Chassidic Story #220

(s5762-16 /posted 18 Tevet 5762)
The Baal Shem Tov always showered him with blessings for other things, but never for what he so dearly hoped to hear.

[The Second book of the Torah is called in the world, "Exodus", but its Jewish name, and the name of this week's reading too, is "Shmot" which means "Names."]


Moshe Shlomo, a village merchant, was a simple, good-hearted person, as was his wife Rivka. They always gave generously to worthy charitable causes. One thing only distressed them. Although they had been married for fifteen years they didn't have any children.

Many times during that decade and a half, Moshe Shlomo had gone to the Baal Shem Tov and entreated him to pray for them to have children. The Baal Shem Tov always showered him with blessings-for wealth, for long life, for health, for happiness-but never for what he so dearly hoped to hear.

The Baal Shem Tov's close disciples also asked their master for this blessing for the popular Moshe Shlomo, but he never responded to them.

Ten more years went by. The Baal Shem Tov's blessings all came to fruition. Moshe Shlomo's business affairs prospered and expanded. The couple, however, grew even more unhappy. They still had no children, and no encouragement from the Rebbe.

One day, they both went to see him. "Why do you two look so sad?" asked the Baal Shem Tov. Hasn't G-d blessed you with great prosperity, good health, and pleasant dispositions? And you have made the most of these blessings to do many mitzvos and good deeds."

"It may be true, all that you say," they both answered, "but still, we have no children. What do we need all of this wealth for?" They burst into tears. "After 120, there will be no inheritor and no one to remember us."

The Baal Shem Tov did not respond directly. He simply said, "Tomorrow I'm leaving on a little journey with a few of my students. Why don't you two come along also?"

They were surprised by the invitation but they quickly agreed. The travelers set out the next morning. For two days they were on the road, until finally they arrived at a certain town. After a short rest, the Baal Shem Tov suggested that they all go out and have a look around.

As they walked, they came across a bunch of children playing in the sand. The Baal Shem Tov went over to them and said to the nearest one, "What's your name?"

"Boruch Moshe," the lad answered.

The Baal Shem Tov then asked another boy, and his name was also Boruch Moshe. The third one was Moshe Avraham, the fourth, Boruch Mordechai, and the fifth Boruch Moshe again. A little girl piped up, "And my name is Brocha Leah."

As they walked on, they came across a group of little girls. The Shem Tov asked them their names, and most of them turned out to be Brocha Leah too.

Next they entered a cheder school. Six of the little boys were named Boruch Moshe, while most of the rest were Boruch or Moshe or one of those two names in combination with another. They went into a few more schools, and also a yeshiva that had students from all the surrounding villages, and found the same pattern of names. Not only that, whatever girls they encountered along the way were mostly named Brocha Leah, or one of those names singly or in combination with another.

By now it was time for the afternoon Mincha prayer. The men went into a shul. As soon as the minyan ended, the Baal Shem Tov asked one of the local men why all the children of the town had the same names. The man answered obligingly that he would be happy to tell them the whole story. The disciples craned their necks in eager anticipation, expecting to hear about a great tsaddik or outstanding scholar who had lived in these parts.

"Boruch Moshe was born in this town nearly one hundred years ago," their informant began. "His father was an accomplished Torah scholar who made a good living as a butcher. He was known for his generosity.

"His one frustration was that his son, Boruch Moshe, seemed to have no flair for learning Torah whatsoever. In consequence, he left yeshiva after a short time and began to help his father in his butcher shop. This work he picked up quite quickly and easily. As he grew older, his father turned over more and more of the business to him, and after seeing his son succeed, retired to devote most of his time to Torah study.

"When his time came, Boruch Moshe married Brocha Leah, whose good nature and kindheartedness were similar to his. Years went by. The couple was not blessed with offspring. When Boruch Moshe's parents passed away, he wanted to learn Mishna for the benefit of their souls, but he didn't know how. He hired a teacher, but it didn't help. He just couldn't seem to assimilate the minimal necessary skills.

"He felt terrible. He wasn't able to learn Torah for his dear departed parents, and he didn't have any children that would be able to do so for him and his wife after 120 either.

"Once, when he was sitting in shul, he overheard something in the daily Talmud class. The Rabbi read aloud, 'If someone teaches his friend's son Torah, it is as if he gave birth to him.'

"That made him feel even worse. Not only did he not have children of his own, but he didn't have the ability to 'acquire' others by teaching them Torah either. When the study session ended, Boruch Moshe requested of the Rabbi to speak with him privately, and poured out his heart to him.

" 'No, no, my friend,' the Rabbi said gently, 'you didn't understand completely. One doesn't have to teach the children directly in order to merit being considered as their parent; it is enough to arrange and provide for their education.'

"As the explanation sank in, the darkness in Boruch Moshe's heart dissipated, replaced by a bright burning light. When he told Brocha Leah, she was also ecstatic. They went out and hired thirty tutors, for all the children in the town and surrounding villages who didn't yet have one.

"Boruch Moshe's butchery prospered and he actually became quite wealthy, but he and his wife continued in their same modest livestyle; all their money was dedicated to Torah education.

"I, my brothers, and all our friends attended the cheder of Boruch Moshe," the smiling man concluded his story, "and so did the Rabbi of the town. Out of deep feelings of gratitude and a desire to memorialize them, we all named our sons and daughters after this extraordinary couple, Boruch Moshe and Brocha Leah."

The Baal Shem Tov, his followers and the couple thanked the man and prepared themselves for the return trip. Everyone understood quite clearly the lesson of their journey, especially Moshe Shlomo and Rivka. Now they knew how to preserve their names in a most desirable and meritorious manner. The same day they arrived home, they hired some teachers for the poor children of their town. Dozens of children became able to learn Torah as a result of their generosity and dedication.

In the next generation, if you were to have visited that town and encountered large numbers of children named Moshe Shlomo and Rivka, surely you would not be surprised.

([Translated-adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles (and first published in Kfar Chabad Magazine - English) from Sichat HaShavuah #130.]

Biographical Notes:
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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