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A Small Miracle

Retold by Kathleen Mavournin

On the day before the Sabbath before Rosh Hashanah, the last Sabbath of the year, the Baal Shem Tov and some of his followers went out of the city in a horse and carriage. They journeyed through several smaller towns and then out into the forest. Eventually they stopped at a small run-down farm in a clearing among the trees. Before they got out of the carriage, the Baal Shem said, "Promise me that no matter what happens here, you will not reveal by word or gesture who I am." The hasidim trusted their rebbe implicitly, so they agreed to this.

The Baal Shem knocked at the door and it was opened by the farmer, a poor and plain man named Avi. Behind him stood his wife, Sarah, and their four daughters.

"We are hungry," the Baal Shem said.

"Please come inside. We are honored to serve you," Avi said. Then he turned to his wife and whispered, "We'll have to kill the cow."

"But ... the cow's milk is all our children have to eat."

"We have guests. It's an honor to have guests. We must kill the cow."

So, with the Baal Shem to say the blessings and ensure that all was properly done, they slaughtered the cow. Sarah cooked the cow. And the Baal Shem ate the cow. His followers, knowing how important the animal had been to the family, couldn't bear to eat. The Baal Shem sat up all night, eating and eating, and he never even said, "Thank you."

The next morning, he announced what he wanted to eat for the Sabbath: six loaves of challah, six kinds of vegetables, two kinds of meat, two kinds of fish, ten desserts and three kinds of wine.

The hasidim were appalled. This was the Baal Shem Tov, the Master of the Good Name. The very heart of his teaching was loving kindness. Honor and respect and kindness to all people, he said time and again, were more important even than study and learning. The hasidim thought their rebbe had gone crazy. But every time one of them began to speak, the Baal Shem would look at him and he would remember his promise.

If the hasidim were horrified, imagine how Sarah felt? She had watched this man eat all night long, and she was full of fear and anguish. Avi tried to comfort her and tell her not to worry. "Worry! I'm beyond worrying. What about our children? Who is thinking about them? That's what I want to know."

There was nothing else to be done, so Avi went into town and sold his farm to the banker to get money to buy food. He asked only that they be allowed to stay in the house until Monday. And he returned home with a cartload of food.

Sarah prepared everything the rebbe wanted. At sundown they lit the candles and sang the blessings and sat down to the Sabbath table. The rebbe began to eat. He ate and he ate and he ate. His followers were so worried and unhappy that they could scarcely swallow. It seemed to them that all they did for that entire Sabbath was sit in the little hut and listen to the rebbe's chewing. The meals seemed all to run together and the time passed very slowly.

At last, it was over. The sun went down and the first stars appeared. They lit a braided candle and sang the songs and prayers that close the Sabbath, looking forward to the coming week and the joy of another Sabbath. Then, as the Baal Shem and his followers were climbing into their carriage to return home, the rebbe turned suddenly and called out to Avi, "I am the Baal Shem Tov. I bless you to ask for whatever you need." The carriage door closed and the hasidim drove away into the forest.

Avi was astounded. The Baal Shem, the holy Baal Shem Tov, had been a guest in his house. He had dreamed of going to see him someday, of sitting near him for a while and listening to him teach. To think that he had been honored to share the Sabbath with him in his own house. Avi was filled with joy and turned toward his wife. A look of joy come into Sarah's face also but was quickly replaced by one of worry. That night the family went to bed without food.

The next day Avi got up very early. He went out into the yard, recited his prayers, and then walked into the forest. What could he do now? The banker would be coming the next morning to take his farm. Who would help him? Then he recalled that the holy Baal Shem had said, "I bless you to ask for what you need."

He stopped there on the path and began to rock back and forth. And he prayed, "Creator of the Universe, I have never asked you for anything before, so please listen. My wife and children have no food. We have no house. I need money to feed them. I need money to buy back our farm. And Sarah, my wife, she would be so happy if there was money for dowries for our daughters and to pay for the weddings. Four weddings! And, Creator of the Universe, one more thing, since I'm asking: please make a small miracle. Let my house and my purse be large enough to provide for others who need."

Then Avi began to sob. He fell down flat on the ground, weeping and praying, praying and weeping. He lay there for a long time. Finally, Ivan the town drunkard came wandering by. "Oh! Oh! please don't cry. Whatever it is, don't worry. Maybe I can help. You have always been kind to me. Every one else in the village makes fun of me and treats me miserably, especially my own children. And I don't feel so well. If I die, I want you to have my fortune. Come, I'll show you where I hid it." Ivan led Avi to a big stone nearby and showed him a box hidden under it.

On Monday, the banker came and took Avi's farm. That same day, Ivan the drunkard died. Avi went into the forest and pulled out the hidden box. It was full of coins. Gold coins. Enough gold coins to buy a house in town even bigger than the banker's.

Exactly one year later, just before Rosh Hashanah, a fine carriage drew up before the house of the Baal Shem. The rebbe's followers did not recognize Avi and Sarah in their new clothes. "We've come to see the master," Avi said.

They were led inside to the Baal Shem, who knew them immediately and invited them to sit down. "Tell us, what has happened since we last saw you?" And all the hasidim crowded around to hear the story.

Avi told them about his prayers in the forest, about meeting Ivan the drunkard, and the box of treasure. "Now we have a house in town and everything we need," he said. "We are able to provide for our daughters. One is already married, and preparations are underway for another wedding."

"We have heard also," said the Baal Shem, "that you are truly a friend to those in need. Those who come to you for help are treated with kindness and respect. There is joy in heaven because of this."

"It is due to your blessing that our good fortune came to us. We have come to thank you."

Then the Baal Shem said to Avi, "You know, a year ago it was decreed in heaven that you were to become a rich man. But you were so humble and would never ask for anything. I had to come and eat you out of house and home so that you would ask for the blessings that were waiting for you. Mazel Tov! my friend. The very best of years!"

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