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The Baal Shem Tov and the Werewolf

by Gerald Fierst

When Eleazer lay dying, he called his young son Israel to him. "My child, the Evil One surrounds the world with darkness, dark clouds which stop our prayers. He is in our flesh and in our dreams. But so long as you remember the sacred name of God, he cannot inhabit you. You are safe."

After Eleazer died, kindly Jews took the young Israel and sent him to school. But the boy could not stay with his head bowed down, sitting and reading. Instead, his eyes would lift up out of the window and over the fields to the line of trees where the forest began. The wind would sing to him - and when the teacher's back was turned, he would run..., run..., run..., out, out, out, into the open air, flying on the breeze, out into the trees, until the teacher would chase him, catch him, and bring him back to his desk.

One day, Israel heard the call of earth and sky and ran away, but now the teacher said, "Let him go."

And so it was that the boy lived by himself in the wild places, sleeping in mossy hollows, eating berries. He learned the language of the beasts and birds and became the friend of all living things. Sometimes he would stand in silence and listen to the stillness and then he could hear the earth singing a sweet song praising God who made us all.

Now the time came when Israel returned to the world of humankind. He was ten years old. He took the job of collecting the children on their way to school, knocking on their doors and bidding them come.

Then he would lead them through the grass, picking the flowers for garlands that they would weave into their hair. Singing and dancing, they would march through the forest, taking pine boughs as banners which they waved above their heads; until they came to an open meadow where they would stand quietly in a circle. There, in the silence, they could hear the singing of the earth praising God who did make all. And their hearts gave forth prayers which shot like arrows to the heavenly throne.

Hearing these beautiful chords, the Messiah rose up on one elbow and wondered, "Is it time then? Is it time to return to the world?"

And Satan, the Evil One, saw about to happen that which was not yet supposed to be. Then he went before God and said, "Let me strive against these children who would stop my evil designs." And God said, "Strive."

So Satan went down to the surface of the world. He tried to enlist the insects, beasts, and birds in his terrible design, but none of them would turn against the boy Israel who loved and was loved so well.

It happened, near the village where the children lived, that there was a woodsman who had been cursed with a terrible curse. This creature had been born without a soul. At night, when the moon shone bright, the woodsman would fall upon his hands and knees. Hair would grow all over him. His nose and teeth would grow long and his ears would come to a point. He would run on all fours and howl like a wolf. At dawn, the creature would fall under a bush, exhausted, and return to the shape of a man.

Here, Satan found him asleep. The Evil One reached into the poor woodsman's chest and plucked out his heart. Then, Satan took his own heart of evil and placed it in the body of the woodsman.

When Israel led the children into the fields, as they came to the line of trees, the monster appeared. the heart of evil had made him grow to a terrible size. All the children fainted or ran.

When their parents heard what had happened, they refused to let the children go again with the boy Israel. But Israel said to them, "It was only a wolf who ran from the trees. The creature is gone. Trust me." And he spoke with such purity that on the next day the parents again gave him their children.

In the morning, Israel collected the children and led them into the fields. "Do not fear," he said to them. "Whatever happens, remember the name of God and stand fast."

And so it was, as they reached the edge of the forest, that the monster appeared. Immense, shoulders stretching from horizon to horizon, smoke and fire coming from its mouth and nose, creating dark clouds which blotted out the sun. The children shook with fright, but they did not run.

And Israel marched forth toward the beast, not stopping until he had entered into the very being of the monster, until he reached the heart of evil. Then Israel reached forth and took that black heart, filled with all the envy and cruelty of the world, and placed it in his hand.

When it lay in the boy's palm, the heart quivered like a bird with a broken wing. Poor wounded beast that it was, Israel felt its pain and understood that all the darkness of that heart came from fear and self-loathing.

Israel pitied that heart and took it and laid it upon the earth which opened wide. And the heart fell deep, deep into the forgiving world. Then Israel led the children to school.

The fate of the boy Israel was to go out into the world where he became a great teacher called the Baal Shem Tov. The children, without him, stopped going into the forest. They became again like their parents, serious with eyes turned down into their work.

Ah, but we have heard the story and know the mystery that waits for all to see when our eyes rise up to field and tree and sky. Let us go then, let us go to where the flowers blow in the wind that rushes past the trees. Let us stand in the midst of the forest where the earth heals all pain. Let our hearts sing songs of joy, and let us stand silently while the world in sweetness praises God who made us all.

From the audiocassette by Gerald Fierst, Tikun Olam: Stories to Heal the World. Copyright ©1994. Available from:

    Gerald Fierst
    222 Valley Road
    Montclair, NJ 07042.
    201-746-4608.

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