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The Last Temptation of a Kabbalist
by Eliahu Klein
A kabbalist, hidden in a forest, sells his soul to a "gentleman rabbi,"
who turns out to be the devil incarnate. In order to keep up with his side
of the bargain, the kabbalist ends up murdering people with the power of magical
Kabbalah. This is a tragic morality tale about the misuse of sacred
wisdom for one's selfish motives.
Unlike the legend of Dr. Faustus, who sells his soul to Mephistopheles and
ends up damning himself, this story has a happy ending. In the "Last Temptation"
the kabbalist turned murderer receives a postmortem tikkun from the
Baal Shem Tov many years after his death.
In Chasidic and kabbalistic tradition, a tikkun is not bound by time
and space. According to the eternal law of gilgul, souls must return
to earth again and again until they have become whole and no longer need to
return to planetary existence.
There is a crucial turning point that occurs in the "Last Temptation." The
kabbalist, after completing a yearly account of the soul, realizes that due
to certain circumstances, he has lost ground in the study of Torah and falls
into despair. At this moment, the devil, who appears as a rabbi, catches him
off-guard and seduces him into a series of events that culminates in self-destruction.
In his desperate moment the kabbalist could have responded to his predicament
in another fashion. He could have turned to the Baal Shem's radical positivist
transformational methods in dealing with obstruction that arise when one journeys
upon the spiritual path of Torah.
It happens, the evil inclination convinces one that he has committed a great
sin, even though the sin in question was but a stringency or, perhaps, not
even a sin at all. The intention of the inclination is one pointed to cause
this person to fall into despair, resulting in his ceasing study of Torah.
Every person needs to see through these convincing mind patterns and to learn
to respond to this insidious voice with this affirmation, "I am not concerned
with what you claim to be an important transgression. Your intention is to
take me away from the precious study of Torah. You speak lies! I refuse to
consider what you have to say! Even if I have committed a transgression I
will give my creator greater delight in refusing to let this thought bring
me to despair. Rather than letting this create a chasm between sacred work
and myself I will use this moment to serve God in joy!"
For this is an important spiritual principle: "The intention of my service
is not for myself, but to cause a pleasing spirit for the Blessed One. Even
if I did not concern myself with this stringency you have now made me aware
of, I don't believe the Blessed One will mind, since my sole intention is not
to be distracted from serving God. How could I be distracted even for one
This is a great principle in serving God: to guard oneself from despair with
all one's capacities.
- Tzavaat Rivash, no.44:
Tzavot HaRivash (The Testament of the Baal Shem Tov). Brooklyn: Kehot, 1975.
- and Or HaEmet,
The Last Temptation of a Kabbalist
Once, many devoted chasidim gathered in Medzibezh to be with the Baal
Shem Tov. The master impulsively asked his soul mate, Chanah, to prepare a
feast, for this was an auspicious moment. Now this was truly extraordinary,
because this evening was not a holy day, a wedding, a bar mitzvah,
a brit, or even a Rosh Chodesh, the day of the new moon when
it is customary for the Baal Shem to sanctify the day with a festive meal.
"Why is tonight different from all other nights?" inquired Rebbitzin
"When all the guests have gathered, I will explain everything." Rabbi Israel
winked at Chanah and smiled one of his mysterious smiles, pregnant with meaning.
The victuals were placed on the table. The candles were lit. The chasidim
and guests of the rabbi entered and sat wherever they could.
The Baal Shem tilted his head back. His eyes were bulging, and his hands grasped
the edges of the table. He turned to Reb David Furkash and asked him to begin
a melody. Soon everyone was singing. The Baal Shem closed his eyes and remained
in this state for the next fifteen minutes. Reb David came to the end of a
long seven-part melody, which had put everyone in a meditative trance. There
were a few minutes of silence. The Baal Shem opened his eyes, looked around
the room until he had glanced at everyone for at least a second, and then began
"Listen, friends! Every hundred years the Heavens send down a soul that is
sublime and wondrous. This soul is given all the secrets of the Torah. When
this soul descends into the earthly realms, she is the embodiment of perfection.
This does not mean that free will is taken away. On the contrary, a soul
such as this still has to go through all the travails of existence. So listen
to what happened many hundreds of years ago:
A soul was sent down inside a man who lived in dire poverty at the edge of
a city. He had watery blue, beady eyes and a scraggly, dusty red beard that
framed his long tired-looking face. He was such a genius that he just couldn't
possibly have a conversation with anyone, so he moved with his wife to a ramshackle
log cabin where she foraged in the woods for rare herbs that were sold in the
village market. His name was Rakmiel and his soul mate's was Tovil.
