Chassidic Story #203

(s5761-50 / posted 17 Elul 5761)


Pressed for an explanation, the Baal Shem Tov replied that he would first have to tell a story.


Sometimes when a chicken is handled after it is slaughtered, a bone gets broken which, if it had happened while the chicken was alive, would have made the bird unkosher. Since it is not always impossible to verify when it happened, it is sometimes necessary to show the slaughtered chicken to a qualified rabbi for a decision.

Once, a person brought just such a chicken to the Baal Shem Tov. Although he was certainly qualified to answer, the Baal Shem Tov sent the man to a certain person at the other end of town. This fellow went, knocked on the door and was ushered into a room where was sitting passively a mentally handicapped youth on the day of his Bar Mitzvah! The man couldn't understand what is going on, but since the Baal Shem Tov instructed him to do so, he asked the visibly limited young man his question.

Without saying a word, the passive boy immediately rose from his chair, went to the bookshelf, selected a book and pointed to a certain obscure source which proved unquestionably that in such a case the chicken is kosher. The man nodded his thanks. Whereupon, to his surprise and great shock, the lad keeled over and died.

The man [and also the father? -Y.T.] returned in extreme distress to the Baal Shem Tov and pressed for an explanation. The Baal Shem Tov replied that he would first have to tell him a story.

There was once a great rabbi who dealt with urgent questions all day. One day, while he was in the midst of a very important discussion, a farmer came to him with a chicken with a broken limb. Rather than take the time to deal properly with the farmer and his question, the rabbi, who was quite busy at the moment, told him to sell the chicken to a non-Jew.

After his allotted time, the rabbi passed away. He was welcomed to heaven by masses of cheering angels, one for each of the many positive commandments he had done. As he received accolade after accolade, all of a sudden a dissenting voice was heard. A chicken stood up and said, I do not concur. I was a kosher chicken on my way to the Shabbat table of a jew, where I would have been purified and elevated. This rabbi callously ignored me and decreed that I be sent me off to the table of a non-Jew. As a result, I was not elevated!

The rabbi was asked to respond, but realizing that "I was busy" was not an acceptable excuse, kept silent. The heavenly court judged him guilty and decreed that he must return to earth to pronounce the chicken kosher.

At this point the rabbi objected: "My entire life I was on guard against evil; only once did I slip. For this one misdeed, must I lead another entire life of danger?"

The heavenly court considered his plea and decided that he would indeed have to be reborn, but would be granted the opportunity to fulfill his obligation on the day of his bar mitzvah. Plus, in order to safeguard that even in those few hours he would not sin again, he would enter the world with a "helpful" defect.

"That young man was the reincarnated soul of that rabbi," the Baal Shem Tov told the astonished man, as he completed his narrative. "And today was the day of his repentance and complete purification of his soul."

[Adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles from an oral presentation by Rabbi Shaul Leiter, executive director of Ascent-of-Safed.
You may pass on this email rendition to whomever you wish as long as you give full credit, including Ascent's email and internet addresses, but

Biographical Note:
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.

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