#152 (s5760-52 / 13Elul)  


To separate from the Baal Shem Tov was very difficult, but the reason was that he was leaving for the Holy Land.


Rabbi Ze'ev-Wolf Kitzis
, a close disciple of the Baal Shem Tov, came to say good-bye to his master. It was both a sad and happy moment. To separate from the Baal Shem Tov was very difficult, even though the reason was that he was leaving for the Holy Land. The Baal Shem Tov spoke to him seriously:

"You should keep in mind that everything that happens in life, whether seemingly significant or not, is part of the Divine Plan. So in every situation it is important to think first before acting or even speaking. And if you should encounter someone on the way and he should ask you something, be sure to think carefully before answering him."

Early in the morning after two weeks at sea, with a good part of the journey yet ahead, the ship pulled into a small port on a tiny, uninhabited island, for a short stop to pick up supplies. The passengers disembarked, to stretch their legs and break the monotony of the long voyage.

The peaceful solitude and striking scenery stirred in R. Wolf powerful emotions and appreciation of the beauty of G-d's creation. Adorned in talis and tefilin he stood in a secluded idyllic spot, absorbed in his Morning Prayer.

When R. Wolf was "absorbed" in prayer, it meant just that: absolute total involvement. Nothing could break into his concentration, not even the ship's horn and the calls of the captain and the sailors for all passengers to return aboard. When he finally finished he looked up, but instead of his ship on the dock, all he could see was a shrinking dot on the horizon.

Realizing the desperateness of his situation, he began to explore the island, hoping to find signs of human civilization. "Boruch HaShem-Blessed be G-d" he thought, at least he had his talis and tefilin with him. He certainly did not expect to find another Jew on this tiny speck in the ocean.

Shortly before nightfall he noticed a wispy column of smoke, rising over the trees. He excitedly walked towards this beacon of hope, and finally came upon a small house tucked into the slope of a steep mountain. He knocked on the door several times and after a long while it swung open. A distinguished elderly man emerged. He had a distinctive Jewish look!

He greeted R. Wolf warmly and calmed his fears. "Don't worry," he said. "There will be another ship heading for Eretz Yisroel in a few days." He explained that although very few people lived on the island, it was part of the Turkish empire and used mainly as a stopping place and supply depot for passing ships. "Meanwhile," he said, "Shabbos approaches. Let's prepare and enjoy it together."

The man was clearly learned in Torah and observant of the commandments, and it was a pleasure to converse with him. But every attempt by R. Wolf to find out some detail of his host's life was rebuffed by a mysterious smile, a shrug, or a change of subject. Nevertheless the Shabbos was a delight, with most of the time spent in prayer and Torah study.

Sunday morning another ship arrived, and since it was going in the right direction, R. Wolf arranged to continue his voyage on it. His host came to see him off. As he set foot on the ramp to go up to the ship, the man said to him: "By the way, seeing as you passed through Russia and Poland on your way here, perhaps you can tell me briefly how is life for the Jews there?"

"Life for the Jews there?" repeated R. Wolf, pre-occupied with his boarding. "Boruch HaShem, they live, day by day, 'thanks be to G-d for He is good and His mercy is everlasting' (Ps. 136:1)," he answered briefly.

As the ship pulled anchor and edged its way out to the ocean's deep waters, R. Wolf continued to stare at the vanishing features of his distinguished host. Suddenly the thought crashed into his reverie: perhaps that last question he asked me is what the Baal Shem Tov had in mind when he cautioned me. With a sinking feeling, he realized his pious response did not measure up to his master's instructions. His apprehension grew. At the next stop he decided to disembark, and to return home without even reaching the Hold Land. He had to apologize to the Baal Shem Tov and find out from him how to rectify the matter.

A few weeks later, a dismayed and humble R. Wolf presented himself with foreboding before his master. The Baal Shem Tov asked for a detailed report of his voyage. When he got to his final conversation with the mysterious man of the island, the Baal Shem Tov seemed to be hanging on every word.

"Stop!" he cried out. "Enough! Such a great opportunity reared its head to you and you let it go by!" Two tears rolled down the tzadik's cheeks. R. Wolf shuddered in remorse and fear. "I came back as quickly as possible in order to fix whatever damage I caused," he choked out.

The Baal Shem Tov dismissed his plea with a wave of his holy hand. "There is nothing for you to do. You already "paid" for it by giving up your voyage to Israel in order to return here.

"I'll explain it all to you," he continued. "Our forefather, Avraham, complained sharply to the One Above about the long duration of bitter exile. The Holy One, blessed-be-He answered him that the situation of the Jews is not so bad as he implied. To clarify the matter it was decided to have Avraham our forefather meet with an honest Jew, someone who had never uttered a false word his entire life. You, my friend, merited to spend a Shabbos with Avraham our forefather himself. But when he asked you about the welfare of the Jews, you should have answered that we are suffering heavily and are outcasts, and that we all desperately look forward to our complete redemption. Instead you automatically answered, 'Everything is fine Boruch HaShem,' and now we have to remain sunk in our exile even longer," sighed the Baal Shem Tov - May it end soon.


[Translated by Yrachmiel Tilles from Sichat HaShavuah and Sippurei Chassidim]

Biographical note:
Rabbi Yisrael [18 Elul 1698 - Shavuot 1760], son of Eliezer and Sara, known as the Baal Shem Tov ("Master of the Good Name"), formally revealed the Chassidic movement in 1734. Shortly thereafter, he moved to Medzibuz. One work based on his teachings, Tzava'at Ha-Rivash, has recently been published (Kehot) in annotated English translation.

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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