This Rakmiel had the good fortune to have inherited thousands of holy books
from his ancestors, so there was no need to go anywhere at all. On one hand
they lived a miserable existence, but spiritually they were both in Heaven,
because he could study Torah day and night, and Tovil knew she was supporting
a veltz gaon - a world-class Torah scholar. Besides, she also had 10,000
kilometers of wilderness all to herself!
Tovil knew her husband was a great saint and scholar. She could see Hebrew
letters around his forehead and at the edge of his beard, hovering over him
during the day. At night these letters became primordial flickering flames
illuminating their dwelling and protecting them from evil spirits.
Rakmiel the Recluse had a custom whereby once a year he would go into the wilderness
to account for his soul. He would delve into those dark recesses no one wants
to see - those dark shadowy caves of the conscience one wishes to forget.
Rakmiel would methodically remind himself of everything he had done - his thoughts,
feelings, and actions. He reviewed all his chiddushim, new insights
on the different parts of the Torah, and then he would step back inside himself
to see if he had progressed in his holy work or, God forbid, the opposite.
When he remembered something lacking in himself he began crying, and prayed
to the Almighty, All-forgiving One to absolve him from any negative or evil
thing he had committed. He would fast from dawn to dusk, crying bitterly all
day, flagellating himself with thorny branches until the sun disappeared through
the trees and he felt purified and cleansed. Even though he returned to Tovil
completely exhausted, his face beamed from the rigors of ascetic purification.
Rakmiel had vowed to double his amount of study and speak more kindly with
his devoted partner.
The total, unquestioning devotion of Tovil to her husband and the extreme self-sacrifice
for the study of Torah astonished the angels of the Heavenly Realm. There
was a nearly unanimous agreement throughout the Heavens that this man was truly
one of the thirty-six righteous men of his generation, and that Tovil was definitely
one of the thirty-six righteous women of the world. Everyone agreed except
one. Of course there's always one angel who will dissent. Well, this angel
is actually assigned by the Good Creator to do exactly that.
"Listen! All this talk is nonsense!" roared the Adversary. "How can you consider
such a man truly holy? It's all very impressive that he studies Torah day
and night, but he's just not of this world!"
The Heavenly Court began murmuring. "What is with the Adversary? Can't he
accept that there really are truly holy beings who serve God from the minute
they're born until their last breath? And it is these individuals who sustain
the generation and send waves of delight to the Creator and the hosts of Heaven!"
"Well, come now, my cosmic colleagues," responded the Adversary. "Give me
a chance to state my view. How can this man truly be holy if he is not a part
of the day-to-day existence with ordinary human beings? Isn't this the true
test of saintliness - to interact with simple people, to imbue the mundane
with the sacred? I bet if this Rakmiel was forced to earn a living, if he had
to go out and deal with business people, he would forget to study Torah and
he would forget God!"
The Adversary's worlds caused galactic shudders to reverberate throughout the
Heavenly Realm. An uncomfortable silence ensued. This angel was correct -
all earthly saints were tested.
Power was swiftly give to the Adversary to descend to earth and test the reclusive
The sly angel took on the guise of a distinguished elder rabbi and went to
visit Rakmiel the Recluse. However, when he arrived at the doorway, he could
not continue. The power of holiness surrounding the hut refused to allow the
angel dressed like a rabbi to even knock on the door! What was he to do?
The sly angel-rabbi looked around the wooded area and noticed half a kilometer
away the perfect situation. Down the road lived a very devout but extremely
impoverished Jewish family. The husband's only means of support was to dig
up the dry earth and haul it off to down where he would sell it to people to
cover their floors. This is how he made a living! Can you imagine that?
At this moment, Reb Beryl the Digger, was looking at his wife, Babshi, who
was about to give birth to their eighth child, and she cried because they didn't
even have straw to cover their floor or enough money to call a mid-wife. All
he could do was open his prayer book and chant the psalms of King David with
such fervor that he barely heard his wife crying, let alone his children.
Every year this happened. He would pray to God for his wife to have a safe
birthing and, magically enough, his wife would give birth to a healthy babe.
