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The Baal Shem Tov and the Doctor

by Doug Lipman

Once, a famous doctor met one of his patients on the street. Without a word of greeting, the doctor said, "I told you not to walk on that leg until it heals!"

"But it IS healed," said the man.

"Impossible! I saw the wound in that leg. It will take months!"

"I went to another kind of healer, doctor. I went to a mystical rabbi, the one they call the Baal Shem Tov."

The doctor narrowed his eyes, then simply walked away.

A week later, the doctor rapped loudly on the Baal Shem Tov's door. When the door opened, he said, "I hear you claim to be a healer!"

The Baal Shem Tov looked at his visitor. "God is the healer, my friend. Come in!"

The doctor did not move. "Let us examine each other," he said. "Whoever best diagnoses the sickness of the other will be proved the better doctor."

The Baal Shem Tov smiled. "As you wish. But please do me the favor of coming in!"

Once inside, the doctor began his examination of the Baal Shem Tov. The doctor poked him, pinched him, gazed in his ears, and tapped on his knees. After an hour, the doctor said, "You have no sickness that I can find."

"I am not surprised that you could not find it," said the Baal Shem Tov. "I so desire the presence of God that my heart cries out in pain when I can not feel it. My sickness is this constant yearning for God." The Baal Shem Tov looked at the doctor a long while. "Let me now examine you."

The Baal Shem Tov took the doctor's hands and gazed into his eyes. At last the rabbi said, "Have you ever lost something very valuable?"

"As a matter of fact," said the doctor, "I once had a large jewel, but it was stolen from me."

"Ah! That is your sickness!" said the Baal Shem Tov.

"What? Missing my diamond?"

"No. My sickness is yearning after God. Your sickness is that you have forgotten that you ever had that desire."

The doctor sucked in a breath. In a moment, a tear flowed down his cheek. One tear turned to many. Still holding the hands of the Baal Shem Tov, he began to sob. "Please," he said. "Teach me how to yearn!"

"With God's help," said the Baal Shem Tov, "your healing has already begun."

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One day, I was reading a story in one of the volumes of Yisroel Yaakov Klapholz's Tales of the Baal Shem Tov. (Bnei Brak, Israel: Pe'er Hasefer, 1970). Part way through, I misread a word. My misunderstanding of the story led me to expect it to proceed in a certain way. When it didn't, I discovered my mistake. I also discovered that my mind had just created a new story.

New! This story will be recorded on Can You Hear the Silence? - Hasidic Stories for the 21st Century, a recording of new Hasidic stories and songs that speak to the joy, humor, mystery, and wisdom we've come to love in Jewish mystical stories - presented in a form that's accessible to listeners of any background. Pre-order in the next 7 days, and save up to 34%! Buy three (great gifts!) and save up to $22.20! Read more at http://storydynamics.com/cyhs.

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This page was last updated on Monday, March 10, 2003
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