Monday, June 2, 2008

Some nice stories

This morning on the way to Mikveh I was listening to a tape from an old class of Rabbi Sholom Ber Gordon, grandfather of both of our leaders here at YHSTC. He told a couple of stories which I'll try to reproduce here for your reading pleasure. The first concerns the oldest son of the Tzemach Tzedek, Rav Baruch Shalom, who along with Reb Yaakov did not become Rebbeim, unlike the other five sons. Anyway, the Tzemach Tzedek told Rav Baruch Shalom, or maybe it's a letter, I wasn't paying attention too closely, that since he was the Bechor, the oldest son, he was entitled to a double portion of his father's inheritance. What was this double portion that he got? He didn't have to become a Rebbe. His great-great-grandson was the Rebbe, but whether that has any connection to the story I don't know.
The second story concerns the Baal Shem Tov. One of his students would stay up all night reciting Mishnayos in the his room while he slept, or something like that. The Maggid of Meziritich wrote of his night to Reb Yaakov Yosef of Polnoy, author of the Toldos Yaakov Yosef. While he was saying Mishnayos the Baal Shem Tov woke up and told him to go to his closet, take out a staff, and hand it to the guy in the room. The Maggid took out the staff, and looked around to see who was coming to get it. There was no one there, and the Maggid told this to the Baal Shem Tov. "No worries," (I paraphrase) the Baal Shem Tov said, "just hand it out." The Maggid handed the stick into the thin air, and it disappeared. The Maggid writes that his feet were shaking, and he was quite perturbed by the whole situation. The Baal Shem Tov noticed this, and told the Maggid the whole story. Basically, there was a Ben Bayis, a guy who hangs out and helps around the house, by Reb Yaakov Yosef. This guy once gave the Baal Shem Tov a staff. He was also a big sinner, and did all sorts of bad shtuff. He died, but his soul found no peace, and he came to the Baal Shem Tov, begging the great man to release him from his misery. The Baal Shem Tov tried, to no avail. Nevertheless, the soul continued to bother the Baal Shem Tov, mentioning the gift of the stick. So the Baal Shem Tov gave back the stick.
Rabbi Sholom Ber Gordon says in the tape that when his father, Reb Yochanan Gordon, told this story he mentioned three lessons that can be learned from it, but he (Rabbi Sholom Ber) only remembered two of them. The first is that just because someone's a Ben Bayis by Reb Yaakov Yosef of Polnoy, it doesn't mean that they're all holy, and secondly, that if the sinner had given a month's living to the Baal Shem Tov, which the Baal Shem Tov couldn't give back, then he would have tried a little harder to rescue his soul.

After writing these stories I remembered a couple of others. I thought I had already transcribed them on this humble little blog, but a quick search didn't turn anything up, so I guess I'll just write 'em now. I heard them last year from Rabbi Wilshanski in Morristown at a Melave Malka. Here goes:

The Maggid of Meziritch was the youngest of the students of the Baal Shem Tov, and it came as a surprise to the rest of the students when he was chosen to be the next leader of the burgeoning Chassidic movement. Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polnoy, one of the oldest of the students, and the first to publish the Baal Shem Tov's teachings, came to visit the Maggid for Shabbos a few years after the latter's ascension to leadership. After Shabbos the two holy men went into the Maggid's room, locked the door, and commenced to talk. One of the more enterprising of the Maggid's students somehow managed to listen in to the conversation.
Rabbi Yaakov Yosef asked the Maggid, "Tell me, what special merit did you have that you became the leader?" The Maggid replied that as far as he knew there was nothing he had that no one else did. Rabbi Yaakov Yosef insisted, "You must have at least seen or heard something that none of the others heard; can you remember what that was?" The Maggid thought for a few moments and then said, "Do you know the story of the towels?" Rabbi Yaakov Yosef said that he had no idea what the Maggid was talking about. "Well that explains it," said the Maggid, and he proceeded to explain.
I noticed that the Baal Shem Tov had two towels hanging in his room. I wondered what these were for, and kept an eye on them. I noticed that the Baal Shem Tov never used them, and my curiosity grew. I determined to find out what these towels were for, and began to keep to a careful tab on the Baal Shem Tov's movements. I realized that the only time the Baal Shem Tov was alone was on Friday afternoon, after mikve, when he would lock himself in his room for a couple of hours. I figured that this must be the time he used the towels, because they were never otherwise touched. That Friday afternoon I hid under the Baal Shem Tov's desk and waited for him to come in. A few minutes later he did, and, locking the door behind himself, he walked over to the two towels and started to wipe his hands in them. He stopped, looked around, and then started again. He stopped again, looked around, and I realized that he knew there was someone in the room. I crawled out from under the desk, and started to apologize profusely for coming in. I said that I'd leave immediately, and began to step towards the door when the Baal Shem Tov told me that once someone was in the room there was no leaving. He then asked if I had been to the Mikveh, and when I replied in the affirmative he told me to come over, handed me one of the towels, and...I can't tell you what happened after that.
Rabbi Yaakov Yosef was satisfied with this answer, but he wanted to know one more thing, "I noticed during this afternoon's Shalosh Seudos that an old man walked in, but no one noticed. A young man in the front stood up, and gave the old man his chair. Who were these two guys?" The Maggid answered, "Did you ever see the old man before?" Rabbi Yaakov Yosef said that he had not. The Maggid continued, "The old man used to come whenever the Baal Shem Tov when tell Torah. He is the Arizal. The only person in the crowd who saw him today, who gave up his seat for him, is Rabbi Schneur Zalmen, the Litvak (the Alter Rebbe)."

Nice stories, no? As I've mentioned before, when it rains, it pours, and today is no exception. Should I have saved these latter two for tomorrow? Possibly. But hey, maybe I'll have a lot to say tomorrow too!


Nemo said...

Sorry, my health has been failing me over the past couple of days and I can only pay passive attention to things like movies. Long blog posts are just too much at this point.

Leo de Toot said...

Dear Mr. Real Shliach:
I'm sorry to hear that Captain Nemo (obscure literary reference) has not been well. I'm sure your faithful readers all wish him well. Regarding the length of your posts - clearly nemo does not ride the LIRR where a long interesting blog is not only necessary but essential. L d Toot.

CCL said...

Now I like your blog.

The Real Shliach said...

אי מלכא אנא עד האידנא אמאי לא אתית לגבאי

Nemo said...

Don't flatter yourself kiddo.

The Real Shliach said...

Shliach Adam K'moso, Kmoso Mamash! V"DL

Eliezer said...

TRS, I like the Aramaic!

The Real Shliach said...

Thank you