But this time, due to the spiteful will of the sly angel, Babshi was three
days into labor and she couldn't give birth. Throughout the third day into
the night, Reb Beryl raised his voice and, panic-stricken, cried to God to
send an immediate salvation to his wife, to please have compassion on her and
the soul that wanted to emerge into this world.
Midnight came and Babshi felt she was about to give birth. She shouted to
her husband to get some light. He swiftly ran out into the night and started
jogging down the road. "Am I crazy?" he started thinking. "Why, no one lives
around here! Why am I running around these woods in the middle of the night
looking for a candle?"
Suddenly he saw in the distance a light coming from a house. He ran toward
the house, opened the door, grabbed the candle on the table and was about to
run out the door when he noticed a Jew sitting near the fireplace studying
Torah. It seemed to Beryl that this man was one of the thirty-six hidden saints.
And he remembered the dictum of the sages: "If someone is sick, go to a sage
and beseech him to pray in the name of compassion." So, before he was about
to run back to his wife, he turned to Rakmiel.
"Please, Holy Rabbi, I beg of you! My wife is having a hard labor. Pray for
her so she'll give birth soon without suffering."
Rakmiel kept sitting and looked at this man who had just broken into his house
for a candle.
"My dear Jewish brother," said Rakmiel calmly, "what makes you think that
you've come to the right place? I'm just a simple poor Jew. It just so happened
that I wasn't able to sleep tonight so I took out a sefer to read
until I fall asleep. To be honest with you, I barely know what I'm reading!"
Beryl looked at him with disbelief. "No! No, No!" he retorted. "Why is it,
when I stay up at night, I never even glance at a holy book? You must be a
holy man who doesn't want anyone to know your real identity. I'm not leaving
until you bless my wife with a safe labor."
Rakmiel was trembling within. Was this man sent as a test of his spiritual
austerities? Who was he, Rakmiel, anyway, to bless someone? He decided to
remain silent. Reb Beryl was getting impatient.
"Listen," said Beryl, "if you really don't know what you're reading anyhow,
maybe the book will bring me luck."
He went over to the table and grabbed the holy book. Rakmiel jumped up and
wanted to pull it away, but Beryl the Digger was much more powerful than the
ascetic kabbalist. When Rakmiel saw that he couldn't budge his fellow and
besides was wasting time that could have been used for the study of Torah,
he quickly blessed the man's wife for a speedy and safe birth. Beryl gave
the rabbi back his book, the rabbi returned to his studies, and Beryl ran off
into the night, protecting the candle as he ran through the dense and dark
Through the sly designs of the adversary angel, Beryl's wife Babshi, gave birth
at the exact moment Rakmiel muttered the blessing. Reb Beryl was overjoyed.
His wife had given birth to a baby boy, and the mother and son were healthy.
He realized that the reclusive rabbi's blessing had worked. He ran into town
the next morning and went to the shtiebel to announce the birth of
He then proclaimed ecstatically, "Everybody should know, there's a tzaddik,
a saint, hidden in the forest. How do I know? Because he just blessed my
wife, who was in labor for three days. I thought she was going to die until
I went to this holy man and as soon as he blessed my wife, she gave birth to
a healthy child! Isn't that unbelievable?! We need a rabbi for the town.
Why don't we hire thistzaddik? I'm sure his presence would be a
blessing for everyone."
No one seemed impressed with Reb Beryl.
"Beryl, go back to your digging," they said. "So what if someone blessed you?
You were lucky. Just because someone blessed you doesn't mean he automatically
becomes the rabbi of our town. Mazel tov, Beryl! So when is the
But some of the villagers decided to find out for themselves about the miracle
rabbi. When the Heavenly Adversary saw that people were coming to be blessed
by Reb Rakmiel, the angel decided to manifest similar situations and see what
Another man whose wife was going through an exhausting labor recalled his friend
Beryl's claims about this hidden saint in the woods. He, too, in his moment
of despair and frustration, ran to Rakmiel's little house, grabbed a holy book
from the table, and refused to give it back unless the rabbi blessed his wife
with a safe birthing. Rakmiel realizing that he had no choice, blessed her,
and sure enough the mother gave birth with no complications. This poor Jew
ran into the streets of town proclaiming Rakmiel the Kabbalist as a miracle
worker and urged everyone he met to hire the hidden saint as the town rabbi.
People stared at him incredulously.
"There are many idiots in the world who believe anything," said the townspeople,
"who build mountains out of molehills, who run out into the streets as soon
as anything good happens to them, proclaiming it a miracle! What nonsense
Then they strutted away haughtily.
