Weekly Chasidic Story #1038 (s5778-07/ 10 Cheshvan 5778)

The Baal Shem Tov's Closest Follower

Rabbi Ze'ev-Wolf Kitzis approached the holy Baal Shem Tov as he was immersed in prayer. He lifted the Besht's tallis to see, took one glance...and fainted.

Connection: Seasonal -- 230th yahrzeit of R. Ze'ev-Wolf Kitzis

The Baal Shem Tov's Closest Follower


In his earlier years, Rabbi Zev-Wolf Kitzis served as the town Rabbi of Toltzin, and later held the position of Chief Rabbinical Judge in the town of Medzibuzh.

When he first arrived in Medzibuzh, the town had not yet become the famous founding center of the Baal Shem Tov's movement. With the arrival of the Baal Shem Tov in subsequent years, Rabbi Wolf set out to investigate him and his unusual ways.

His initial reaction was one of great opposition, but after a short while he became one of his greatest followers. Chassidic lore has it that this turnabout was the result of a remarkable incident:

On Erev Shabbos the Baal Shem Tov had the custom to begin his Mincha (Afternoon Prayer) early hours before sunset, and linger over the Amidah (Standing Prayer) for several hours. Rabbi Wolf, who was constantly dogging his steps, became angry at this behavior and claimed that it is not possible to pray for such a long time with the correct level of Kavanah (focused intention).

One day, Rabbi Wolf approached the Baal Shem Tov as he was immersed in prayer, and lifted the Rebbe's tallit (prayer shawl) so as to see what he was doing. After one brief glance at the face of the Baal Shem Tov, he fainted.

After he regained consciousness, he became seriously ill and was bedridden for three months. He explained to those around him the reason why he had fainted - instead of the radiant, healthy countenance of the Baal Shem Tov that all knew and recognized, the face that met his gaze when he lifted up the tallit was pale as death, eyes protruding from their sockets from intense mystical meditations and streaming with tears. From that moment on Rabbi Wolf humbled himself before the Baal Shem Tov, and became his devoted student.

After he became a veteran chasid of the Baal Shem Tov, he protected his Rebbe and the path of Chasidut in many debates that he held with scholars who opposed the fledgling movement. It is told that the Baal Shem Tov himself once said to Rabbi Zev-Wolf - 'What stands between me and you is a mere hairsbreadth; but this hairsbreadth you will never be able to cross.'

Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from //tog.org.il/en/Article.aspx?id=454 .

Biographical notes:
Rabbi Ze'ev-Wolf Kitzis [of blessed memory: circa. 5460 - 12 Cheshvan 5548 (1700 - 1787)] is considered to be the closest follower of the Baal Shem Tov. In his earlier years, he served as the town Rabbi of Toltzin, and later held the position of Chief Rabbinical Judge in the town of Medzibuzh, years before the Baal Shem Tov's arrival. He was an outstanding Torah scholar and equally adept in the mystical teachings, as well as extremely meticulous in all areas of mitzvah observance. It is told that he would not eat meat that was not koshered in front of his eyes, even if the Baal Shem Tov would partake of that meat. He is buried in Medzibuzh next to the Baal Shem Tov.

Rabbi Yisrael ben Eliezer [of blessed memory: 18 Elul 5458 - 6 Sivan 5520 (Aug. 1698 - May 1760 C.E.)], the Baal Shem Tov ["Master of the Good Name"-often referred to as "the Besht" for short], a unique and seminal figure in Jewish history, revealed his identity as an exceptionally holy person, on his 36th birthday (1734 C.E.), and made the until-then underground Chasidic movement public. He wrote no books, although many works claim to contain his teachings. One available in English is the excellent annotated translation of Tzava'at Harivash, published by Kehos.

Connection: Seasonal - this Wednesday is the 230th yahrzeit of Rabbi Ze'ev-Wolf Kitzis.


Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). He has hundreds of published stories to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.

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