Weekly Chasidic Story #1136 (s5779-54/
16 Elul, 5779)
Which Comes First?
The Baal Shem Tov stood still, his washing cup poised to pour water
on his hands in preparation for the blessing on bread, but instead of continuing,
Connection: Seasonal -- Chai Elul, the
eighteenth day of the Jewish month of Elul (this year: Tues. eve - Wed.,
Sept. 18,) marks the 321st year since the birthday of the Rabbi Israel Baal
Shem Tov, the revealer of the Chassidic movement in 1734, on his 36th birthday.
Story in PDF
format for more convenient printing.
Which Comes First?
The morning prayers had just ended. The Baal Shem Tov, who was
an esteemed visitor in the town, was about to wash his hands before partaking
of a meal, when a distraught woman approached him. She had waited throughout
the whole service and could contain herself no longer.
"Rebbe! My husband has been missing for a very long time. I have done
everything I can think of to try to find him, but I have no idea where he went.
What will happen to me? Please, Rebbe, help me find him," the woman wept.
The Baal Shem Tov stood there, his washing cup poised to pour water on his
hands in preparation for the blessing on bread, but instead of continuing, he
stopped and responded to the woman. "You will find your husband in the
city of M."
Infused with new hope, the woman departed.
Meanwhile, the town rabbi, who had heard a great deal about the Baal Shem Tov,
had been watching the exchange. Now he had what seemed to him to be a serious
question of Jewish law.
"I beg your pardon," began the rabbi, "I overheard your dialogue
with the woman, and it seems to me that you were saying words of prophecy to
her. If that was true, I think you were required to have completed washing your
hands before speaking."
The Baal Shem Tov responded to the rabbi with a question: "If you saw
chickens suddenly fluttering about your table set with expensive glassware,
what would your reaction be? Would you think about what to do or would you automatically
reach out to chase them away?"
The rabbi agreed to the latter, of course, but clearly he was not following
the Baal Shem Tov's logic.
"I did what came naturally to me," the Baal Shem Tov explained. "I
saw standing before me a woman who was in utter despair, almost to the breaking
point. I knew where her husband was. Do you really believe that I could have
continued washing my hands while she stood suffering before my eyes?"
Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from the version
on //Lchaimweekly.org (#1059), with permission
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, 18 Elul 5494 (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
Connection: Seasonal - Chai Elul, the eighteenth day of
the Jewish month of Elul (this year: Tues. eve - Wed., Sept. 18,) marks the
321st year since the birthday of the Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, the revealer
of the Chassidic movement in 1734, on his 36th birthday.
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.
To receive the Story by e-mail every Wednesday--sign
"Festivals of the
("Under the Full Moon" vol 2 - holiday stories)
is now available
for purchase from ASCENT
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Book 1 of Yerachmiel Tilles's 3-volume set,
"Saturday Night, Full Moon",
is also available for purchase on
back to Top back
to this year's Story Index Stories
home page Stories Archives