Another time the same situation repeated itself. A poor Jew whose wife was
practically dying in labor prayed to God to send a miracle. He saw no miracle
was forthcoming, so he remembered the forest rabbi. He ran to him. When Rakmiel
saw him from the distance he thought to himself, "Oh no! Another seeker of
blessings!" When the Jew arrived at the hovel he barely had time to cry, "Bless
my wife, Rabbi! She's dying in labor!" before the rabbi quickly responded,
"Go back home. Your wife will be all right! I assure you in the Name of the
Creator Who gave birth to creation!"
He went back home. Sure enough his wife gave birth to a healthy baby and everything
turned out well. The village Jew saw this was obviously a great miracle, so
he too ran out into the village square telling everyone the great miracle that
had just occurred.
This time the people listened. They spoke among themselves. "This is the
third time we have heard this story. Therefore, it is established - surely
this man is a saint. This rabbi must be on the level. As it is said, 'A saint
decrees and the Holy One, blessed be He, fulfills the saints words.'"
And then the people really came. They came from all directions. They came
from towns, villages, cities. They came from the farms, the woods, and the
mountains. Everybody wanted a blessing from the saint.
Rakmiel the Kabbalist thought this was ridiculous. All these people were disturbing
him from his highly important, crucial Torah studies, but what could he do?
No matter how much he tried to shoo people away, they always came back, determined
to receive a blessing from an authentic miracle worker. The sly, devilish
angel had placed the quality of immovable obstinacy in the people. They would
not leave the rabbi until he blessed them.
Rakmiel was tortured inside. This situation confused him. He had no place
to escape to. His annual day of judgement was coming and he was terrified
to look inside himself. He saw that every day he had less time for Torah.
Dusk came and Rakmiel broke down in tears, not knowing how to get out of this
The day of judgment arrived. Rakmiel walked deep into the woods. He began
methodically to go through the year, day by day, to see objectively what he
had accomplished. Sure enough, he didn't have to go too far inside to figure
out that the past year was dismally spent. He had no time at all to pray according
to the meditations of Rabbi Isaac Luria. The only time he had to pray according
to the path of sacred intentions and holy unifications was on the Shabbat,
when people couldn't travel to him, However, during the rest of the week he
could barely open up the Zohar or a page from the Etz Chaim,
when some brokenhearted Jew would show up and beg to be blessed. How could
he refuse the request of such a person? Nevertheless, he had fallen in his
path. He started crying and wondered despondently what to do.
Suddenly the Adversary appeared to him in the guise of a rabbi dressed in a
distinguished manner. "I heard you crying and decided to come and see if I
could help you in any way. I felt you were going to cry yourself to death,
but how could you do that? Doesn't it say in our scriptures, 'Someone who
takes their own life loses their share in the next world?' Share with me your
pain and confusion, and perhaps you will not forfeit both worlds."
"Why bother coming to me?" Rakmiel sighed sadly, "Everything is lost. My
spiritual life is shattered. I thought by showing concern for other people
I would grow spiritually, but the opposite has resulted. I am surrounded by
foolish people who nag me for imaginary blessings, who tell me problems only
they themselves can correct. Meanwhile I can't meditate any more on sacred
unifications and have lost the momentum in the path of Torah." Rakmiel looked
up at his visitor in silence.
The sly angel took the rabbi by the shoulders and said, "My dear brother!
You know how important it is to reveal your soul, whatever is going on, to
at least one person in the world. So tell me all your deepest feelings. And
don't think I'm just an ordinary Jew; I'm actually a very honorable rabbi
and an accomplished Torah scholar. You can trust me - just listen to this."
The Adversary, dressed like a rabbi, began discoursing on Torah. He quoted
the Talmud, the commentaries, the supercommentaries, the codes of Jewish law,
the Zohar, the writings of the Ari, and the commentaries
of his students. He showed that he was obviously a man who was totally immersed
in Torah. When Rakmiel heard all the wisdom pouring out of the rabbi standing
in front of him, he felt he could trust him. So he poured out his heart, all
of his doubts, anxieties, fears, and nightmares.
When the saint completed his confession, the angel-rabbi responded haughtily,
"My honorable colleague, I'm really ashamed to hear you. If I've heard correctly,
you basically want to withdraw from the world. But how can you do that? Doesn't
it say, 'It is not the learning that counts, but the applying it to reality'?
