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Hidden and Revealed

Hidden and Revealed

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It is a tradition that in every generation there are hidden tzaddikim ("righteous ones") who conceal their greatness from the eyes of men and live amongst us disguised as simple, ignorant folk.

Rabbi Gershon Kitover once asked his famous brother-in-law, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem, to show him one of the hidden righteous. At first, the Baal Shem Tov refused. But Rabbi Gershon persisted in his request until the Chassidic master finally relented.

"This Friday night in shul, look among the crowd of beggars waiting near the door to be invited for the Shabbat meal. One of them will be a hidden tzaddik," said the Baal Shem Tov to Rabbi Gershon, and described the righteous pauper. "But you must promise not to let on in any way that you are aware of his true identity."

Rabbi Gershon readily identified the tzaddik-in-disguise and invited him to share his Shabbat meals. But though he carefully scrutinized his guest's every word and deed, he was unable to discern anything beyond the ordinary behavior of a wandering pauper. Finally, he could not resist the temptation to ask his guest to grace the table with some words of Torah.

"Me?! Speak words of Torah? A beggar the child of beggars, who has scarcely seen the inside of a cheder? Whatever gave you such an idea, anyway?" asked the guest, a note of suspicion in his voice.

Rabbi Gershon quickly let the matter drop.

The next day, however, at the noontime meal, Rabbi Gershon could not resist another attempt. Finally, he thought, I have one of the greatest people of the generation at my table—should I indeed learn nothing from him? Again he pressed his guest to reveal something of his well-concealed greatness. This time, the hidden tzaddik seemed to hesitate somewhat, as if tempted to accede to his host's request, but only for a fleeting moment; he immediately resumed his ignorant-beggar pose of the night before, protesting that the very request was ridiculous.

But at the seudah shelishit, the third Shabbat meal, Rabbi Gershon seemed to have finally made some headway. When he again asked his guest to enlighten him with words of Torah, the holy beggar's face was transformed. His eyes began to glow with a Divine light, and his coarse features assumed a sublime grace. He opened his mouth to speak; but before a single word emerged from his lips, he suddenly closed them, and with obvious effort, wrenched himself from his seat and bolted from the room. By the time Rabbi Gershon had collected his wits and run after him out to the street, he was gone.

The next day, when Rabbi Gershon came to see the Baal Shem Tov, he was shocked to learn that his brother-in-law had been ill all Shabbat. At the Friday night meal, the Baal Shem Tov's disciples had noticed that something was amiss; the next day the situation had worsened, and at one point, toward the close of Shabbat, it had seemed that his very life was in jeopardy. But the crisis had passed, thanks to G‑d, and he was steadily regaining his strength.

When Rabbi Gershon entered his brother-in-law's room, the Chassidic master said to him: "What have you done? Because of you, I almost departed from this world.

"You see, every righteous soul has two faces-one hidden and the other revealed. The tzaddik who ate at your table this Shabbat is my cosmic "twin", whose greatness must remain hidden for as long as I openly serve as a teacher and guide in the service of the Almighty. But the temptation for a hidden tzaddik to reveal himself is very great, since every person desires to manifestly influence his surroundings. Had he done so, my soul would have had to be concealed from the world; since I am already widely known, this meant that I would have had to pass on from my present life. Luckily, he stopped himself just in time."

From Otzar Sippurei Chabad, compiled by Rabbi A. H. Glitzenstein; translation-adaptation by Yanki Tauber
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Knish Skokie, IL October 30, 2011

This is such an amazing story.... It really gets you thinking about all those tzaddikim who passed on at a relatively young age... Reply

Learn about the life and teachings of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, the 18th century mystic who permanently changed the Jewish landscape.
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