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The Baal Shem Tov helps a would-be thief repent.

A Whisper in Time

A Whisper in Time

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Everyone in town was dressed in their festive best in honor of the great occasion. Guests of exalted stature were arriving from everywhere in the region. Not everyday, or even every year, did such a momentous event take place: the holy Baal Shem Tov himself had arrived, bringing with him one of his grandsons whose wedding was to take place that day.

The wedding procession began. The Baal Shem Tov strode slowly at its head, the bridegroom at his side, the townspeople in their finery following behind.

As the procession approached the location for the chupah (wedding canopy) they were encountered by a solitary Jew in a wagon, a stranger that no one recognized. Nobody paid him much attention either. Then, to everyone's surprise, the Baal Shem Tov suddenly halted the procession, and turned aside to approach the wagon. He whispered something in the ear of the rider, and then after a brief exchange, promptly returned to his place and gave his arm to the groom.

The man in the wagon had appeared to be a simple fellow, but the Chassidim in attendance were now all convinced that nevertheless, he must be one of the hidden tzaddikim. After all, hadn't the holy Rebbe delayed the wedding solely to exchange a few words with him?

But now there was the wedding. The joy and elevation of spirit that night was extraordinary. Everybody was carried away by the celebration, as if their ties to this lowly world had been severed.

The next day, the Chassidim recalled the strange happening of the preceding evening, and were seized with curiosity as to the identity of the unknown tzaddik whom the Baal Shem Tov had bothered himself to interact with at such a precious time. After a lengthy investigation, they discovered at which inn he was staying and hurried there in the hope that he would consent to talk with them. Perhaps he would even reveal what the Baal Shem Tov had whispered.


"Shalom Aleichem, Rebbe," they addressed him with great deference.

"Rebbe?" reacted the man, appearing quite surprised. "I'm neither a Rebbe nor the son of a Rebbe."

"There is no need to conceal yourself from us, Rebbe," persisted the Chassidim. "We know the truth. If our master delayed the wedding procession to confide secrets in your ear, it is obvious that you are a holy man."

"I'm neither a tzaddik nor a holy man," insisted the stranger. He seemed to be stressed as he tried to defuse their enthusiasm. "Your master spoke to me about something of a strictly personal nature."

But the Chassidim were not to be denied so easily. "Tell us, then, what he told you," they clamored.

Now he was noticeably uncomfortable. After much hesitation he finally realized that he would not be able to shake them off, and agreed to tell his story.

"I live in a small town. My best friend since childhood lives in the house opposite mine. He is a peddler by profession; he periodically travels to all the villages and settlements in our area, selling petty goods and wares. Whenever he is on the road for a lengthy time, upon his return his friends and neighbors gather at his house to welcome him back.

"Once, after an especially long trip, I crossed over to visit him. I was the first, as usual, and the house was empty. His children were playing in the yard and his wife was busy in the kitchen. They told me that he wasn't at home, that he had stepped out and would be right back. Feeling the desire to smoke my pipe while I was waiting, I opened the cupboard where I knew he kept his tobacco. The first thing that struck my eyes was his wallet, just laying there in plain view. It was full of money, all his profits from his last trip that he would use to pay his debts, support his family, and reinvest in new merchandise.

"I was shocked that he would leave his wallet so exposed and accessible. It wasn't right. I decided to teach my friend a lesson. I stuck the wallet in my pocket.

"Will he be startled when he sees it is missing! I smiled grimly to myself. That will teach him to be so careless. Of course, I intended to give it right back. But first I wanted to see the expression on his face.

"I stood there for a while but he didn't show up. I decided to take care of something in my house while I was waiting, and so I left, deliciously anticipating the lesson in responsibility I was about to impart.

"Things, however, worked out much differently than I expected. When my friend returned home and discovered to his shock that all the money he had worked so hard to amass was gone, he erupted in bitter screams. His wife broke down in tears, crying as if her heart would break. The whole family turned the house upside-down in a frantic search, but, of course, to no avail. All the friends and neighbors who were streaming in to welcome my friend were caught up in the whirlwind of excitement.

"When I went back to my friend's house, a heavy gloom of mourning prevailed; it was like a house of mourning. My prank was turning out to be not so amusing after all. In such an atmosphere and with so many people around, I didn't have the courage to confess that I was the one responsible for all of this disturbance and crisis. I composed my face as if I didn't know anything and mumbled some words of condolence to my friend. I figured I could soon return the wallet at a more suitable occasion, at a calmer moment, and when no one would see me.

"But one day followed another, and the opportunity I sought never presented itself. My friend was struggling to arrange terms with his creditors, who always seemed to be around, pursuing him, and I knew I couldn't return the money at such a time without everyone labeling me a thief.

"Several months went by. I still had the money. I found myself considering seriously the seductive suggestions of my Evil Inclination to invest the money in some profitable enterprise. Then, when I returned the money, I could add an appropriate large bonus that I would save for him. But how could I maneuver that in my town, where everyone knew me and my situation? If all of a sudden I engaged in business with lots of start-up capital, it would instantly arouse suspicion.

"I realized I would have to move temporarily to a distant location. I hired a wagon and set off, with my head full of all sorts of plans, I arrived here just at the time of the wedding."

After a few moments pause, the man resumed his story: "When your teacher saw me last night, he walked over to me and whispered in my ear, "It's not too late to rectify your mistake. Go back home and immediately return the money. I promise you that your friend will believe you and won't think that you intended to steal it. If necessary, I'll even come myself and testify as to your true motives. But be careful: if you delay any longer, it may be too late."

"With his words, I felt as if a heavy weight had slipped off my heart. I stayed the night, and now I am setting out to go straight home and do exactly as he told me."

A master storyteller with hundreds of published stories to his credit, Rabbi Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder of Ascent of Safed, and managing editor of the Ascent and Kabbalah Online websites.
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Anonymous Germany December 9, 2013

Tchuva It is not late for teshuva, repentance, but if you wait, then it will be late :-) Reply

R. Landesman Tzfat September 6, 2009

thank you i needed a really nice story about the Baal Shem Tov Reply

YaaKov Oregon City, OR. USA August 2, 2008

A Blessing Shalom ~The story has many merits within the few words...ToDah 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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