# 401 (s5765-44/13 Tammuz 5765)

The Western Light

In 1743, the Baal Shem Tov traveled towards Israel in order to meet with the Ohr HaChayim.

The Western Light
Tzvi-Meir Cohn

In the year 5503 [1743], the Baal Shem Tov traveled from home in Medzibush to fulfill his long held desire to visit the Holy Land and there to meet the great Ohr Hachayim. By Pesach, he reached Istanbul. There he prayed at the gravesite of Rabbi Naftali, a tzadik (righteous man) who had attempted the same trip at an earlier time, but had only been able to travel as far as Istanbul.

That night, Rabbi Naftali appeared to the Baal Shem Tov in a dream.
"Reb Yisrael, it has been decreed in Heaven that you are not destined to dwell in Eretz Yisrael. If you are stubborn and attempt to continue your journey, you will die here as I did. Return home."

The Baal Shem Tov accepted the decree and embarked upon a ship headed homewards. His ship was captured by pirates, but that is another story. They eventually released him at the port of Kilya, from where he continued his journey to Medzibush.

Three months later, on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Tammuz, during the Third Meal on the Shabbat of parshat Pinchas, immediately after washing his hands and eating a bite of challah, the Baal Shem Tov said with a sigh, "The Western Light has been extinguished."

That night, at the traditional Saturday night Melave Malka meal, the chassidim gathered their courage and asked, "Rebbe, what did you mean when you said that 'The Western light has been extinguished?"

The Baal Shem Tov replied, "The Ohr Hachayim has died. He was known in heavenly realms as 'the Western Light'."

"How does the Rebbe know that?" one chassid boldly asked.

The Baal Shem Tov answered, "There is a particular kavana (intention) for the recitation of the blessing for washing hands which I have always wanted to know. However, this kavana was hidden from me since only one person in each generation can know it, and the Ohr Hachayim had preceded me. This afternoon, as I washed my hands for shalosh seudot, I suddenly became aware of a new kavana. I immediately understood that the Ohr Hachayim had passed from this world and now I become the guardian of that kavana."

One other time, the Baal Shem Tov told his chassidim of another incident related to this portentous event. On the Shabbat that the great Ohr Hachayim departed from the world, his friend in Tiberias, Reb Chayim Abulafia, the great Kabbalist, mysteriously fainted, and remained unconscious for half an hour. When he finally was revived, he announced to his students, "Today the Ohr Hachayim left this world. I accompanied him until the gates of Gan Eden."

"What Rabbi Abulafia did not know," the Baal Shem Tov told his chassidim, "was that the Ohr Hachayim's saintly neshama (soul) remained in Gan Eden only for the duration of the Shabbat, The next day it descended once more to this world. The souls of tzadikim," he explained, "receive greater satisfaction from being in this physical world where the soul can serve the Almighty on the lowest physical plane, through performing mitzvot and good deeds which brings far greater benefit to this world, and is far more pleasurable to the soul than being in Gan Eden. When Mashiach arrives, and G-dliness will be seen and felt by even the most common man, we will yearn for the days previous when we were able to serve the Almighty on the lowest level of the physical."

The death of the Ohr Hachayim occurred just two days before Reb Leib Sarahs' Bar Mitzvah. It was not until years later, however, that the chassidim understood that it was the Ohr Hachayim's soul that this great chassid and mystic received at the time of his Bar Mitzvah, when it was explained to them by the Rebbe Dov Ber 'The Mezritcher Maggid', the successor to the Baal Shem Tov as the leader of the Chassidic movement.

[Adapted and supplemented by Yerachmiel Tilles from the version of his friend, Tzvi Meir HaCohane (Howard M. Cohn, Patent Attorney), which is based on a story that appears in Stories of The Baal Shem Tov by Y.Y.Klapholtz, and was first posted on www.baalshemtov.com.]

Biographical note:
Rabbi Chaim (ben Moshe)
Ibn Atar (1696 - 15 Tammuz 1743) is best known as the author of one of the most important and popular commentaries on the Torah: the Ohr HaChaim. He established a major yeshiva in Israel, after moving there from Morocco. Chassidic tradition is that the main reason the Baal Shem Tov twice tried so hard (and failed) to get to the Holy Land was that he said if he could join the Ohr HaChaim there, together they could bring Moshiach. He is buried outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Biographical note:
Rabbi Yisrael, the Baal Shem Tov ["master of the good Name"], a unique and seminal figure in Jewish history, revealed the Chassidic movement and his own identity as an exceptionally holy person, on his 36th birthday, 18 Elul 1734. He passed away on the festival of Shavuot in 1760. He wrote no books, although many claim to contain his teachings. One available in English is the excellent annotated translation of Tzava'at Harivash, published by Kehos. An ongoing online translation of Sefer Baal Shem Tov and many stories can be found on www.baalshemtov.com.


Yrachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and editor of Ascent Quarterly and the AscentOfSafed.com and KabbalaOnline.org websites. He has hundreds of published stories to his credit.

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