Weekly Chasidic Story #794 (s5773-23 / 1
The Haunted House
The ten followers of Rabbi Joel Baal-Shem did as he
had instructed. Hundreds of Jews and non-Jews crowded outside, waiting to see
what would happen.
Connection: Weekly Reading--see Ex. 25:8
The Haunted House
In the city of Posen, Reb Boruch Batlan (the great grandfather
of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Chabad) lived as a tenant in the multi-dwelling house
of the goldsmith Avigdor Tuvia and his wife Gittel. These two, though they gave
much tzedaka ("charity") and helped many, were not refined
people; he played cards, drank and used bad language, and his wife also spoke
in an unrefined way and would curse when angered. People trembled in fear at
her curses, for they were known to materialize.
In the year 5442 (1682), Avigdor Tuvia and his wife passed away, without children.
Neighboring residents began hearing wild screams and drunken laughter coming
out of the apartment the couple had lived in. Stamping and dancing feet would
shake the house. Reb Boruch and family moved to another area, because they were
unable to fall asleep at night.
On his next visit to his Rebbe, Rabbi Yoel, the Baal Shem of Zamostch,
he told him about the haunted house in Posen and about its past residents Avigdor
Tuvia and Gittel. Reb Yoel Baal Shem said that the only way to drive the demons
from the house, was to turn it into a "Beis Medrash" Hall for
The Baal Shem then gave clear directives: Ten of the Baal Shem's disciples should
fast the following Sunday, read the Torah passages for fast days that begin
Vayechal at the beginning of the Mincha Afternoon prayer at the end of
the day, and then spend the night learning Torah continuously. The following
morning, five Torah scrolls, each wrapped in a tallis, should be carried
by two students each, and they should march from the shul to the goldsmith's
house. At the door, they should call out to the demons, telling them, "Leave
the house; make way for the holy Torah." They should then go inside and
say certain chapters of Psalms, even if the demons had not yet exited. A prayer
minyan should be convened there three times a day, and Torah classes
for young and old should be organized. "Then everything will be in order,"
concluded Reb Yoel Baal Shem.
Meanwhile, the Mayor of Posen, who was friendly to the Jews, came one evening
to see for himself. When he heard the sounds of screaming, drunken singing and
wild clapping of hands and banging on tables, he recoiled in horror. Being a
devout Cristian, he hurried to ask the bishop for a special prayer to remove
the demons from the town. The bishop called together his priests, and they walked
in a procession, carrying their crosses and icons, until they reached the house
where they sprinkled water on the walls and closed their eyes, mumbling a prayer.
The apartment was on the first floor and had four windows facing the street,
where the priests were standing. Suddenly, the windows flung open and terrible
faces popped out with blood-curdling yells, so frightening that some priests
fainted and many of the onlookers fled in terror.
That Sunday, the ten followers of the Baal Shem did as he had instructed. Hundreds
of men and women, both Jews and non-Jews, crowded outside, waiting to see what
would happen. Unafraid, the disciples called out three times for the demons
to leave. When the noises from the house did not stop, they broke down the door
and entered. At that moment, every window pane was shattered, as the weirdest
collection of evil-looking creatures flew out in a stampede, as if fleeing for
They left a sickening smell in the room which they had just occupied, and a
stinking smell pervaded the atmosphere. But as soon as the special minyan
entered the room the smoke disappeared, taking the awful smell with it.
For six weeks, everything went smoothly, but then the terrifying sounds were
heard once again, this time coming from the cellar. The neighbors, who had been
enjoying the relief, were horrified to once again hear loud barks and noises,
giving them no peace by day or night. One tenant, a dealer in furs, was an opponent
to the Baal Shem, and denied the miraculous nature of the demons' departure
the month before. Now that they had returned, he was delighted. When the neighbors
suggested inviting the Baal Shem himself to resolve the matter, he became furious
and declared he would fight to prevent this.
One day soon thereafter, a customer came to see some fur skins, so the dealer
sent his son with the customer down to the cellar, where his pelts were stored.
As soon as they moved to open the cellar door, it flew open on its own, and
out jumped the most frightening creature they had ever seen. The customer turned
white as snow, and the son lost his mind. They both ran screaming into the street,
eventually fainting from fright. When they came to, the son had to be tied with
rope to keep him from damaging himself or others. Now, even the opposing tenant
did not object to have the Baal Shem come and get rid of the demons.
The Baal Shem traveled to Posen and arranged three Rabbinical Judges for a Torah
trial he intended to instigate with the demons. It was to take place in the
newly established Beis Medrash in the apartment. The room was prepared
with a special area for the demons sectioned off by heavy furniture and curtains.
The Baal Shem called out for the demons to appear, warning them not to hurt
anyone. As soon as the demons made their presence felt, the Baal Shem began,
"I have called you to a trial according to the laws of the Torah, for you
have exceeded the limits the Creator has set, by coming among humans."
The response was strange incomprehensible sounds. At the instructions of the
Baal Shem, the head of the rabbinical panel stood up and decreed that one of
the demons be granted the capability to speak clearly.
"We have every right to come here," the representative demon began
their defense. "We were created by the curses of Avigdor Tuvia and his
wife, Gittel. As they have no living children and we are their spiritual inheritors,
their house rightfully belongs to us. We left the upstairs apartment only because
the light of the Torah scrolls was too dazzling for us to tolerate."
The demons then began to roar and hiss loudly, terrifying all those present.
The Baal Shem called out loudly, "I command you, in the name of the Holy
Name that emerges from the verse (Psalms 91:7), 'A thousand may fall at your
[left] side and ten thousand on your right, but it shall not reach you,'
that you be silent immediately and remain hidden from human eyes. And you are
to cease emitting your nasty odor. I bind you to obey the decision of the Rabbinical
The shul became absolutely silent and the demonic figures vanished from
sight. The rabbinical judges ruled after a few moments of consultation that,
as non-humans, the demons had no legal right to the property. Yoel Baal-Shem
promptly ordered the intruders to depart peacefully without harming anyone or
anything, and instructed the townsmen to recite the Ketores "Incense"
passages from the sacrifice sections of the daily prayers, and then to convene
a minyan for the Afternoon Prayer.
The demons were never seen or heard from again.
Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from Lma'an Yishme'u
#101 and Memoirs of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol. 2, section #98-99.
Connection: Weekly Reading-consider Ex. 25:8.
Rabbi Yoel Baal Shem of Zamostch (1613-1688?) studied five years with
great success under Rabbi Joel Sirkes (the "Bach") and another five
years under Rabbi Eliyahu Baal Shem of Wurms, the great kabbalist and founder
of the "tzadikim nistarim" - "the secret righteous"
movement, whom he eventually succeeded. He in turn passed the mantle to Adam
Baal Shem, who designated Israel Baal Shem Tov as his successor, under whom
the movement became revealed in 1734 and eventually known as the "Chasidim."
Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor
of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). He has hundreds of published stories
to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells
them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.
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