Chassidic Story #253

(s5762-49/ 13 Elul)
WHEN THE BISHOP CAME
He
decided to consult with the Baal Shem Tovs daughter, Udel; perhaps she could help him.


WHEN THE BISHOP CAME

Reb Noach was a devoted chassid of the Baal Shem Tov. Although he was married for many years, he still had no children. Periodically, he would ask the Baal Shem Tov to pray for him that he should be blessed to have a healthy child. The Baal Shem Tov, however, never responded to his requests, but would always shift the conversation to some other topic.

One day, much to R. Noach's surprise, the Baal Shem Tov called him aside. "Know," said the Rebbe, "that this is a propitious moment. Right now I can effectively pray in your behalf that Heaven will grant you a son. But before I do so, I am obligated to inform you that there is a condition you must agree to fulfill.

"For the first six years of his life, you must never leave him unattended, even for a single moment. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, he must never be alone. Do you accept this?"

Beads of sweat popped out on R. Noach's forehead. He was so overjoyed and excited that after these many years of anxious expectation he would finally be a father, thank G-d. On the other hand, could he really guarantee that he would be able to maintain the vigilance that the Baal Shem Tov was demanding?

For a few moments he stood silently, deep in thought. Finally, he raised his eyes, looked directly at the Baal Shem Tov, and exclaimed, "I accept! I accept! I take upon myself to do exactly what you said. I so much want to have a son I will agree to any price and any condition."

The Baal Shem Tov was pleased with his chasid's reply. He promised him that, with G-d's help, within a year's time he and his wife would be blessed with offspring.

Before the year was up, a son was born to the delighted couple. It goes without saying that R. Noach did not forget the condition that the Baal Shem Tov had put upon him, and he saw to it that there was constant around-the-clock supervision for the new baby. His wife, of course, was happy to spend as much time with the child as she could. A part of the time, he himself watched him. For the remaining few hours of the twenty-four, a babysitter was hired.

After the initial excitement, life continued uneventfully for four years. Then, one day, the circus came to town. A big one! As it paraded through the town with enormous fanfare, excitement grew and spread as more and more people joined the entourage. The babysitter, who was on duty then, became very curious. Why was there such a huge crowd of people gathered together in the middle of the day, and where were they going? And what were all those unusual loud noises?

She decided to go out to the street and investigate. "I'll go just for a minute and come right back," she said to herself.

And so she did. When she re-entered the house a few minutes later, her heart pounded furiously. The little boy was nowhere to be seen. Where could he have gone to in such a brief interlude? In a panic, she searched the whole house. The child was not there!

The alarm was spread urgently throughout the Jewish community, but nobody was able to find the missing child. R. Noach felt as if the weight of the whole world had collapsed on him. As if in a daze, he staggered around the streets of the town, poking into every nook and alley with the light of a candle, helplessly searching.

He wanted to run for help to his great Rebbe, but the Baal Shem Tov had already passed from the world. He didn't know where to turn. In the end, he decided he would go and consult with Udel, the Baal Shem Tov's daughter. Perhaps she could help him.

Udel listened to his whole story, and then said that she would go to pray at her holy father's resting place. After that, she would be able to advise him what to do.

When she returned from the cemetery, she sent for R. Noach and told him, "Father said that you should leave town to search, and that you should proceed towards the south. Don't stay more than one night in any place, and wherever you go, enquire of the local inhabitants about your son. And may G-d help you."

As soon as he heard her words, R. Noach sped home, He hurriedly packed a small suitcase with his tallit and tefilin and a few other necessary items, and set out on the road.

Days went by. He passed through many towns and villages. At each one he asked a number of the people who lived there if they had seen his missing son.

Days turned into weeks. At the completion of the tenth week, before he left the place he had slept in the night before, he asked the Jewish innkeeper if he knew anything of a lost four-year-old boy. As usual, he provided a detailed description.

Upon hearing the details of the missing child's appearance, the host's eyebrows lifted in surprise. "How amazing!" he exclaimed. "Your description fits closely the little boy that our poritz adopted recently. This squire, who owns everything around here, has never had children of his own, and only a few weeks ago he brought home a young lad to raise as his son. Rumor has it that it is a Jewish boy, so it is quite possible that he is your missing child."

R. Noach felt his heart skip a beat. This was the first time in his long journey that he had uncovered the slightest possible clue to his son's mysterious disappearance. With tear-brimmed eyes, he begged the innkeeper to help him recover his only child.

The innkeeper didn't know what to say. Of course he wanted to help the poor suffering Jew in front of him. But what could he do? The poritz ruled over the entire area. Everyone, including the police, feared him and jumped to his every whim.

After some thought, the innkeeper said slowly to R. Noach, "I don't see how I can help you, but this I will do. I'll go to the poritz's mansion and try to find out some more details about the little boy there. Maybe something will come out of it that will be the key for salvation."

The innkeeper kept his word. He was gone for several hours. Immediately upon his return, he signaled R. Noach that he wanted to speak to him privately. "I can tell you for sure," he informed him, "that the boy the poritz has adopted is definitely your missing son. Another thing I can tell you is that the archbishop of this entire region has been invited to conduct the baptism into Christianity of the lad, and that he will arrive tomorrow," he added sorrowfully. "An open invitation has been issued for everyone in the poritz's jurisdiction to attend the ceremony and the following festivities."

R. Noach's face turned white. In the midst of heart-rending sobs, he fell to his knees and cried out to the innkeeper, "You must help me to save my son. You must! I don't know how, but since you were the one to find out that my son is alive and the facts of his captivity, it must be that you are Heaven's appointed agent to affect his deliverance and bring him back to me. Please, please. Help me!"

