VERY YOUNG RABBI
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
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
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
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
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but PLEASE DO NOT PUBLISH THIS STORY IN PRINT OR ELECTRONIC FORM
WITHOUT EXPLICIT PERMISSION.]
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.