If you don't offer what you know, what good is it? Every person is not complete
in righteousness until one manifests the three pillars that sustain the world:
Torah, study of the scriptures; Avodah, the way of prayer; and Gemilut
Hasadim, acts of loving-kindness. Now, everybody knows that loving-kindness
is the most important. Since you don't have money to give charity, at least
you could help people by giving them good advice, by listening to their problems,
and by blessing them. This would be of great service - you would be doing
a great deed. What does it say in the Zohar concerning our great
ancestor Abraham? Who was this Abraham? He could study Torah all day long
if he wanted to, but he put aside a part of the day to welcome guests and heal
people. The sacred Zohar explains, what did Abraham really do? He
stood at the crossroads and welcomed guests who were traveling in all directions
in order to manifest godliness in the world. Therefore listen to my advice
- divide your time into three parts: the first part of the day dedicate to
Torah; the second part of the day dedicate to the service of others; and the
third shall be for your basic necessities. This way you'll be loved by Heaven
and earth and everyone will be blessed by your presence."
When Rakmiel the Saint heard this profound advice, he felt truly understood
and wanted to show appreciation by making a little banquet for this wise and
angelic rabbi. He vowed to take upon himself the exact instructions that had
been transmitted to him.
The truth was, however, that Reb Rakmiel had not reached the level of being
a master, a rebbe, who can teach Torah publicly. He was not yet ready to take
upon himself the sufferings of the countless souls that came to him for guidance,
souls that came by the hundreds, day in, day out. The responsibility to guide
the souls became an obsession for Rakmiel, to the point that he lost ground
in his studies and practices. He became drunk with power and prideful at having
so many people come to him to be guided and healed. When he would stop for
a moment, Rakmiel would see the truth of the matter and become frightened,
but the sweetness of all those depending on his blessing overshadowed any reflection
of his conscience.
A year went by. The rabbi of the woods walked to his yearly retreat and accounting
of his soul. "Gevalt!" he cried to himself. "What's going to be with
me when I go to the next world? The Heavenly Court is going to confront me
with the truth - this entire rabbi business is a sham. I am not helping anyone.
I'm fooling everyone but God and myself! What to do?!"
Rakmiel went into himself. He let his thoughts go by until he was clear.
And then he made a decision. He would go back to Torah study, totally, day
and night. He would not try to help people anymore. Let them come. He would
not receive them. He resolved to begin again and return to his original goals.
In the moment of his resolve, the sly, devilish angel appeared before Rakmiel
in the form of a great luminous tzaddik saint whose face illuminated
the wood. Rakmiel was astounded by the sight. Not even the greatest saint
of the generation had had such a visitation.
The angel-rabbi spoke with exuberance, "You are so lucky, my dear holy of holiest,
tzaddik of the world, foundation of all worlds, light of the En
Sof. You don't know how special you are - your acts of kindness are sustaining
all the worlds. Listen, Rabbi Rakmiel, imagine the root prophet of all the
prophets - our Master Moses - who saw God directly without veils, who prophesied
in a waking state, who did not just remain in a visionary state, but descended
to be with the people. You, my friend, are following in his footsteps. If
you wish to continue following my advice, consider this - give all your time
to these brokenhearted souls. They need you. They want you. Give all the
Torah you have within you already. Don't worry, be happy. You won't forget
what you have learned. It is sealed within yourself. Do you think Moses was
concerned that he was going to forget his Torah? No. The more he gave, the
more he received. Continue in the ways of your teacher."
Rakmiel the Kabbalist was completely won over by the smooth-talking angel-rabbi.
By and by he studied less and less, and blessed more and more. Morning to
night he advised, consoled, and blessed people. He truly believed in his heart
that he didn't need to learn from the holy books because he had learned everything
there was to know anyway and a holy man such as he could not forget anything.
Sad to say, the year went by, and he forgot even the day of his soul accounting.
The sly angel had him in his net of spiritual illusions.
A very strange transformation took place with Rabbi Rakmiel. The advice he
would give people took a cruel and vulgar twist. If someone would came and
say, "My neighbor is harassing me," Rakmiel would respond, "Don't worry, soon
he's going to die." If someone said, "So-and-so refused to pay me for work,"
he would say, "Don't worry, so-and-so will soon lose all of his property."
He had completely succumbed to the power of being a rebbe over people. He
lost his sincerity and played into the lowest emotions of people.
