When the Maggid First Met the Besht

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The Maggid of Mezhirech was already a well-respected and learned rabbi before he set out to see for himself the reputed wonder-working Yisrael Ba’al Shem Tov, the Besht.

The Maggid took his personal attendant with him, loaded up his horses and wagon, and intended to stay in the Besht’s hometown Medzhibozh for three days for this purpose.

From observing the Besht during these three days, the Maggid was actually appalled to discover that the Besht acted more like a simpleton than a rebbe.  The Besht was seen tending his horses and chickens and being outdoors a lot.

On the third day, the disappointed Maggid told his attendant to pack everything up.  He would go in first to say good-bye to the Rav Yisrael, but they would leave right after that.

When the Maggid went to the Besht, the latter invited him to study a little Torah together and suggested the Maggid read a certain passage of the Zohar.  The Maggid read, but when he was finished, the Besht told him that he did not read it correctly.  This, of course, infuriated the Maggid, who only answered that that was how was custom and how he had learned it.

Read it again, the Besht told him.  And the Maggid reread the passage of the Zohar.  And again the Besht told him that he had not read it correctly, and that he was to try one last time.

After reading the passage a third time, the Maggid insisted that that was how the passage is read, but the Besht kept his ground that the Maggid was not reading it right.

Now I’ll read it to show you, the Besht said to the Maggid, and as the Besht began reading the passage, angels began to appear and swarm around the room.  When he concluded, the Besht looked at the Maggid and said, This is how the passage is meant to be read.

The Maggid then instructed his attendant to unpack the wagon and that they were now staying indefinitely right there by the Ba’al Shem Tov.

The Maggid was later known to have been the main disciple of the Besht.

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The Uniqueness of Our Generation

The following is taken from the book Matan Torah by the great kabbalist, “Ba’al HaSulam” Rabbi Yehuda HaLevy Ashlag z”l:

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Complete devekut (cleaving) and complete hassaga (comprehension) has 125 general levels.  It is impossible to attain all 125 levels before the Messiah comes…

The exception is Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his generation who wrote the Zohar.  They merited all 125 levels completely even before yamot Mashiach (our generation being before the coming of the Messiah)…

The Zohar made such a strong impact on the world because the secrets it contains include all 125 levels.

The Zohar says that it (the Zohar) will not be revealed until the end of days, that is, until the time of the Messiah…

The fact that the Zohar has been revealed in our generation is clear proof that we are already in the Messianic era and at the beginning of the generation wherein “the entire land is filled with knowledge of God” (Isaiah).

[Article “On Conclusion of the Zohar”]

One Was Abraham

 

The following is found on the single page entitled “Omission” that is just between Parts I and II of Likutei Moharan, the Writings of Rebbe Nachman.

“Echad Haya Avraham”, One Was Abraham, is part of the verse in Ezekiel 33: 24.

And these 3 words have become a Chassidic “mantra” – they are the essence of Judaism.

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One was Abraham – that Abraham served Hashem only by that he was one, and thought in his mind that he was the only one in the world, and did not look at all on the people of the world, who turn away from Hashem and obstruct him, and not on his father and the other obstructers, only as if he is the only one in the world, and that is [the explanation of]: One Was Abraham.  And such is for all who want to enter into the Service of Hashem, it is impossible to enter except by way of this concept that one should think that there is no one in the world but he singularly alone in the world, and not look at any person who obstructs him, such as his father and mother or his father-in-law and his wife and children, and so on, or the obstacles that are from the rest of the world, who make fun of him and incite him and obstruct from the Service of Hashem.  And he needs to not sense and look at them at all, [rather] only be as the concept: One Was Abraham – as if it is just he in the world as mentioned above.

The Story of the Decree and the Eggs

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[This has to be one of my all-time favorite stories. The first time I heard it was about 25 years ago during Purim at Shoresh, outside Jerusalem, told by a Chassidic rav while he was “mevusam” and donning a Mexican sombrero!

The story is actually taken from the book Ahavat Chayim by the Rav Menachem Menashe who was discovered to have been one of the hidden 36 Tzaddikim of Eretz Yisrael only after he was niftar and this book-manuscript was discovered. Btw, I mention the Rav Menachem Menashe in chapter 6 of my book To Cross the Line With a Bridge in telling a story that involved him and the great Kabbalist Rav Petaye – check it out!].

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This account took place on the Galician border, where one particular duke ruled a number of villages where a couple hundred Jews resided. All of the Jews were pious and had wonderful unity and ahavat achim, and among them was a talmid chacham who also served as the duke’s official. The duke knew this t.ch. (talmid chacham) was especially pious and thus used to send him gifts for all the holidays.

