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Beyond Paradise

Beyond Paradise

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All his life, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov strove to reach the Holy Land. He would often say that if he and Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar,1 who lived in Jerusalem, would join forces, they would bring the Moshiach. But this was not to be. Several times, the Baal Shem Tov set out for his destination, but all sorts of mishaps and catastrophes forced him to return home empty-handed.

One of these failed journeys left Rabbi Israel and his daughter, Adel, stranded penniless in the city of Istanbul on the eve of Passover, without matzah, wine or any provisions for the festival. Mysteriously, the Baal Shem Tov's spiritual powers had also departed from him, and his great mind was blank -- he could barely remember the forms of the alef-bet.

Rabbi Israel had already gone to the synagogue and his daughter was contemplating their empty seder table when a man knocked on their door. "I'm from Poland," he said, "traveling through this city on business matters. I was told that two fellow Jews from my home country are staying here. I would like very much to spend the festival with you."

"You're welcome to share our lodgings," said Adel, "but, unfortunately, we can't provide you with much of a seder. We have nothing -- no matzahs, no wine, no bitter herbs, not even a candle with which to usher in the festival..."

"No matter," said the guest, "I have everything with me. I knew that I would be spending Passover on the road, so I brought along all the festival provisions. There is enough for all of us."

When Rabbi Israel returned from the synagogue, he found a fully-furnished seder laid out before him: lit candles, matzah, wine and everything needed to fulfill the mitzvot of the day. His joy knew no bounds, for at that moment the divine spirit had also returned to inhabit his soul.

After they had recited the Haggadah, eaten the matzah and the maror, and were enjoying the festival meal, the Baal Shem Tov turned to the guest and said: "You have restored my life to me. How can I repay you? Ask for anything that you require, and I promise you that your need will be filled."

"G‑d has blessed me with wealth," said the man, "and I want for nothing material. But my wife and I have been married for many years, and have failed to conceive a child. Rabbi, I see that you are a righteous and holy man. Surely your prayers can open the gates of heaven. Please, bless us with a child."

"I swear," said Rabbi Israel, "that before the year is out, you will be holding your child in your arms."

No sooner had these words left his mouth than there was a great commotion in the heavens, for this man and his wife had been born without the capacity to bear children. Yet even the heavens must abide by the law that "[G‑d] does the will of those who fear Him" (Psalms 145:19). The oath of the Baal Shemn Tov would have to be fulfilled.

A proclamation was issued which resounded throughout the supernal worlds: "This man and his wife will indeed bear a child. But because Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov has forced the hand of heaven to overturn the laws of nature, he has forfeited his portion in the World to Come."

Upon hearing this proclamation, the Baal Shem Tov's face lit up with joy. "How fortunate I am!" he cried. "I just learned that I have forfeited all heavenly reward for my good deeds. All my life I have been troubled by the thought that perhaps my service of the Almighty is tainted by the expectation of reward. Now, however, my service of G‑d will be pure, free of the possibility of any ulterior motive!"

FOOTNOTES
1. 1696-1743, author of Ohr HaChaim commentary on Torah.
Image by chassidic artist Shoshannah Brombacher. To view or purchase Ms. Brombacher’s art, click here.
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Discussion (13)
December 6, 2011
great!
but you didn't write the end of the story... when the angels heard the baal shem tov's reaction, they gave him back his portion in the world to come. :)
the great thing about the rebbeim is they would always give for their fellow jews - even spiritually.
yehudis
america
March 23, 2010
rivkie
G-d did not really take away the Baal Shem Tov's portion in the world to come....He just tested him to see his reaction. But G-d never takes away or diminishes the reward of a tzadik.
However, sometimes G-d wants to test how sincere and devoted tzadikim are, and how much self sacrifice they have for others.
rivkie
October 27, 2008
Shalom
I agree with this meaning of the truth . Rabbi my understanding of this truth will always be in front of us. All we have to do is believe and have faith that all we Love will Love us back .
reuben
September 17, 2008
This was beautiful. I've never heard this story before...so inspiring.
Jamie
Jacksonville, FL
May 24, 2008
Baal Shem Tov lives on
I loved the story of the Baal Shem Tov's appeal to Heaven to help another but I don't believe HaShem would forfeit him from the World to Come as the Baal Shem Tov only requested what haShem commanded for us to do; Go and multiply.
HaShem opened the womb of Sarah, why not others? Why would HaShem separate a good man from Himself, for asking what he commanded? Sounds too punitive to me.
Dorothy Caruso
Costa Mesa, CA.
chabadlagunaniguel.com
May 22, 2008
Beyond Paradise
The Ba'al Shem Tov was perfectly right. Doing good in this world, especially for the sake of others, without the expectation of reward, is the greatest thing a Jew can do. I am also sure it was not the Almighty who "proclaimed" a denial of the Ba'al Shem Tov his portion in the world to come. Does not the Adversary try to do such bad things at times, without success? I am sure this happens, but good deeds prevail.
L. Trachtman
New Orleans, LA
chabadneworleans.com
May 20, 2008
Prayers
You may want to send a request for a blessing to the the Ohel, the Lubavitcher Rebbe's resting place. During our long, painful journey through history, the holy resting places of our righteous forebears and leaders have served as spiritual oases. These gravesites, such as Mother Rachel's and the Cave of the Machpelah, have provided solace to millions.

People from around the world send letters to be placed at the Ohel wherein they request the Rebbe's guidance and intervention On High.

You can fax directly to the Ohel at (718) 723-4444, email at ohel@ohelchabad.org, or submit your blessing request here. Make sure to include the couple's names and their mother's names (Jewish if you have them). Let's hear good news very soon with G-d's help!
Chani Benjaminson, chabad.org
May 19, 2008
I am thinking this is unbalanced.
I was left feeling something was wrong that such a great person as the Baal Shem Tov would not be in the World to Come. Of course he is to great to care to be honored. But as a common person, we need to know that such people are honored before we are.
Aaron Katz
New Jersey, USA
May 19, 2008
I really felt uplifted by the short Bal Shem Tov Story. I wish he was here now because I know a couple of couples who would surely appreciate his blessing for children.
Ariella Goldberg
Thronhill, Ontario.Ca
May 19, 2008
Besht
I am a great fan of rabbi stories, and this one is one of the best.

Anyone who wants a real life has to put seeking behind them, even when tied to the best of motives.

Until we do so, we are all just slaves of conditions, and cannot love Him who made us. He is not a gumball machine who spit out candy in return for our efforts to please.
George Pugh
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