He became so involved that he forgot his sacred learning. Finally he even
stopped praying. He thought to himself, "People are suffering so much, I must
sacrifice everything to help people."
The descent of Rakmiel was just beginning.
The Adversary watched Rakmiel the Kabbalist succumb to popularity. He observed
how he administered horrible advice to broken souls, how he created much confusion
in people through his flippant and egotistical counseling.
Appearing again as a rabbi before the power-drunk Rakmiel, the Adversary addressed
him with a kind sneer, "My most precious friend, I must tell you something
of great importance. I have heard up in Heaven that you are one of the greatest
sinners of all time. You have reached such a high level of sinning that no
matter what penance you try to do, it will not be received by the Almighty!
Even if you were to stop everything you're doing and begin a life of prayer,
supplications, fasting, crying, and studying the sacred Torah until you die,
your penance will be to no avail. Do you know why? Because God is hiding
from you. Due to your callousness and ruthlessness, many many souls are living
in terrible confusion. Through your utterances men have died. Through your
deceit, widows and orphans have lost money and are destitute. Even righteous
Jews have left their faith because of you deluded advice. May the Compassionate
One save us! There is no hope for you."
The kabbalist was stunned by the condemnation of his old friend and advisor.
"We find in the Talmud nevertheless," he retorted haughtily, "that nothing,
nothing, mind you, stands in the way of returning to God!"
"The Talmud also relates in the matter of returning," the sly angel-rabbi glibly
responded, "'Return, returning children, excluding the heretic Acher.' what
does this mean? Even though Acher wanted to do teshuvah, the Heavens
refused to accept his penance. There are some who are refused heavenly entry
due to accumulation of their deeds. And you are one of those souls whose sins
are worse than the heretic Acher. I speak the truth, friend."
Rakmiel, not wanting to lose face, knew that his rabbi friend would at least
have some good advice. "If this is the truth, then what am I to do?" he pleaded.
"I have nothing from this material world because I'm a poor man, and you say
from the World to Come I have been pushed aside for eternity. So what to do?"
The sly angel whispered to Rakmiel, "If you listen carefully and do as I say,
you will become rich and powerful, and then you can do what you want. I'm
sure you know that your name is known throughout the country as a saint and
a miracle worker. People come to you from all over just to receive your blessing.
So when someone comes to you and he wishes you to bless him, tell him: 'Do
you think I'm your slave and will do your bidding as soon as you show up at
my doorstep? It doesn't work like that. If you want a blessing, make a donation
of eighteen rubles, and then I will bless you with whatever you desire.'"
Rakmiel immediately took the sly angel's advice seriously and in a short time
he became an unbelievably wealthy man. No one dared steal anything from him
- thieves were terrified to go near his house. Rakmiel, with his psychic power,
had planted real fear within everyone around him, even the most powerful citizens
of the town.
One day Rabbi Rakmiel spoke to his confidant, the angel-rabbi, "What good is
all this money? I don't know what to do with it."
The Adversary replied with reckless joy, "Come, follow me, and I will show
you what you can do with ten thousand rubles."
They bought a luxurious wagon with four horses, one white, one flaming auburn,
one black, and one spotted. They began traveling toward the capital, stopping
along the way to indulge in the most elegant cuisine of the finest taverns.
When they arrived at the capital, the sly angel took the rabbi to the gambling
houses, pubs, bordellos, and other unmentionable places. He took Rakmiel to
places that stirred up his lowest desires, his most vulgar cravings; in short,
he indulged to the point of obsessive addiction. When Rakmiel returned to
his home, he continued to indulge in his vulgar pleasures, flaunting them to
the townspeople, and laughing at the seekers who came to him. By and by those
who came to him, religiously, saw that this was not Rabbi Rakmiel the Saint.
This man had become obsessed with his desires. He looked ugly and acted shamelessly.
He had become Rakmiel the Reckless.
He lost all his customers and soon thereafter lost his money. Rakmiel was
destitute and bitter. He began complaining and blaming everyone for his misery.
Tovil, his devoted wife of so many years, saw that she could no longer help
him. By staying with him, Tovil was indirectly supporting Rakmiel's degeneration.
She demanded a divorce. He refused, laughing at her derisively. She saw
that Rakmiel had become evil incarnate. Packing her personal possessions,
she moved back with her kind parents, who lived at the other edge of town.
Rakmiel, left alone, meditated on his life. But he did not see how he had
been snared and seduced into his lower realm of existence by the so-called
respectable rabbi. In a bitter mood, Rakmiel cried out to his advisor, and
the rabbi appeared, as if he had just happened to be walking by and was going
to pay a short visit.