After a while when this t.ch. proved his continued loyalty and dependability, the duke gave him the position of the government’s treasurer with double the salary and all kinds of great perks.

But as usual, there was a bishop who saw all this grandeur and glory going to a Jew and decided to find a way to take revenge. So he went and got together a number of clergymen and told them a story that he claimed he heard from the duke. He then went to the duke and told him that it is beneath Christian dignity for a Jew to be in charge of their treasury. And, of course, he added a good measure of lashon hara and the typical smear and hate tactics. The duke, though, did not pay him any heed, but out of respect, he didn’t answer him.

A few months went by, and when the bishop saw that nothing happened, he again assembled his fellow clergymen to get them to pester the duke and not let up until he fires the t.ch. and appoints the bishop to replace him. The bishop finally persuaded the duke to present the Jew with three questions, and if he cannot answer them, then he needs to be hanged.

The three questions the bishop told the duke to ask are: (1) What am I (the duke) worth at the very moment I am talking to you (the Jew), (2) What am I thinking, and (3) Show me something I’ve never seen before. I (the duke) have traveled most of the world and have seen a lot too, so it has to be something I’ve never ever seen before.

If you (the t.ch.) can answer, all stays the same; but if you cannot, then you will be hanged, and you have 30 days. Of course, he was sure the Jew could never answer the 3 questions – how could he know what the duke is thinking? Plus, anything he shows him, he could just say he’s already seen it.

From here the talmid chacham went to the head rabbi and told him about the new decree, and special fasts and continual prayer sessions were arranged in the shul to ask Hashem for rachamim. Three days after they started this, the talmid chacham’s father came to him in a dream and said, ‘Why are you rattling all the worlds? You yourself have the zechut to annul this decree.’ And then his father told him what to do about the three questions.

On the same night that the t.ch. dreamed his father, the duke had insomnia, and started to think about what he did to the Jew who had been so trustworthy and really didn’t do anything wrong. And he began to regret what he did.

The next morning, the duke wore plain clothes and went to the t.ch.’s house incognito to ask forgiveness plus to tell him that the three questions he was now going to put to the bishop with a 15 day deadline. That year was a leap year, and that morning that the duke went to apologize was the 1st of Adar 1.

Close to the end of his 15 days, the bishop still had no idea what to do and only knew that his life was at stake. His family persuaded him to go seek council from the talmid chacham to save his life.

The Jew knew the bishop would be showing up on the 14th day, which is called Purim Katan, and so he told his wife that when the bishop comes and asks for him to say that he is extremely busy and does not have time and cannot see him. In the meantime, the Jew took a small basin and filled it with eggs, and then took a blanket and wrapped it around himself and the basin so it looked like he was sitting on the eggs.

To be expected, the bishop arrived and insisted he see the t.ch., and his wife put the bishop off. This went on back and forth until the bishop was basically pleading for help to save himself. At that point the t.ch’s wife gave in and told him that her husband was in the back room. Of course, upon opening the door to the room, the bishop was totally dumbfounded at what he saw!- the Jew was roosting eggs!

The t.ch. acted extremely annoyed, ‘Why are you coming now to distract me?!!! I don’t have time, since in exactly two hours these eggs are due to hatch and I need to make sure they’re kept warm!’ And, of course, the bishop stood totally confuddled just at the sight of this Jew – that any human could be – sitting on eggs.

But then the t.ch. said that he saw how distraught the bishop was and he was willing to help him if he took off his clergy garb and got into the basin to sit on the eggs himself. Having no choice, the bishop took off his frock and hat, sat on the eggs, and the Jew covered him with the blanket, and then on himself put on the bishop’s clothes and a mask he had specially prepared of the bishop and went to the duke. On his way, the t.ch. bought a small cross for two coins.

When the t.ch., who was dressed as the bishop, walked into the duke’s room, he held up the cross and the duke bowed. Then the Jew said that the duke had given him 15 days to answer the three questions and he has come to answer them. The first question is How much are you worth?, and the answer is 1 coin. Of course, the duke got very angry and yelled how he dare say such a thing, to which the t.ch. answered with a question: ‘If one bows before another, how much less is he worth than the one he bowed to?’ The duke answered, ‘The one bowing is worth half.’ ‘Exactly,’ said the t.ch. ‘And I just bought this cross for 2 coins. You just bowed, so you are worth exactly half of it, being 1 coin.’

As for the second question, What are you thinking? – I can tell you that right now you are thinking and wondering who I am, the bishop or the Jew. The duke hesitantly nodded yes, and the t.ch. took off his mask and revealed that he is the Jew and not the bishop.