The innkeeper's face turned serious as he tried to think of some way he could help his desperate guest. After a few moments of introspection, he said to R. Noach, "Look. An idea popped into my head when you said I must be Heaven's agent to help you. But it is bizarre, maybe even crazy. However, I can't seem to come up with any sensible, logical idea that is practical."

"So, nu? What is it already?" R. Noach urged.

The innkeeper shrugged. "I've heard that the archbishop is a decent, kindhearted man. Perhaps you can work it out to encounter him before he gets to the poritz's house and tell him the whole story of your lost child. It is certainly in his power to help you. Who knows? Maybe he will. I suggest you wait for him at the outskirts of town."

R. Noach decided to try it. He rose early the following morning and went quickly to take up a position outside of the town gate. There he waited for several hours, excited and nervous. Finally, in the distance, he was able to make out a cloud of dust, and the bishop's magnificent carriage slowly became visible.

When it rolled up near him, R. Noach threw himself down on the street to make sure the carriage would not pass him. At the last moment the driver realized someone was lying in his path, and strained to bring the horses to a halt, succeeding with only inches to spare. Immediately, R. Noach jumped up and ran over to the side where the bishop was sitting, and in an emotion-charged voice poured out his whole story. The bishop gave him his full attention. When R. Noach finished, the bishop answered that he would try to help him to recover his lost son. He told him to go to the entrance of the poritz's property and to wait for him there, and to make sure that he had a carriage ready for immediate departure.

R. Noach hurried to do as the bishop had instructed him. In the meantime, the house of the poritz was already jammed to overflowing with people from the area, all eagerly anticipating the baptism ceremony for the adopted boy. The poritz stood out in the front yard, holding the boy's hand, anxiously awaiting the bishop's arrival.

When the bishop came onto his grounds, the poritz greeted him heartily, his face lit up with a happy beaming smile. The bishop strode over to him, and to the astonishment of the watching crowd and the dismay of the poritz, screamed at him harshly:

"Fool! What an imbecile you are! Do you really think that with this boy you've found someone to inherit you and preserve your name after you die? Don't you realize that a Jewish boy will never never be loyal to you?"

The poritz was incredulous. How could the bishop say such things? And why was he so upset? The poritz remained silent, but the bishop could sense that he was skeptical of his words.

"I'll prove to you that what I said is true," offered the bishop. "The boy has already been with you for several weeks, right? You've showered him with affection and all the presents in the world he could want, right? Well, I'm telling you that the moment he spots a Jew, one of his people, he'll abandon you instantly and run off with that Jew. Come, let's experiment; you'll soon see what I mean."

As he spoke, the bishop started moving towards the front gate of the poritz's property. The stunned poritz stumbled after him, still clutching the little boy's hand, half dragging-half carrying him along. After them streamed the rest of the entire crowd, abuzz with shock and confusion.

As they approached the gate, the bishop commanded the poritz to release the child's hand and let him stand unaided. The boy looked up, and saw his father standing just outside the gate. The moment he regained his balance, he ran with all his might through the gate and jumped into his father's arms.

Without even glancing at the poritz, the bishop turned toward the man nestling the child and called out, "Get out of here. Quickly! Don't you dare show your face around here again."

R. Noach loaded the child into the waiting carriage, and ordered the driver to speed away from there as fast as he possibly could.

After reaching home safely and sharing in the joyful, tear-filled reunion of the boy and his mother, R. Noach felt obligated to go visit the Baal Shem Tov's daughter, to inform her of the amazing rescue and recovery of his son that had come about through her. As soon as he crossed the threshold of her house, she called out to him, "You should know that Father had to leave his place in Paradise to return to this world and take up the guise of that bishop, solely in order to restore your son to you."

After several days, R. Noach thought he should write a letter to the innkeeper, thanking him for all his help. Several weeks later he received a reply. In it the innkeeper had written:

"There was an extraordinary occurrence the day after you left. The archbishop came again to the house of the poritz. He apologized for arriving a day late, due to unforeseen difficulties on the road, and then said, 'Now let's baptize the boy you've taken in.'

"The poritz was taken aback, as you might imagine. He reminded the bishop that he himself he voided the ceremony the day before.

"'What are you talking about?' retorted the bishop. 'I only came just now. I was never here before. If someone tried to prevent the baptism, it certainly wasn't me. And how could you think I would pass up such an opportunity anyway?'

"The bishop was so insistent that the poritz was compelled to summon several eye-witnesses to the previous day's events. Still, the bishop, who was known to be a reasonable and intelligent person, refused to admit that he had any part in what all the townspeople had seen with their own eyes.

"The episode remains a sealed mystery to the multitudes that were present that day. Now, weeks afterward, no one is prepared to say with certainty exactly what it is that happened."


[Translated and freely adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles (and first published in
Kfar Chabad Magazine - English) from Shemu Vitachi Nafshechem #261. You may distribute this e-mail as long as full attribution is given, including Ascent's email and internet addresses, as in the heading.]

 

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 Kehot.

Udel, the only daughter of the Baal Shem Tov (who also had an only son), married one of her father's disciples, Rabbi Yechiel Ashkenazi. Their children were Rabbi Moshe Chaim Ephraim of Sudylkov, author of the major Chassidic work, Degel Machne Ephraim; Rabbi Boruch of Mezhibuzh, one of the leading rebbes of his generation; and Feige, mother of Rabbi Nachman of Bretzlov. The Besht said of her that her soul was from the treasure room in Heaven of pure souls. He considered her one of his main students, and she was greatly respected by all of his disciples. She passed away in one of the years between 5546-5557 (1786-1797 C. E.).

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