"My dear Genius, Great Rabbi of Israel, Light of Redemption," sneered the angel-rabbi,
"so how are you faring? Is everything all right? Why, you look just miserable!
What is going on with you?"
Rakmiel, the former saintly kabbalist, bitterly recalled how his life had turned
into a series of shattering disasters. "Honorable protector, holy rabbi, my
only friend in the world - I need help!"
The sly angel at last advised him, "Don't you remember, Rabbi Rakmiel, from
your early years when you studied the secrets of Torah and within these secrets
were contained the practical and magical Kabbalah. Don't you remember
the tradition of taking vengeance on someone by invoking God's Names? Don't
you remember what it says in the Brit Menuchah and the Shoshan
Sodot? You invoke such-and-such names, and then you gaze upon the person
you wish vengeance on, and then they are no longer in this world! Why don't
you go and stand on the crossroads between here and Lemberg! When you notice
a well-dressed traveler, invoke and gaze. He will drop dead most assuredly
in no time, and then you can seize his possessions. Everyone will be terrified
of you and you will become as wealthy as you want."
The Baal Shem Tov looked at his audience sadly. Then he continued his tale:
This man, the very sad hero of this story, if you can call such a man a hero,
I don't know, but without thinking, Rakmiel the Reckless was transformed into
Rakmiel the Ruthless.
He hid in the woods near the most important junction leading to Lemberg. Any
time an unlucky businessman went even near Rakmiel's hideaway, the traveler
would die instantaneously in the middle of the road. Rakmiel the Ruthless
would make sure no one else was on the road, strip the man of his most valuable
possessions, and run off into the woods, leaving the body to rot in the sun.
Rakmiel the Retired Saint continued to practice his magic Kabbalah
until so many bodies were found on this ill-fated road that people from all
around began calling this intersection "Dead Man's Crossroad." People were
terrified to go near and for good reason - in seven month's time, thirty-six
people had been killed here by a ruthless band of murderers who were not even
civil enough to bury their victims. They just left the bodies to the vultures.
Travelers, mainly peddlers and merchants, would rather go a roundabout way
that would take them three times as long to get to their destination. No one
had seen the murderers, and a wave of evil reverberated around these roads
and adjacent towns.
The evil kabbalist continued practicing his dark invocations. He had descended
to the point of no return.
Meanwhile, war had broken out with a neighboring country. The king of Poland
called upon everyone in the country to donate to the war chest. It was a dangerous
time and soldiers were starving. The king needed huge amounts of money to
battle the enemy and to feed his soldiers. When the proclamation reached the
town situated near "Dead Man's Crossroad," the elders of the town were terribly
anxious because they would have to send their war offerings to Lemberg. But
it was crucial that they be sent immediately.
A man appeared one day and said that he was not afraid of unknown, unseen murderers.
He would take the town's war chest to the king on certain conditions. He
demanded five hundred soldiers with guns and cannons to accompany him. This
defiantly brave and courageous man also requested a telescope, saying that
he would not leave until the town elders supplied him with one. They gave
him everything he asked for and he left town with a grateful multitude cheering
When they had traveled on the highway for awhile, the entire regiment stopped as
one. The air stank from rotting flesh. Everyone knew they were near the murderous
crossroads. The volunteer-messenger of the town took out his telescope and
scanned the area. At first he couldn't see a thing, just acres of farmlands
surrounded by an undefined mass of wooded hills. He scanned the area very
slowly, looking for every possible hideout. He stopped. There was a round
mass of something huddled behind felled trees. After intense concentration
and focusing, the messenger knew beyond doubt that there was a man staring
out toward the road like a preying hawk waiting to attack an unsuspecting victim.
The messenger ordered the cannons turned to this specific spot in the woods
and opened fire until he could see through his telescope that the cannon shot
had hit its target. The murderer was dead.
The soldiers cheered, continuing on to Lemberg in a jubilant and festive spirit.
There they were received by the king of Poland with great joy and deep appreciation.
Rewards were showered upon the messenger and he was made a baron for his bravery.
The murderer-kabbalist lay on the ground, bloodied and exhausted. The Adversary
appeared to him now as a devilish being.
"Look what has happened to me!" Rakmiel cried out bitterly. "you seduced
me onto an evil path and now I am dying. What have you gained from all this?
