaven. It means the blessing of god can be easily achieved by serving the poor and needy people.


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