18 Tishrei 5782 / Friday, September 24, 2021 | Torah Reading: Sukkot
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Adam Baal Shem’s Letters    

Adam Baal Shem’s Letters

The holy tzaddik Adam Baal Shem left the physical world. His letters, full of Torah secrets, were destined to reach his successor, a young orphan…


“The Baal Shem Tov – Early Years”, Part 6

In the last installment, Yisrael wondered back to the holy community of Okup, where he had been born. He could no longer work as the teacher's assistant and to take the children to and from Cheder and to help those who needed with their studies.

But how could the people of Horodenko know what they did when they told Yisrael that he could no longer be the teacher's assistant? All they knew was that a werewolf tried to attack Yisrael and he had killed it in front of the children. So of course he could not be the teacher's assistant any more.
How could they know that from that day on the children would no longer sing their sweet melody to the holy words of Sh'ma Yisrael, "Hear, 0 Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is one"? Neither could the people of Okup know that from that day on the angels would never again come down from heaven to hear the lovely prayer-song of Yisrael with the holy choir of the children.

When Yisrael returned to Okup, he was given the job as the Shule Shamash (the caretaker of the synagogue.) At first, Yisraelic was somewhat sad. "How dull it would be." he thought, "just taking care of the small synagogue instead of singing with the children and making them laugh while he taught them faith in the true G-d of heaven and earth.
Then he remembered a story he had heard from his dear, good mother years before. It was a story she had read to him from a holy book about Nachum of Gamzu. Whatever happened to him, this pious man named Nachum would say the Hebrew phrase, "Gamzu l'tov" meaning this too is for the best.

Yisrael decided to be like the pious Nachum. Even if he felt sad that he could not be with his beloved little school children any more, he would believe firmly that Heaven made it happen for a good reason and it would all be for the best.

Little did he know, but he was absolutely right. Heaven had its reason indeed. It was important for him to be in the synagogue every day.

For in a far off city, a most holy man named Adam had left this world. He was known as "Adam Baal Shem" (Adam the master of the good name) because he was always able to make strange and wonderful things happen. His life ended. But before he departed to the next world, he gave his previously secret writings to this son. These writings, written in his own handwriting, were filled with hidden, secret teachings of the Torah that had previously only been revealed to Adam the first man, Avraham the Patriarch, Joseph the Tzaddik, Moses our teacher, Joshua, and King Soloman. When he gave these holy writings to his son, he also gave him explicit instructions to take them to Okup and give them to Rabbi Yisrael the orphan, the son of Reb Eliezer. Rabbi Adam Baal Shem knew prophetically that Yisrael was the next person to be given the most hidden knolwdege of G-d and that he would be called Baal Shem Tov, "Master of the Good Name."

So Yisrael had to stay in the little synagogue and prepare himself to receive the hidden writings that were meant for him.
Okup became a busy place in those days. Traders and merchants were frequently traveling from Wallachia to Poland, and their route passed through the village of Okup in route to their destination. Every day they passed through on their way to Poland. And they always stopped at the little synagogue for the daily prayers.

Once, a group of travelling merchants related a fascinating story about Jewish children in their hometown of Jassy. This caused Yisrael to came close to listen with his ears open wide. And this is what he heard:

Hundreds of years before, further back than anyone could remember, some Jewish children were on a hill in Jassy, playing a game of marbles. One of them began to dig a hole, and then on a sudden whim. decided to dig deeper. As he scooped out the earth, he hit upon a hard surface which seemed to be the roof of a building.
Now the other children became interested, and they too began digging and scooping away the earth. It was not long before their parents too became curious, and they brought shovels and joined in.

Many of them hoped to find some treasure such as silver and gold. But all they found was a large building which they were able to enter through a window.

When they cleaned it out, they discovered it was an very old, large synagogue - the most precious spiritual treasure in the world. It had been built deep in the ground as a way of showing humility before G-d, and over the last few centuries had become covered over with earth. When at last all the earth was cleared away, the Jews of Jassy had a celebration to honor the official opening of the Shul.

They opened the door and walked in together. And just then they heard a Heavenly voice whispering the prayer of King David, "Out of the depths I have called to Thee, 0 L-d!"

The Jews of Jassy were overjoyed at this wondrous find that the children discovered.

In the little synagogue of Okup, Yisrael (its young caretaker) listened closely as the traveling merchants told of this amazing discovery about Jassy. The story had a profound effect on the young orphan and Yisrael began musing and dreaming, wondering how he might get to Jassy, to see the synagogue with his own…

He longed to ask those traveling merchants how far it was from Okup and how many days it took to get to Jassy from there. But he was too bashful to speak up and ask such questions with the people of Okup standing around.

