# 415(s5766-04/23 Tishrei)

An Epic Beginning

The Baal Shem Tov presents the Maggid with a revelation and a role-reversal.

An Epic Beginning

Rabbi Dov Ber, who would later become known as the famed Maggid of Mezritch, had heard much about the Baal Shem Tov. Incredible stories of the Rebbe's legendry powers circulated freely among the masses and many embarked on the journey to Mezibush, hoping the meet the Baal Shem Tov personally and merit his blessing. Upon returning, they told of the astounding miracles they had witnessed, vividly describing the Baal Shem Tov's supernatural ability to help others with his prayers.

At first, the Maggid spurned any notion of visiting the Baal Shem Tov. Such a journey would entail an irreversible waste of time and he could not afford to forfeit even a second of learning Torah. Yet, despite his initial reservations, the Maggid finally chose to travel to Mezibush and judge the Baal Shem Tov's greatness for himself.

Rabbi Dov Ber had good reason not to rely on the hearsay of others. Considered one of the most prodigious scholars in his generation, the Maggid was thoroughly proficient in the Talmud and subsequent halachic codifiers. He also possessed considerable knowledge of Kabbala, the esoteric dimension of the Torah. Profoundly erudite, the Maggid spent his days immersed in the study of Torah, and refrained from the slightest waste of time.

Hence, after two days on the road, the Maggid began regretting his decision. His misgiving proved accurate after all; he found it impossible to maintain his regular study schedule while traveling. Having already started out however, he resolved to complete the trip to Mezibush.

Upon his arrival in Mezibush, the Maggid went directly to the Baal Shem Tov's home and secured an audience with him. Seeing the Maggid, the Baal Shem Tov began relating a story. "On one of my recent trips, I had no food for my gentile wagon driver. I finally found a poor gentile carrying a sack of bread, so I was able to purchase some bread for the driver."

The Maggid looked at the Baal Shem Tov in surprise. Here he had squandered hours of precious learning to travel and meet the Baal Shem Tov -- only to be rewarded with empty prattle? Disappointed and disheartened, the Maggid left the Rebbe's room and returned to his studies.

On the following night, the Maggid decided to meet the Baal Shem Tov again, hoping to hear Torah insights from the legendary leader. "You know," said the Baal Shem Tov as the Maggid entered, "once when I was traveling I couldn't find any hay for my horses. I was lucky to find some hay after a while, and I was able to feed them."

The Maggid could hardly believe his ears. Losing patience with the Baal Shem Tov and his seemingly meaningless stories, he resolved to return home instead immediately. He rushed back to his lodgings and announced to his wagon driver: "We are leaving! I want to go home right now! We'll wait here a bit for the moon to rise, but then we must set out straight for home."

By midnight, the moon had illuminated the surrounding countryside sufficiently and the wagon driver consented to depart. The Maggid approached the wagon and was about to step inside when he suddenly noticed the Baal Shem Tov's attendant standing before him. "The Baal Shem Tov summons you," said the attendant.

Surprised, the Maggid decided to follow the attendant, and he entered the Baal Shem Tov's room. "Do you know how to study?" inquired the Baal Shem Tov.
"Yes, I do," responded the Maggid.
"So I hear. Are you knowledgeable in Kabbala?"

The Baal Shem Tov summoned his attendant and instructed him to bring a Kabbalistic work of the teachings of the holy Ari of Safed (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria) titled Eitz Chaim. Opening the book to a certain page, he pointed to a specific paragraph and showed it to the Maggid. "Here," he said. "How do you explain this particular piece?"

The Maggid read the paragraph and interpreted it to the best of his ability. A look of displeasure crossed the Baal Shem Tov 's face. "You know nothing!" he asserted.

Baffled, the Maggid reread the paragraph. After a few minutes of contemplation, he turned to the Baal Shem Tov. "I definitely explained it correctly," challenged the Maggid. "If, however, you are aware of a different interpretation, please let me hear it as well. Then I will decide which of us is correct."

"Stand up!" ordered the Baal Shem Tov, his face aflame like a burning brand. As he began reading the paragraph aloud, dazzling light filled the house and a wall of fire encircled the Baal Shem Tov. Visions of various angels appeared in the room as the Baal Shem Tov read their names aloud from the Kabbalistic paragraph. The Maggid almost collapsed in sheer fright at the sight of this spiritual revelation.

The Baal Shem Tov finished reading and the awesome sight disappeared instantly. "Indeed, you read it correctly," the Baal Shem Tov turned to the Maggid. "However, your study lacks soul."

Overawed, the Maggid instructed his wagon driver to return home alone. He stayed with the Baal Shem Tov and studied his teachings, rising in stature until he joined the Rebbe's circle of select disciples.

…With time, the Maggid grew in stature until he became the Baal Shem Tov's prized disciple. The unusually close bond between the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid found expression one year on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, when the Baal Shem Tov handed his student a pidyon nefesh. "I have never given a pidyon nefesh to anyone," revealed the Baal Shem Tov. "But to you, Rabbi Ber, I allow myself an exception. I am confident that you will not cause me damage, but, rather, only rectify matters."

The Maggid opened the Baal Shem Tov's pidyon and read the following:

By the Grace of G-d
The eve of Rosh Hashana, 5517, Mezibush
Yisrael, son of Sarah, [prays for] health and longevity,
May he merit binding with every soul, in their current state, and elevate them to the Source,
May all enemies and those who despise him abandon their [evil] path, and be transformed into friends.
-- This will be "when G-d is pleased with a man's ways" (Proverbs 16:7).
To be inscribed and sealed for a good year among our people Israel.
[The charity accompanying this] pidyon is one ruble per week.


~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~

Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from: The Great Mission - The life and story of Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov (Kehot). Compiled by Rabbi Eli Friedman (consulting editor for Ascent Quarterly), translated by Rabbi Elchonon Lesches.

Biographic notes:
Rabbi Dov Ber (c.1700-19 Kislev 1772), the son of Avraham and Chava, known as the Maggid of Mezritch, succeeded his master, the Baal Shem Tov, as the head of the Chasidic movement. Most of the leading chasidic dynasties stem from his disciples and his descendents. The classic anthologies of his teachings are Likutei Amarim and Torah Ohr (combined by Kehas Publishing as Maggid Devorav l'Yaakov), and Ohr HaEmmes.

Rabbi Yisrael ben Eliezer (18 Elul 1698-6 Sivan 1760), 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 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.



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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