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The Baal Shem Tov Reveals Himself

by Micha Joseph Bin Gorion

About the time when Rabbi Israel revealed himself, it came about that a certain student went to visit his master, Rabbi Israel's brother-in-law, Rabbi Abraham Gershon of Kuty. He passed through the village in which Rabbi Israel lived and went to visit him. Rabbi Israel welcomed him, and he ate there. In the course of the meal the student asked him to prepare horses for the journey, and Rabbi Israel did so. Then he said to the guest: "What harm is it if your honor spends the Sabbath here?" The student thought he was joking, because it was then Tuesday.

But when he had journeyed about half a league one of the wagon wheels broke, so he went back to the village, took another wheel to replace the broken one, but something else in his wagon also promptly broke. As a result he stayed over on Wednesday, Thursday, and on Friday as well, because there were so many delays that he actually did have to stay there on that Sabbath. This he regretted very much indeed, for what could he do there on the Sabbath day with a village Jew?

Meanwhile, he noticed that Rabbi Israel's wife was preparing twelve Sabbath loaves after the fashion of the Hasidim. The student was very astonished, and asked the woman: "Why are you preparing twelve Sabbath loaves?"

To which she answered: "Although my husband may be ignorant, he is a proper Jew. And since I have seen that my brother hallows the Sabbath over twelve loaves I prepare the same number for him as well."

Then he asked her whether they had an immersion pool and she answered: "We have."

"Why do you need an immersion pool?" he asked further; and she explained: "My husband is a proper Jew and goes and immerses himself there every day." Yet in spite of this the student regretted that he was delayed in the village.

When the time came for afternoon prayers, he asked her: "Where is your husband?"

"He is in the fields," said she, "with the sheep and cattle."

The visitor prayed the afternoon prayers alone and then welcomed the Sabbath. But Rabbi Israel had not yet come home, for at the time he said his prayers in his house of solitude.

After that, Rabbi Israel came home, his behavior, dress, and way of speaking all different, and he said: "A good Sabbath!" Then he turned his face to the wall as though he were praying. Then he turned back to his guest and said: "I told you that you would spend the Sabbath here, and so it is."

Then he requested the guest to do him the honor of hallowing the Sabbath; for he told himself that if he should perform the hallowing he would achieve utter devotion, and then the student would realize the truth about him. So the guest hallowed the Sabbath, and they sat down to eat the evening meal.

Then Rabbi Israel said to him: "Rabbi, let us hear words of Torah from you." That Sabbath the section that opens the Book of Exodus was being read in the synagogues, and the student began to tell plainly the whole story from the arrival in Egypt and the story of Pharaoh. After the meal they prepared the guest's bed beside the table, while Rabbi Israel and his wife went to their own bed.

At midnight the guest woke up and saw that a great fire was blazing on the stove. He ran there for he thought that the wood was burning over the stove. But then he saw that the master of the house was sitting there with a great light about him. He started back and fainted, and they woke him up. Rabbi Israel told him: "You should not have looked where you had no permission!" And the student could not make it out.

In the morning Rabbi Israel went to pray as usual in his house of solitude. When he returned home, he was very cheerful and walked hither and thither in his room with his head well back and sang the Sabbath hymns with true devotion.

In the course of the second meal he requested the student to say some more Torah. But he did not know what to say for he was confused. He began to explain one passage of the Torah in its simplest significance. But Rabbi Israel told him: "I once heard another explanation of that passage."

After the meal Rabbi Israel went back to his house of solitude and spent the whole day there. But after the afternoon prayer he returned home in full self-revelation, and at the third meal he declared secret meanings of the Torah such as no ear had ever heard. When that was done, they said the evening prayer and performed the Havdalah. And the student set out on his way.

He came to a city where he went to the great Hasidim of the congregation and also to the rabbi and told them: "There is a great light near your community. It would be fitting for you to go and fetch him to the city." When they heard what he said, they all agreed that he must be speaking about Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer of whom they had seen and heard many remarkable happenings.

So they went to Rabbi Israel's village to ask him to move to their city. Rabbi Israel had forseen this and he rose and made his way there, so that they met halfway. Thereupon they all descended from their carts and made a seat of tree branches in the forest; and they seated Rabbi Israel on it and accepted him as their rabbi. And he discoursed to them on the Torah.

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From Mimekor Yisrael: Classic Jewish Folktales (abridged and annotated edition) collected by Micha Joseph Bin Gorion, edited by Emanuel Bin Gorion, translated by I.M. Lask, prepared by Dan Ben-Amos, copyright 1990 by Indiana University Press. Reprinted with permission. To learn about this and many other books, please visit the Indiana University Press web site.

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