This Very Story

A gut voch!

Tzipah is making french toast with leftover challah, the kids are playing nicely, and I will soon tell them a story. But first, let me share this story with you:

Before the Baal Shem Tov passed away, he told a few of his disciples what the focus of their Divine service would be. One of the students, Reb Yaakov, was told that he was to travel from place to place and recount stories of the Baal Shem Tov; from this, he would acquire great wealth.

Reb Yaakov did as he was instructed. He traveled from city to city and village to village, telling stories of his holy Rebbe. He did not limit his travels to nearby locations, but he would also travel great distances to fulfill the final instruction of his great teacher.

One time, he arrived in a certain hamlet, and was told that not far from there, was a very affluent man who was willing to pay a great sum to anyone who would tell him an authentic Baal Shem Tov story.

Reb Yaakov decided to travel to meet this person. Upon arrival, he asked the wealthy man, “Is it true that you pay those who will recount a story of the great Baal Shem Tov?”

“Yes, it is true,” said the man.

“I am one of his disciples, and I know many stories.”

“Great!” the man said to Reb Yaakov. “Permit me to provide you with a room to rest. During the week, I am simply too busy, so let’s wait until the Holy Shabbos, when many people will arrive at my home after prayers in synagogue. You will then tell us a story of the Baal Shem Tov, and after Shabbos, I will pay you generously.”

Reb Yaakov agreed to stay, and on Friday evening after the Shabbos prayers, a large crowd gathered, eager to hear a Baal Shem Tov story.

Much to his chagrin, Reb Yaakov found himself unable to recall a single story. Reassuring him that his forgetfulness could be attributed to being tired from travel, the wealthy man told Reb Yaakov to rest for the evening, and the following morning, he would then certainly be able to regale them with a great story.

The following morning, Reb Yaakov was once again, much to his dismay, unable to remember a story. At the celebrated Seudas Shlishis(third meal), he once again drew a blank.

Reb Yaakov was baffled! What was going on?!

A few more days passed, and Reb Yaakov eventually despaired of ever being able to recall a single Baal Shem Tov story. He hired a wagon driver to take him home. As he was about to ascend the carriage, it hit him like a bolt of lighting: “Ah! I remember!”

The wealthy man was not willing to wait until Shabbos for the story, and Reb Yaakov began to tell the long-awaited story:

“One time, on motzei Shabbos, the Baal Shem Tov told a few of his students — and I was there at the time — to journey with him to a specific location. As is well known, the carriage of the Baal Shem Tov did not need a driver, and we rested wherever the horses would stop.

“We traveled through the night. When the morning sun began to shine, we arrived at a house. We alighted from the carriage, and approached the house. The Baal Shem Tov told us to knock loudly on the door. Answering the door, they were greeted by a Jew who said, ‘Get out of here — quickly! It is dangerous for you to be here, and it is also dangerous for me!’

“He told us that nearby is a large town square, and it was a secular holiday when many people would arrive from all around. They would erect a temporary platform, and their anti-Semitic preacher would preach and incite them to violence against the Jews. If the crowd were to see a Jew, they would attack us! The man told us that he would lock his doors and bolt his windows shut, not leaving his home for the entire day.”

Reb Yaakov continued: “The Baal Shem Tov told him: ‘My name is Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, and I promise you that nothing bad will happen to you; just let us in.’

“We were allowed to enter the man’s home, and then the Baal Shem Tov opened one of the windows. The homeowner pleaded with the Baal Shem Tov to close the window, but the Baal Shem Tov did not pay attention.

“We soon saw a rowdy group gathering in the town square. We could hear their preacher beginning to speak.

“The Baal Shem Tov told me that I should go to the town square, approach the preacher, and tell him that the Baal Shem Tov wants to see him.

“‘But Rebbe,’ I told him, ‘I am scared!’

“‘Take my staff,’ the Baal Shem Tov told me, ‘and no one will touch you.’

“Then I said, ‘But Rebbe, I don’t speak the local language.’

“‘Speak to him in Yiddish!’ the Baal Shem Tov told me, ‘he will certainly understand. Tell him that the Baal Shem Tov wishes to speak with him.’

“So I went to the town square and did as I was told. The preacher told me, ‘I will come soon.’

“I returned to the house and reported what happened. The Baal Shem Tov told me to return to the town square and tell the preacher to come immediately. I did this, and the preacher came right away.

“When the preacher arrived, the Baal Shem Tov went into a private room with him and they stayed there together for a while. Afterwards, the preacher departed. The Baal Shem Tov then told us that we should all return to Mezibuzh.”

Concluding, Reb Yaakov said, “that is the story.”

The wealthy man was elated and said, “Please stay with me until Shabbos. On Shabbos, many people will once again arrive in my home. We will make kiddush, and then you can tell them this story.”

On Shabbos, Reb Yaakov retold the entire story. When he finished, the rich man said, “Now please permit me to tell you a story:

“The preacher that the Baal Shem Tov sent you to was me. As soon as you arrived here, I recognized you.

“I was a student of the Baal Shem Tov for many years. For various reasons, I veered from his path, began to study other things, and eventually converted and became a priest. I hated Jews with a passion. When I would preach, I would always incite violence against Jews, and I caused much harm to many people.

“When you arrived in the town square that day, and told me that the Baal Shem Tov had called for me, my heart was immediately turned over; I wished to run immediately to see him. Yet my desire for honor did not permit me to do so. When you came a second time, I simply could not resist, and ran to the Baal Shem Tov.

“At first, the Baal Shem Tov spoke with me, encouraging me to repent from my ways. But I told him that I did not believe that G-d Almighty would forgive me for all the bad things I had done, especially all the harm I had caused the Jews. The Baal Shem Tov promised me that I would be forgiven Above. He even gave me a sign: When a man will tell me this very story, then I will know that I have been forgiven.

“I have waited for this moment, and I spread word that I am willing to pay anyone who will tell me a Baal Shem Tov story, in the hopes that it will be this story.

“When you arrived here, I recognized you immediately. When it was apparent that you had forgotten all the stories you knew, I understood that it was actually my fault, for my repentance had not been complete.

“I fasted all these days, and recited copious amounts of Tehillim (Psalms), and I pleaded with G-d Almighty to forgive me. Then, you remembered the story.

“In fact, I have previously vowed that when someone will tell me this story — thereby indicating that I have been forgiven — I will give him half of all my wealth. Stay here until I can make an exact accounting of my finances, and you will then receive half of my wealth.”

And that’s what happened.

Have a great week!