|Stories of Baal Shem Tov: Beha'alotecha: The Language of Animals and Birds|
|Written by Bentzion of Medziboz|
And then there was the time that Rabbi Aryeh Leib of Polonoye, the Maggid (Preacher), desperately wanted to learn the language of birds and animals. He thought this knowledge would be useful in soothing the souls of his followers to whom he preached.
The language of the animals, birds and even the plants and rocks is always known by at least one person in every generation. At that time, this knowledge was known by Rabbi Yisrael ben Eliezer, the Holy Baal Shem Tov.
Reb Aryeh Leib decided, although possibly presumptuous, to beg the Holy Baal Shem Tov to teach him this language. He reasoned that it was okay to ask because, "after all, I only plan to use the power for the sake of Heaven. With the knowledge of the physical world, I will really be able to help my followers overcome their worldly concerns.”
Having made up his mind, Reb Aryeh Leib traveled to Medzibush. The trip took almost no time because his mind was engrossed with thoughts of listening to the speech of birds and animals.
It was already night when he arrived in Medzibush. The study house of the Baal Shem Tov was lit up and filled with his followers. Reb Aryeh Leib entered the study house and saw the Baal Shem Tov sitting at a table speaking with his close followers. While he was sure that the Baal Shem Tov had noticed him, the Rebbe’s eyes didn’t meet his to acknowledge his arrival. Later, after most of the followers had already left the study house, Reb Aryeh Leib still waited and hoped to be recognized by the Baal Shem Tov. Finally, when the Baal Shem Tov walked out of the study hall, he glanced over to Reb Aryeh Leib and greeted him without any emotion, “Shalom Aleichem (Peace be unto you)”.
Reb Aryeh Leib was very upset. "Why didn’t he greet me as he always had before?” he thought. "Maybe I should just leave. But then again, there is nothing more important to me than learning the language of the birds and animals. No! I won't leave. I'll just wait for a good time to approach him."
For the next few days, the Baal Shem Tov didn’t say anything special to Reb Aryeh Leib. Then, after Shabbos, the Baal Shem Tov instructed Alexei, his wagon driver, to prepare his wagon for a journey. He then invited Reb Aryeh Leib and several other of his close followers to join him. They all readily agreed. Reb Aryeh Leib was filled with excitement thinking that his wish might finally be fulfilled.
The next day, after many long hours of travel, the wagon with the Baal Shem Tov and his followers stopped at an inn. The Baal Shem Tov went right up stairs to a room that was especially prepared for him by the innkeeper. The rest of the travelers stayed together in the main room of the inn. Being tired after the long trip, they all immediately fell asleep.
Only Reb Aryeh Leib couldn’t fall asleep. He kept wondering if the Baal Shem Tov would teach him the knowledge he desperately wanted to learn. Later in the night, he heard the Baal Shem Tov pacing back and forth in his room. So he gathered his courage and went upstairs to speak with him. When he reached the top of the stairs, he saw a bright light shining from the Baal Shem Tov's room. He started to go into the room but then realized that the bright light was shining from the face of the Baal Shem Tov. He stood glued to the floor, unable to look away from the Rebbe's face that was ablaze like a fire.
When the Baal Shem Tov walked over to him, Reb Aryeh Leib nearly fell to the floor with fear. He begged forgiveness for disturbing the Baal Shem Tov.
The Baal Shem Tov gently put his hand on his shoulder and said “Reb Aryeh Leib, stand up. Don't be afraid. What is it that you want?”
But Reb Aryeh Leib was too embarrassed to say anything. So he turned around and went back downstairs.
The next day, as they continued their journey in the wagon, the Baal Shem Tov asked Reb Aryeh Leib to sit next to him.
After some time passed, the Baal Shem Tov said, "I know that the reason for your coming to see me is to learn the language of the birds and animals. I’ve decided to teach it to you. There is, however, one condition that is of utmost importance. You must listen with your full attention to what I’m about to say.”
“Oh yes Rebbe, I promise to give my undivided attention to all that you say,” Reb Aryeh Leib answered.
The Baal Shem Tov continued, "To begin, it is known that the Heavenly Chariot is supported by a face of an eagle at one corner, the face of an ox at another corner, the face of a lion at another corner, and the face of a man at the last corner. It is also known that from the eagle face flows the life power to the birds, from the ox face flows the life power to the domestic animals, from the lion face flows the life power to the wild animals and from the man’s face flows the life power down to the lower man. Also the language of the birds, the animals and people comes from the Heavenly Chariot. A wise person that can see things at their source in the Heavenly Chariot can understand the speech of the birds and animals."
As the Baal Shem Tov continued explaining the deepest teachings from several Holy Books (the Zohar and the Tikkunim), the wagon entered a forest.
Reb Aryeh Leib listened with all his attention to the Baal Shem Tov. Suddenly a branch brushed against his cheek and he began to hear the animals and birds speaking to each other.
Meanwhile the Baal Shem Tov continued talking. Reb Aryeh was so enthralled with hearing the speech of the animals and birds that he divided his attention. With one ear he listened to the Baal Shem Tov and with the other ear he listened to the birds and animals.
Later, when the wagon came out of the forest, the Baal Shem Tov said, “So you understand all that I said.”
“Oh yes!” answered Reb Aryeh Leib.
Then the Baal Shem Tov passed his hand over the face of Reb Aryeh Leib and while Reb Aryeh Leib still heard the sounds of the animals and birds he could no longer understand their speech.
The Baal Shem Tov said, “Because you couldn’t hold your full attention on what I was saying, you’re not ready to be entrusted with the knowledge of the language of birds and animals.
And so it was.
Freely adapted by Tzvi Meir Cohn (Howard M. Cohn, Patent Attorney) from a story in Shivchei Habesht as translated in Praise of the Baal Shem Tov by Ben-Amos and Mintz and reprinted with the kind permission of the Baal Shem Tov Foundation and reprinted with the kind permission of the Baal Shem Tov Foundation. Please visit www.baalshemtov.com