It would have been best that I had never met you! What do you want from me?"
The devil-angel eyed him with scorn and cooly replied, "Rabbi, if you will
swear to forget your Jewishness completely and convert to another religion,
I will personally remove the gunshot from your body and you will be perfectly
"Yes, I will do whatever you say. Just take these accursed bullets out of
As soon as Rakmiel was able to stand, the devil demanded that he swear to become
an apostate. The kabbalist turned to the devil-angel and spoke with a conviction
that surprised him - a determination that emerged from the abyss, in spite
of the despair.
"I have listened and heeded your advice for everything. But I absolutely cannot,
will not, ever forsake the God of Israel. There is no way that I can forsake
the Creator who bestows goodness upon everyone. I won't and that's final!"
Upon hearing this the devil-angel ruthlessly placed the gunshot back inside
Rakmiel's body and he screamed in excruciating agony. He conceded to the devil
that he would abide by his wishes and the balls were removed again. One more
the shattered kabbalist refused to forsake his basic belief in the God of his
ancestors. The balls were replaced and removed and replaced and removed and
still he refused. This went on back and forth so many times until Rakmiel
had lost his strength. He stopped speaking. His face crashed into the rocks.
A vulture hovered over the ravaged body.
When Rakmiel's soul ascended and the Heavenly Court was about to condemn him
to eternal hell for his evil actions, Rakmiel countered powerfully, "How can
you honestly condemn me? You all know that I was tested by the most evil angel
of existence. How could I possibly not have succumbed to this devil's insidious
deceit? How could I, a simple Jew, not be seduced by this horrible angel,
an angel whose sole mission has been to ensnare, deceive, and destroy good
people all over the world from the beginning of time? I plead before you to
have mercy upon my soul and not send it into the neverending dark and terrible
abyss. I beg you, O Merciful Court."
And the Heavenly Court responded, "Rakmiel, the former rabbi, saint, and kabbalist,
how dare you blame the devil for your ugly transformation? It is true from
God's view that no one had free choice because the Creator is truly all-knowing.
But as long as you are on the earthly plane, you do have free choice, and
you did choose to be led and tempted by the sly angel. You decided to run
after power and vengeance. People were murdered, people were slandered, people
lost their wealth - all because you decided to pervert the sacred path of Torah
into the path of vengeance and total disrespect for every human being who did
not give you what you wanted. You should be condemned to the abyss."
And Rakmiel in a last attempt beseeched, "Compassionate Court, I admit all
my wrongdoings, all the ugliest evil, everything. I have just one more thing
to say. The early years of my life were spent in total devotion to the Torah.
I was completely surrendered to serving God. Have mercy on my soul for these
Once again the Baal Shem Tov regarded his listeners, and then he concluded
this tragic tale with this revelation:
For hundreds of years, this soul was not allowed into Heaven or hell. This
soul has had no rest. He has been in perpetual psychic exile. One night while
deep in my meditations, this soul came to me for a tikkun, a mystical
intention to release him from exile. Today was the day this soul was at last
released from his suffering. This is why I have asked my wonderful wife, Chanah,
to prepare this humble banquet to celebrate this moment for the benefit of
The guests were stunned by this tale. It moved people so much that visiting
rabbis who were slightly skeptical of the ways of the Baal Shem were won over
by this awesome tale of penance. A great talmudic scholar, who never cried
in his life, was weeping openly before the kind and compassionate eyes of the
chasidim and their master.
Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov ended this story with these wise words: "We take
it for granted that since we have the Torah our life is set. There are no
problems. The opposite is true. The more you study Torah, the more obstructions
will be placed before you. If you immerse yourself in the secrets of Torah,
the greater the obstructions, the deeper and more insidious the deception.
Those who practice the meditations of Kabbalah must do so with a
study partner. It is crucial. Practicing by yourself, the ego will deceive
you. Understand your limitations in serving God, and be very humble when you
achieve a high state of God-realization. Apply your realization for the good
of the people around you. By practicing this way, God's real compassion will
be manifest in the world."
Sources: Kol Sippurei HaBesht, Yeshuot Yisrael
As published in Meetings with Remarkable Souls - Legends of the Baal Shem Tov, by Eliahu Klein.
Copyright © 1995 by Eliahu Klein.
Reprinted by permission of the publisher, Jason Aronson, Inc., Northvale, NJ. Permission was also obtained from the author. To order: The Jason Aronson Home Page
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