# 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
In the year 5503 , 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
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
[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.]
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.
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.
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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