#459 (s5766-49 / 13 Elul 5766)
With his spiritual vision, the Baal Shem Tov saw heavenly light streaming out from a tiny village shul.
Many years ago, in a little village deep in the Carpathian Mountains, there lived a simple Jewish man named Reb Dovid. Although he was extremely poor and far from being a Jewish scholar, he had strong faith in G-d and was content with his lot in life.
One morning, Reb Dovid was praying in the little shul of his village. The rest of the minyan had long since finished their prayers and left for work. But Reb Dovid continued on. On this day, he felt a warm glow fill his heart as he slowly mumbled his was through the prayers in the siddur.
Just then, Rabbi Israel, the Holy Baal Shem Tov happened to be walking in the countryside past the village. With his spiritual vision, he saw heavenly light streaming out from this tiny village shul.
"Extraordinary! What is going on there?" he wondered.
He quickly walked to the shul and looked in the window. There, he saw Reb Dovid wearing his talit and tefilin, intensely praying from his siddur. Rabbi Israel went in, sat down, and immersed himself in the study of a holy book while he waited for Reb Dovid to finish his prayers.
Hour after hour passed and it was already late in the afternoon when Reb Dovid finally finished his prayers and took off his talit and tefilin.
"Shalom Aleichem." "Aleichem Shalom," they greeted each other.
After speaking to each other for a while, Rabbi Israel asked Reb Dovid, "Tell me, my friend, why were you davening for so long?"
"Rabbi," he answered in a hushed tone, "To tell you the truth I don't know the meaning of the words in the siddur or even the right prayers to say. So, usually I just start at the beginning of the siddur and stop when the rest of the minyan finishes. Today, though, I felt particularly inspired, so I didn't stop until I reached the end of the siddur."
"My dear friend," asked Rabbi Israel, "Would you like me to teach you what prayers to say and when to say them?"
"Oh Rabbi, I can't tell you how much that would mean to me. But I don't want to be a bother to you."
"Oh no Reb Dovid, it wouldn't be a bother at all," said the Baal Shem Tov. "In fact, I would be honored to teach you the prayers."
And so the two men sat together for several hours while Rabbi Israel taught Reb Dovid about the different prayers in the siddur. They started with the morning prayers, than those said before and after eating, for the afternoon prayers, for the evening prayers, for Shabbat and Yom Tov, and so on.
It was clear to the Baal Shem Tov that Reb Dovid was having great difficulty retaining the distributions, so between the pages of the siddur, separating the different prayers, Rabbi Israel placed small pieces of paper with notes to remind the simple Jew about each of the prayer services.
Finally, when he completed explaining and book marking the entire siddur, Rabbi Israel bid farewell and left, walking at a fast pace down the road leading from the village.
Reb Dovid was thrilled. He danced around hugging his siddur filled with the small pieces of paper between the pages. Suddenly, OH NO!, he accidentally dropped the siddur. The pieces of paper scattered everywhere.
He stood, paralyzed with shock, bewildered and dismayed. On one hand, he thought, "I so want to know the proper prayers and when to say them:" On the other hand, he felt extremely embarrassed when he thought, "Can I really run after the Rabbi and ask him to take the time and show me again?"
Finally Reb Dovid decided. He gathered up the siddur and the pieces of paper and started running as fast as he could down the road after the Rabbi.
For quite a while, he couldn't see the Baal Shem Tov. Then, Reb Dovid reached the top of a hill where he could just barely make out the Rabbi far in the distance. "Whew," he sighed in relief and started running even faster as the Baal Shem Tov again disappeared into a forest.
Suddenly, Reb Dovid found himself standing high above a wide, raging river and there next to the river stood the Baal Shem Tov. "Thank G-d," Reb Dovid thought.
Reb Dovid had already started walking down toward the river when he saw the Baal Shem Tov take off his gartel (a special prayer sash) from around his waist, stretch it out, and seemingly dance on it across the river. As soon as he reached the other side, the Baal Shem Tov put his gartel back on and continued walking, without even a glance back.
When Reb Dovid reached the edge of the river, he stood in disbelief watching the Rabbi walking away on the other side of the river. He yelled out "Rabbi! Rabbi!" but the roar of the river drowned out his voice.
Without a thought, Reb Dovid took off his gartel, stretched it out, and also seemingly danced on it across the river, exactly as he had seen the Baal Shem Tov do. As soon as he reached the other side, he started running as fast as he could after the Baal Shem Tov.
"Rabbi, Rabbi, wait for me," he yelled.
The Baal Shem Tov turned around and was startled to see Reb Dovid. "What are you doing here?"
Reb Dovid held out the siddur and the pieces of paper. "Rabbi, I'm so sorry. I dropped the siddur and all the pieces of paper fell out."
"But what are you doing here?" asked the Baal Shem Tov.
"Rabbi, I've come to ask you to please put the papers back into the siddur."
"But how did you get across the river?"
"Rabbi, I crossed on my gartel, just like you did."
"You know," said the Baal Shem Tov, putting his arm around Reb Dovid, "you don't need my papers. The way that you have been praying until now is just fine."
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.