Weekly Chasidic Story #851(s5774-29 / 16 Adar Sheini 5774)

The Strict Butcher vs. the Lenient Rebbe

The Baal Shem Tov heard a heavenly voice: "Remove the kosher slaughterer of Kamenka from his position."

Connection: Weekly Reading 11:47 --"…Between the creature that may be eaten and the creature that may not be eaten."


The Strict Butcher vs. the Lenient Rebbe

The Baal Shem Tov
once traveled to the town of Kamenka. As he approached his destination, he heard a heavenly voice: "Yisroel ben Eliezer, Please remove the shochet (kosher slaughterer) of Kamenka from his position."

The Besht pondered the directive he received. He couldn't fathom why there would be a heavenly decree to discharge the shochet from his position. He knew that R. Boruch, the Rabbi of Kamenka, was a wise and respected Rabbi who was meticulous when it came to matters of Jewish Law. He was sure that if there was any halachic problem with the town's shochet, the rabbi would know of it and correct it immediately.
"Perhaps," reasoned the Besht, "the problem is not a halachic one. Perhaps the shochet has taken a spiritual 'position' from which he needs to be removed."

When he arrived in Kamenka, the Baal Shem Tov went directly to the house of Rabbi Boruch, who was elated and honored to welcome the holy Besht to his town. He was invited to rest there while Rabbi Baruch arranged for a celebration honoring the arrival of the great tzadik. He set aside several choice lambs, and sent a request to the local shochet to come and slaughter them for the occasion.

After the slaughtering, when inspecting the lambs as Jewish Law requires, the shochet found one of the lambs to have a certain lesion that he decided rendered it not kosher. He removed the unfit lamb and hung it on a hook in the passageway behind Rabbi Boruch's home.
Later that day, Rabbi Boruch found the Baal Shem Tov smoking his pipe in that passageway and staring in deep concentration at the slaughtered lamb. After a few minutes, the Besht turned to the rabbi and said, "Rabbi Boruch, would you be so kind as to cut a piece of meat from this animal and roast it for me."

Reb Boruch thought the tzadik had made a mistake.

"Rebbe, this animal is treif (not kosher). That is why the shochet hung it here. Let me prepare a piece from one of the other animals that he also just slaughtered."

"No," answered the Baal Shem Tov, "I want a piece from this particular animal."

"But Rebbe, the shochet told me personally that this animal is not kosher."

The Besht turned to him and said, "I understand. But I can hear this animal begging me that it be able to fulfill its purpose in this world; that it be slaughtered by a G-d fearing shochet and that a blessing be said by a Jew before it is eaten so its soul-spark can be elevated. We must speak with the shochet and find out why he considers it to be not kosher."

Immediately, Rabbi Boruch sent for the shochet. When he arrived, the rabbi asked him in the presence of the Baal Shem Tov why he thought this lamb is treif.
The shochet explained his doubt as to whether the animal was one hundred percent kosher, and his hesitancy to allow any Jew to eat it. Then he continued, "It is true, however, that there are several rabbinic opinions regarding this particular lesion, and that some authorities consider it to be kosher, and some do not."
The Baal Shem Tov then understood the 'position' the shochet was in from which he had to be removed. Although the shochet was G-d fearing and expert in his profession, he did not understand the spiritual consequences of his perhaps too strict position.

"In that case," the Besht addressed Rabbi Boruch, "please cut me a piece of meat and roast it for me." The Rabbi stared at the Baal Shem Tov in shock. On one hand he wanted to fulfill the request of his Rebbe. On the other hand how could he feed the Rebbe treif meat, a prohibition directly from the Torah?

The Baal Shem Tov understood the rabbi's dilemma. So he suggested, "Please send a messenger to Rabbi Shmuel, the Dayan (rabbinical court judge) of the large strictly observant community of Polonnoye, with a letter explaining the doubts the shochet has about this animal. Let him be the judge for us."

The other two agreed. Rabbi Boruch, relieved by the Besht's suggestion, immediately sent a messenger to Rabbi Shmuel. The messenger returned that same day with rabbinical judge's reply, which was that the meat was indeed kosher. He also included the halachic reasons for his opinion.
Thus, the Baal Shem Tov complied with the heavenly decree and succeeded to remove the shochet from his 'position.' Indeed, he placed him in a much better one in the eyes of Heaven!


Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles with permission from the rendition of Tzvi-Meir HaKohein (Howard M. Cohn, Patent Attorney), based on a story in Shivchei HaBesht and translated In Praise of the BAAL SHEM TOV by D. Ben-Amos and J. Mintz, and posted on his important website, //baalshemtov.com.

Connection: Weekly Reading 11:47 --"…Between the creature that may be eaten and the creature that may not be eaten."

Biographical note:
Rabbi Yisrael ben Eliezer [of blessed memory: 18 Elul 5458- 6 Sivan 5520 (Sept. 1698 - June 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.). 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. See also: //baalshemtov.com.


Yerachmiel 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.

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