As for the third question, to show you something you’ve never seen before, please come with me and I will show you something you have never ever seen before, and I apologize for inconveniencing the duke in having you come with me, but to see this wonder will make it worth the while. And with that, the Jew took the duke to his house and to the back room and opened the door, and lo and behold the duke saw none less than the bishop in a basin roosting on eggs. The duke then exclaimed that no one in the world would ever believe this – that the big revered bishop would be in the Jew’s house, and unbelievably…sitting on eggs!

This was one of the few happy endings for Am Yisrael, where, instead of a pogrom or expulsion resulting, the bishop was actually the one to be hanged.

[Ahavat Chayim, Parshat Tetzaveh]

The Tanna’it: Osnat Barazani

 

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from the art of the Tiberias Open Air Museum

 

In the 17th century, Kurdistan’s most illustrious rabbi, Rav Shmuel Barazani, a charismatic reformer and yeshiva builder, produced no sons.

Finding he is unable to continue his line in the usual manner, he drills his beautiful daughter, Osnat (Asenath) Barazani, in Hebrew, Torah, and the Kabbalah.  He marries her to his nephew and favorite disciple, Rav Jacob, and makes the man swear he’ll never make her do housework.

When her father and then Rav Jacob die, Osnat remains the only one in the family with the training to take over the yeshiva the two men had run in Mosul.

Osnat became what is thought to be the world’s first female rabbi.  She proved herself a formidable leader, fundraiser, and intellectual, plus acquired herself the reputation as a kabbalist miracle worker and sage poet, winning over the local Jews.

Her ascent forced the bewildered brotherhood of local rabbis to coin a new Hebrew term: Tanna’it, or woman Talmudic scholar.

[from Ariel Sabar’s My Father’s Paradise, pp. 55-56]

The Besht Began the Work of Mashiach

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The Ba’al Shem Tov, the “Besht”, was only 5 years old when his father called him to his deathbed. Just before he passed away, the Besht’s father told his young son that he should not be afraid and that he should always see Hashem before him. Thus, when he needs something, he should not ask it of anybody – only from Hashem. And he should habituate himself to speak with Hashem in his own language, and walk only with Hashem. With these words, the five year old Besht then became orphaned of both parents, as his mother had already died at the time of his birth.

This story about his great-grandfather made such a strong impression on Rebbe Nachman when he was just a young boy that he incorporated this into his own service of Hashem – this practice of speaking to Hashem in his own language, on his own level, and in his own words and mother tongue (which was Yiddish). Later, Rebbe Nachman would insist on this practice of “Hitbodedut” to his followers.

In fact, Tefila & Hitbodedut constitute what is called “the holy ancient derech” – the holy ancient path or method. This was the derech of our Patriarchs, Prophets, masters, and all who “walked” with Hashem, since Adam and Noah.

Isaac, for instance, went out “to converse in the field” (Beresheet 24: 63). But the examples go on, from Yaacov Avinu, all of the Matriarchs, all of the Tribes, Yosef, Moshe, Kalev, Aaron, Pinchas, Yehoshua bin Nun, all of the Judges, Shimshon, Chana, Shmuel, Eliyahu, Elisha, all of the Prophets, King David, King Shlomo, Daniel, Mordechai and Esther, etc. all of the Anshei HaKnesset HaGedolah, Tannaim, Amoraim, the holy Ari, the holy Baal Shem Tov and all of his students. (For all the examples and their corresponding verses in the Tanach, please see the Introduction to Hishtapchut HaNefesh).

Moreover, the Geula is directly tied and dependent on Tefila & Hitbodedut (ibid, p. 35 citing Jeremiah 31: 9).

So, by Hitbodedut, the Besht and later his great-grandson Rebbe Nachman of Breslev were not paving a new derech in Judaism, but reviving and reinstating the ancient one, but for all Jews.

It is said that Mashiach will ‘cause the mute to speak’ and that that will be his main accomplishment and triumph. `Mashiach,’ the word itself, comes from the term “massiach ilmim” which means ‘causing the mute to speak’ (Likutei Moharan, The Writings of Rebbe Nachman, part II, section 83 – and btw, this passage is from one of the few surviving pages of Sefer HaNisraf).

That is, the word (from its letters) `Mashiach’ literally means, `one who causes to speak,’ i.e. causes others to speak.

But `speaking’ does not mean just any blah-blah out there. In fact, one can talk all day and way into overtime in meetings, presentations and other forms of spoken human interaction. One can even yap for hours on the phone and into the wee hours of the night. But if a person does not talk to Him, then he is defined as one of the `mute’ – spiritually mute.

The Ba’al Shem Tov, himself a descendant of King David, started Mashiach’s “job” and left an incredible legacy for us to complete the task of bringing Mashiach. May we merit just that & ASAP!