Rabbi Avraham Yaakov of Sadigora, the son of the famed Ruzhiner Rebbe, once recounted the following story.

Our holy rebbe, the Baal Shem Tov, had the custom of visiting a certain small Ukrainian town each year. Although many of the town’s residents were followers of the tzaddik, he always stayed at the home of the same person, who happened to be one of the wealthiest Jews there.

One Friday afternoon, the Baal Shem Tov unexpectedly arrived in the town. It was a time of the year when he had never come before. Alexei, his wagon driver, stopped the wagon in front of the large synagogue at the center of the town. The Baal Shem Tov immediately stepped down from the wagon, entered the synagogue and made preparations for the Sabbath.

His usual host hurried to the synagogue and asked him to be his guest as always, but the Besht declined.

Word spread around the town that the Baal Shem Tov was mysteriously planning to stay at the synagogue for the Sabbath. His usual host hurried to the synagogue and asked him to be his guest as always, but the Besht declined.

All the townsfolk soon assembled in the synagogue for the Sabbath evening prayers. As soon as the prayers were concluded, the Baal Shem Tov requested that all the worshipers delay returning home for the traditional Sabbath evening meal, and instead remain with him and recite Psalms together.

It was not until just before midnight that he asked for his Shabbat evening meal to be brought to him. At the same time, he told the worshipers to join their families for the mitzvah of eating the Shabbat meal, and then to return.

They all complied, and upon their return, the whole congregation recited Psalms in unison through the night.

The next day, after the Sabbath morning prayers, the Baal Shem Tov approached his usual host and said that he would be pleased to accept his invitation for the midday meal.

In the middle of the meal, while the Baal Shem Tov and the other invited guests relaxed around the table in the joyous spirit of Shabbat, a knock was heard at the door.

The host opened the door, and it turned out to be a gentile, who stood before the threshold and asked for a drink of liquor. The Baal Shem Tov signaled to the host to oblige. After the gentle had his schnapps, the Baal Shem Tov requested him to tell everyone what had happened yesterday.

. . . he handed out weapons, including guns and ammunition, and told them to . . . murder all the Jewish people living in this very town.

The latter began: “Just before evening, the squire who owns all the land around here summoned all the peasants from the surrounding villages to meet at his estate. When they had gathered, he handed out weapons, including guns and ammunition, and told them to prepare to murder all the Jewish people living in this very town located near his estate. All night long, we waited impatiently for the order to go and begin the killing. But just before dawn, a carriage rolled up and a prestigious-looking official stepped down and spoke with the squire. When they finished, the squire told all the villagers to disperse and go home.”

The Baal Shem Tov now explained to the crowd sitting around the table: “This squire is so wealthy that he’s never in a hurry to sell his grain, and no price offered is high enough for him. Because of this, the harvests of many years have piled up in his granaries, and have begun to rot. When he discussed this with several of his friends, they, being anti-Semites, convinced him that his Jewish sales agents were to blame for the spoilage of the grain, by dissuading customers from buying his produce.

“Incensed, the squire decided to get revenge by wiping out all the Jews in this town. I tried to intervene in the spiritual worlds, but was unsuccessful. I finally felt I had no option but to bring back one of the squire’s old school friends. This man has been dead for the last forty years, but the squire did not know this, because they had lived so far apart.

“After they recognized each other, the ‘friend’s’ first words to the squire were, ‘Who are all these dangerous-looking peasants everywhere on your estate? And why are they armed?’ The squire responded how he was about to take revenge on the local Jews, because they had maliciously caused his grain to accumulate and rot.

“I frequently deal with Jewish sales agents, and I’ve always found them to be honest and reliable.”

“‘You don’t say!’ exclaimed the important-looking visitor. ‘Why, I frequently deal with Jewish sales agents, and I’ve always found them to be honest and reliable. Tomorrow, after their Sabbath, why don’t you ask them to sell your rotting grain. I’m sure you’ll find that they will not only succeed in selling it for you, but will get you a good price too.’

“That’s when the squire went out and told the waiting peasants to disperse.”

When the Sadigorer Rebbe finished telling the story, he remarked to his brother, Rabbi Mordechai Shraga, the Rebbe of Husiatin: “There remains something problematic about this story. Why did the Baal Shem Tov go to the trouble of traveling to that town? He could have done what he did from his home.”

The rebbe answered his own question. “I heard that the Baal Shem Tov thought as follows: ‘If my plan works—well and good. But if it doesn’t, then I want to be there together with the Jews of that town.”

(Editor’s note: Personally, I have a problem with the Sadigorer’s question on the story (altough his resolution is truly inspiring). Surely, the dedication of the townspeople to say Psalms all Shabbat night, at the behest of the Besht, was significant; otherwise, why would he push them to do so? And arranging that definitely required his presence there.)

Connection to the weekly Torah reading: “Now, if You would, please forgive their [the Children of Israel’s] sin. If not, erase me [Moses] from your Book . . .” (Exodus 32:32).

Adapted from A Treasury of Chassidic Tales (Artscroll), and the rendition posted on baalshemtov.com.

Biographical notes:
Rabbi Avraham Yaakov Friedman (20 Cheshvan 1819–11 Elul 1883), the first rebbe of the Sadigorer dynasty, was the second son and successor of his famous father, the heiliker Ruzhiner, the holy R. Yisrael of Ruzhin (1797–1850), who passed away in Sadigora. R. Avraham Yaakov’s eldest son, R. Yitzchak (1849–1917), became the first Boyaner rebbe. His younger son, R. Yisrael (1853–1907), succeeded him in Sadigora as the rebbe of tens of thousands.

Rabbi Yisrael ben Eliezer (18 Elul 1698–6 Sivan 1760), the Baal Shem Tov [lit., “master of the good name”], a unique and seminal figure in Jewish history, founded the chassidic movement, and revealed his own identity as an exceptionally holy person, on his 36th birthday, 18 Elul 1734. He wrote no books, although many claim to contain his teachings. One available in English is the excellent annotated translation of Tzava’at Harivash, published by Kehot.

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