18 Tishrei 5782 / Friday, September 24, 2021 | Torah Reading: Sukkot
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Balak: The Sip of Wine    

Balak: The Sip of Wine

The wine merchant's servant fulfilled his master’s instructions and waited until the Baal Shem Tov had taken a sip of the wine. Then he returned and reported to his master...


Parshat Balak
"One does not see evildoers in Yaakov (Jacob); and he has seen no transgression in Yisroel" (Bamidbar 23:21).
Bilaam (a prophet that had extraordinary power from the bad side) was offered a great reward by Balak, the King of Moav, to curse the Children of Israel. Bilaam hated the Children of Israel and wanted to harm them. But he was only able to speak the words put in his mouth by an angel sent by God. Ultimately, Bilaam blessed the Jews, albeit against his will.
* * *
In the city of Brody there lived a great number of people who were strongly opposed to Rabbi Yisroel ben Eliezer (known as the Baal Shem Tov) and the Chassidic movement he started. As more and more people were drawn to the fledgling Chassidic movement, those in the opposition tried even harder to discredit the Baal Shem Tov and dispel the spiritual aura that surrounded him.
One time, when the Baal Shem Tov was spending a Shabbat in Brody, a local wine merchant thought of a great way to discredit the Baal Shem Tov. He instructed his servant, "Go into the wine cellar and fill a bottle with that non-kosher­ wine that we only sell to the wealthy, non-Jewish landowners.  Then take it to the Baal Shem Tov as a gift from me and tell him that it is a very fine vintage wine. Insist that he taste the wine and don't leave until you see him sip it with your own eyes."
The wine merchant's servant fulfilled his master’s instructions and waited until the Baal Shem Tov had taken a sip of the wine. Then he returned and reported to his master that everything had been completed, even the Baal Shem Tov drinking the wine.
The wine merchant was thrilled to have tricked the "Holy Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov" into drinking yayin neseck (non-kosher wine). He quickly spread the word around the town of Brody. Everyone was whispering about how the Baal Shem Tov had committed a transgression of the Torah by drinking non-kosher wine.
The entire town of Brody was present at the Baal Shem Tov's Shabbat meal where he expounded teachings of the Torah. The wine merchant also attended the meal and gloated to himself that he had personally caused the downfall of his enemy. After the meal concluded, the Baal Shem Tov called the wine merchant over and asked him. "I've heard the report that you sent me the bottle of wine that I drank. The rumor is that the wine was yayin neseck and that I committed a transgression. I'd like to know if you personally poured the wine into the bottle."
The wine merchant answered, "No, my servant poured it at my direction."
“In that case, I’d like to speak with him myself."
"Certainly," answered the wine merchant with a smirk on his face.
When the servant arrived, the Baal Shem Tov questioned him, "From which casket did you take the wine that you brought me."
The servant answered that it was from the casket which contained the wine normally drunk by the wine merchant. The wine merchant screamed out, "But I told you to pour the wine from the casket with the fine wine normally sold to the non-Jews!"
"I'm sorry master," answered the servant, "I made a mistake and took the wrong wine."
"But you told me that you took the Rabbi the fine wine normally sold to the wealthy, non-Jewish landowners!" yelled the wine merchant.
"I made a mistake master," answered the servant.
"Once I realized I had taken the wrong wine, I thought, 'What's the difference?' So I gave the Rabbi the wine poured from the casket containing the wine that you always drink."
The wine merchant realized that his plan was stopped by Heavenly intervention and left in disgrace. After this, the opposition of the people of Brody to the Baal Shem Tov lessened.
And so it was.
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 in the Breslev Store. He can be contacted at howard@cohnpatents.com.

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