|Stories of The Baal Shem Tov: Shelach: A Pre-Dawn Request|
|Written by Bentzion of Medziboz|
G.d said, "I will forgive you as you have requested." Numbers 14:20 : And then there was the time that the Tzaddik know as the Toldos Aharon told his son-in-law, Reb Avrohom Dov of Chmelnik, "As you well know, I was not always a follower of the Baal Shem Tov. Let me tell you the story of how I became a Chassid of the man I once so virulently opposed.
"I had heard much about the Baal Shem Tov even before I decided to visit him. The rumors were that he could perform miracles, heal the sick and interpret dreams. Honestly, these reports did not surprise me. After all, if the Almighty wishes to heal one who is sick, or enlighten one with spiritual insight, He can do so to any person, for no reason whatsoever. But I wanted to learn more about the great piety that his followers spoke of and his scholarship in all areas of Torah knowledge - the revealed and the hidden. Perhaps this was a man of great spirituality, and I resolved to learn for myself whether or not that was true.
I traveled to Medzibush (the town where the Baal Shem Tov lived) and stayed for several weeks. During that time, I actually saw the Baal Shem Tov perform wonders. But as I said, that ability did not interest or impress me. After all, I did not seek to deny his supernatural powers but to see his supposed remarkable level of piety. As the days past, I carefully observed his daily behavior in prayer and Torah study but saw nothing that was extraordinary.
I therefore assumed that he must conceal his piety. So I resolved to remain in Medzibush longer, hoping to observe something unusual about the Baal Shem Tov.
"One day, a villager came to the Baal Shem Tov weeping bitterly. His son was very ill and had been bedridden for the past week. Could the Rebbe come and visit him? The Baal Shem Tov agreed and immediately instructed Alexei, his wagon driver, to prepare his wagon for the trip. For no apparent reason, the Baal Shem Tov invited me to accompany him. When we arrived at the man's home, even before we saw the sick boy, we were seated in the dining room and offered a meal.
Just as we sat down, the sick boy's mother rushed in screaming that her son was in the throes of death. I looked expectantly at the Baal Shem Tov but he did not seem disturbed by her screams.
Soon thereafter, the boy's mother returned to the dining room sobbing bitterly - her son had died. As I am a Kohen (Priest), I quickly jumped out of the window, since it was forbidden for me to remain under the same roof with a corpse. While I stood outside, I saw through the window the Baal Shem Tov rise from his chair and enter the boy's room.
After several minutes, he opened the bedroom door and said to the boy's mother: 'Bring some soup for your son.' Then he returned to his seat in the dining room to finish his meal. Since it appeared that the boy was alive and there was no longer any reason for me to remain outside, I returned to the dining room. I was greatly impressed by his reviving the dead, but this was still not what I sought to see from this man who was reported to be such a Tzaddik (Saint). I wanted to see an indication of the Baal Shem Tov's piety before I accepted him as my Rebbe.
By the time we left the village, it was dark. Our wagon drove through the night along a path that led through a forest. The trip should have taken no more than an hour but after two hours of traveling with no civilization in sight, we realized that we were lost and it was already past midnight on a Thursday evening. The Baal Shem Tov knew that if he did not soon find the way home to Medzibush, he would be forced to transgress a personal prohibition of not traveling during the day on a Friday in order not to desecrate the Shabbos.
He told Alexei to stop the wagon. He steppd down and wandered off into the dense forest. I quietly followed at a short distance behind him. He wandered aimlessly for a few minutes and then prostrated himself on the ground.
'Riboneh Shel Olam (Lord Of the World),' he cried out, 'You know that all that I do is for Your sake and to glorify Your Name on earth. And You know that I have made a vow not to travel on the Sabbath eve so as not to risk profaning the holy Shabbos. If I were forced to break this vow, it would be as if I profaned the Shabbos itself, G.d forbid. Please, beloved G.d of mercy, have pity on me and save me from violating my promise. Direct me on the right path home and enable me to return before daybreak.' For some time, the Baal Shem Tov continued to cry out like this from his heart.
It was then that I knew that this man was truly a Tzaddik - who feared G.d from the depths of his being. I no longer had any doubt that his piety was genuine. I quietly returned to the wagon to wait for him.
When he returned, we began to travel again. The horses led us out of the forest without hesitation and we reached Medzibush before the sun rose.
After I had had time to contemplate what I had seen and heard, a deep remorse took hold of me. How had I dared doubt the greatness of such a man? I went to the Baal Shem Tov's study to beg his forgiveness. But before I could say anything, he smiled and said, "I know what you have come for. Let me answer you in the words of the Almighty to Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses our teacher) - 'Solachti Kidvorecha' - You are forgiven."
And so it was.
Freely adapted by Tzvi Meir Cohn (Howard M. Cohn, Patent Attorney) from a story in Sifrei Kodesh as translated in Stories of the Baal Shem Tov by Y.Y. Klapholtz and reprinted with the kind permission of the Baal Shem Tov Foundation. Please visit www.baalshemtov.com