Instead, the orphan took a Tehillim, a Book of Psalms, and he began turning the pages till he found chapter 81 and with all his heart he prayed, "My soul longs and expires for the courtyards of the L-rd. My heart and flesh would sing for joy to the living G-d. Even the little bird found a home."

As tears flowed from his eyes he thought of "the little bird," the children of Jassy, who "found a home" in the olden synagogue, the home of G-d.

Lost in thought, he hardly noticed the Book of Psalms fall from his hand onto the table. He opened it again and read, "If only I had wings like a dove I would fly away and find rest" (Psalms 5:7).
Suddenly he heard someone calling, "Yisrael, my child." He looked up and saw one of the merchants from Jassy, who remained behind after everyone else had left. The man asked Yisrael to bring him a pitcher of water so that he could wash his hands and have a bit of breakfast there. As Yisrael brought him the water, he saw that there was no one else in the synagogue. He waited for the man to finish his meal. Then, gathering his courage, he went over to the man and asked, "Are there still children in Jassy who come to that synagogue which those other children found a long time ago?"
"Certainly there are, my son. Most of the children who live in the nearby neighborhood come to that synagogue and play in the courtyard."
"What do the children do there all day?" Yisrael asked.

"They learn and study for a few hours in the Torah school. Then they go out and play games with their marbles, just as those children had long ago when they discovered the synagogue."

"Does the synagogue have a very big courtyard?" Yisrael wanted to know.
"Yes indeed," the man replied, "right behind the building. There is even a small part where two people are buried; a bridegroom and his bride. Just as they were to be married, some Tartars came bursting into the town on a mad rampage, and they killed the young couple right there in the synagogue courtyard where they were to be married. So they were buried right there. A tombstone was put up to mark their grave, and a fence was put up around it. The children never go there, because they are afraid of the grave."
"Why," asked Yisrael the orphan, "does no one ever go there to pray at the tomb of that poor couple who died as martyrs?"

"Oh of course people go there to pray," the man replied. "Before the start of every Jewish month, both men and women go there to pray, and they shed tears as they ask G-d to protect them in the new month. Then, whenever there is a wedding ceremony in the courtyard, the bride and the other young women go over there to pray and weep, imploring G-d to grant their children a long, healthy, happy life."
At this, Yisrael became emotional and excited; "Do you know, if I lived in your town I would go to that grave every day to pray. I am an orphan, and I go many, many times to pray at the graves of my dear pious parents. I have no fear of a grave. They never do any harm to Jewish children."

"You see," the boy continued, "I was only five years old when my father died. Before he passed away he called me to him. He embraced me and kissed me, and he instructed me never to be afraid of anything except G-d. If I ever felt fear taking hold of me, he said, I should recite the sentence of Shema Yisrael: Hear, 0 Israel: the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is one!"
"That," said the man from Jassy, "is very good - that you are not afraid. The Jewish children in our town are quite fearful. Many times the gentile children throw stones at them, and they just run away in terror."
"Tell me," said Israel, "is there a forest anywhere about the town?"

"Yes, my son," the man replied, "There is a large forest not from the synagogue. We pass through it when we leave the town and cross the iron bridge over the river. But Jewish children never go to the forest because they are very fearful.
Yisrael, the young caretaker of the synagogue, could hardly keep still in his excitement, "Just tell me," he said. "Is there a need for a teacher's assistant in your town? - Boys to take the children from home to school and back again?"
"Certainly. We have many teachers in our town; and someone among them is always looking for an assistant."

Yisrael sat lost in thought. In his mind, he saw just what should be done. He ought to travel to Jassy and organize the children whom he took to school into a regular trained, disciplined group. Just as he did in Okup, he ought to take those children away, off the regular roads; and in privacy he ought to teach them to use bows and arrows. And when the Jewish children grew up, they would learn to fight and take revenge, just like Jacob's sons Shimon and Levi in the Bible…

In the midst of his daydream, he suddenly heard the man calling him: "Yisrael. I know you are an orphan. Please take these as a present from me. And he gave Yisrael a number of gold coins. At first, the boy wanted to give them back. He did not like taking presents. But then he thought: It would be better to save up all the money he could, till he had enough to travel to Jassy.
Days and years passed. The boy Yisrael grew taller. And still he dreamed and planned about going to Jassy. But then, the son of Adam Baal Shem Tov moved to Okup and everything changed.
To be continued next week, G-d willing…
Tzvi Meir Cohn attended Yeshiva Hadar Hatorah in Crown Heights, Brooklyn after completing his university studies in Engineering and Law. While studying at the Yeshiva, he discovered a deep connection to the stories and teachings of the Baal Shem Tov. His many books about the Baal Shem Tov can be found on Amazon. He can be contacted at howard@cohnpatents.com.

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