Four levels of interpretation of 'If Not Higher'
For your understanding:
There is a tendency among many religious communities to try to please God (out of fear/hope) despite the fact that many know serving the poor would better serve the God. In the story “If not higher”, I.L Perethz tries to convince the people that serving the poor and the needy is way more meaningful than just doing the prayers. He handles this religiously sensitive issue very carefully. In Nepal's context, this story could be interpreted as an advocacy to reject temple worship and accept people service -- believe in humanity (like Laxmi Prasad Devkota said). This could have been a very controversial story at that time, if it were handled poorly. He does not tell people to stop prayers but shows how people could serve poor and still continue their prayers. Here lies the greatness of the writer, and the story. Hence, we are still reading it today!
There was a village and they used to have prayer every morning. But during the prayer the priest, Rabbi, would vanish. One curious fellow, Litvak wants to know where Rabbi goes during the prayer time. One day he secretly follows Rabbi and finds out that Rabbi actually disappears every morning to serve the poor and the needy. He sees Rabbi going to the forest, collecting firewood and giving it to an old women. Rabbi even helps the old women in kindling fire. Litvak was surprised to see this. He was very much impressed by Rabbi and immediately becomes his disciple.
The story tries to tell us that heavenly pleasure can be found here in earth in serving the poor and the needy. This story also tries to convey the message that serving the poor and the needy is more important and meaningful than prayers. The story redefines the concept of heaven in that it shows heaven in earth and demystifies the myth about Rabbi’s “ascend to heaven”.
One of the striking features of this story is that it draws from and relates to religious texts. However, instead of preaching any religious dogma, the story attempts to challenge the traditional notion of religious duties of a religious person. Without offending the religious community, the story tries to tell that religion is for humanity and God is happy when you serve the poor. This makes the story evergreen.
Another striking feature of the story that it presents some powerful characters, such as Litvak and rabbi. While Litvak is presented as a common man (a doubting Thomas) who is cynical of rabbi’s activities and people’s faith, rabbi as a wise priest who believes in serving the poor than just preaching or praying.
[How did you feel after reading the story? It's your feelings and views. So you can write yourself. You cannot be wrong in this, as it is just your own reflection. You can say the story chanced your views, behaviour, thoughts. Or say that the story taught some lesson, if any. Relate to yourself.]
-Look and Gaze