[At the Bolivke Health Resort]

The Alter Rebbe heard these narratives — which he recounted to his grandson, the Tzemach Tzedek — from the disciples of the Baal Shem Tov, from his mentor the Maggid of Mezritch, from his mentor’s son [R. Avraham] “the Angel,” and from his colleagues of the Holy Brotherhood [of the Maggid’s disciples]. They were then handed down by my greatgrandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek, to my revered father, the Rebbe [Rashab], and to my esteemed uncle, R. Zalman Aharon, over the course of nine years, from the year 5634 [1874] to 5642 [1882] inclusive, and were committed to writing by my uncle, R. Zalman Aharon.1

The following narrative is no. 183 in the eighth notebook.

The Alter Rebbe heard part of it [sec. 1-4 below] from the Baal Shem Tov’s disciple, R. Moshe Meshel, who was entrusted with the mitzvah-mission it describes, and part of it [sec. 5-15 below] he heard from his mentor, the Maggid.


In the year 5519 (תקי"ט; 1759) our master the Baal Shem Tov (whose soul reposes in Eden) dispatched one of his young disciples, R. Moshe Meshel from the village of Bezenke, with a letter to be delivered to another of his disciples, an eminent scholar called R. Chaim Rapaport,2 of blessed memory. In this letter the Baal Shem Tov instructed him to leave town on a certain day for the forest which was about eight parsas to the east. There he was to study intensively the first four chapters of Hilchos Berachos (“The Laws of the Blessings”) as codified by Rambam, and any innovative interpretation that came to mind he was immediately to jot down in brief in order that it should not be forgotten. He was to begin that day by davening at daybreak, eating breakfast and setting out, making sure that nothing blocked his way. When he arrived at the forest and saw the Baal Shem Tov standing there, that was the place at which he was to sit and study as prescribed. Finally, after the Minchah prayers, he was to make his way safely for home.

The Baal Shem Tov also sent a letter through his young disciple R. Moshe Meshel to a resident of Lvov called R. Chaim Yisrael. He made it clear that no one was to know of this mission, and once the letter was delivered the messenger was to have no further contact whatever with its recipient.

Moreover, the Baal Shem Tov instructed him that throughout the night preceding the visit to the forest he should be on the alert that R. Chaim should recite his morning prayers no later than at daybreak; though R. Chaim was accustomed to rise at midnight for Tikkun Chatzos, his fatigue from the scholarly exertions of the previous day might cause him to go to sleep again. He was also to see to it that R. Chaim ate breakfast before they set out, and he was to take along a cup in case R. Chaim would later be thirsty. While accompanying him on their journey, the messenger was instructed to recite from memory the opening passage of Bereishis,3 the Song of the Sea4 that begins Az yashir, and the Song that begins Haazinu.5 Throughout the entire time that the elder scholar spent in the forest, the messenger was to recite Tehillim; if he completed the Book he was to repeat it, and if he completed it again he was to read it a third time. Furthermore, from the morning before the journey he was to speak to no man.

The day that the Baal Shem Tov determined for R. Chaim’s journey to the forest was a certain Wednesday in the month of Tammuz.


This is how R. Moshe Meshel from the village of Bezenke later told the story.

* * *

At midday on Thursday I arrived at Lvov, and found the room of the Rabbinical Court over which R. Chaim usually presided. It was filled with people, and the sage was engaged in an important consultation with the elders of the community.

When I asked one of the judges, R. Moshe Yosef Yisrael, to allow me to meet him he asked me in surprise: “Don’t you know about the terrible decree that the Deputy Archbishop Mikolski has just published? In the course of the coming week, until next Thursday, they will tear out Aleinu LeShabeiach6 from all the prayerbooks, and from this Sunday we will not be allowed to read this prayer in any synagogue! Right now they are discussing what can be done.”

Realizing that I would not be able to see R. Chaim, I went off to fulfill my second mission — to deliver the letter from the Baal Shem Tov to R. Chaim Yisrael the Potter. By the time I returned to the courtroom R. Chaim had gone home, so I handed him his letter there.

Seeing the envelope he stood up, and when he heard that I had been dispatched to him by the Baal Shem Tov his holy face lit up and he read the letter with reverent awe. Finally, he sighed and said: “The entire Jewish community of Lvov and its surrounding townships needs heaven’s mercies, on account of (G‑d forbid!) the dreadful decree that Aleinu LeShabeiach should no longer be recited in our synagogues.”

The sage did not breathe a word about the letter that he had received. The members of his household and the students of his yeshivah, however, noting that R. Chaim was in high spirits, concluded that the visitor was no doubt an emissary who had brought word, orally or in writing, from the Baal Shem Tov. They recalled that whenever an oral message reached him from the Baal Shem Tov, and even more so, whenever a written message reached him, he treated that day as a Yom-Tov: the penitential prayers of Tachanun7 were omitted, and he held a festive meal, a seudas mitzvah. Sometimes he shared with them the content of his message and sometimes he withheld it, but in the course of his Torah teachings at the table he always expounded the spiritual path of the Baal Shem Tov.

On this occasion, too, R. Chaim arranged for a festive meal to be prepared. In no time word of this reached his associates and disciples. All the elders and worthies of the community also arrived, as well as many members of the public, for all the townsmen were deeply distressed by the decree. In the middle of the festive meal the decision of the earlier consultation was announced: they would ignore the decree. At the risk of their lives, the whole community would recite Aleinu LeShabeiach three times every day exactly as in the past. The coming Sunday was declared a public fast, and the Shofar would then be sounded.

On Friday morning R. Chaim Yisrael the Potter called on Deputy Archbishop Mikolski and warned him that if he did not annul the decree he would be severely punished. Mikolski drove him out angrily. On Sunday morning, however, as he stepped down from his pulpit, he stumbled and broke his right leg and arm. He fainted from pain and was carried home. There, still suffering, he remembered that he had had a Jewish visitor on Friday. Not only that, but he recalled that he had seen that same Jew once before, in Kamenitz-Podolsk: this was the very Jew who had then warned the late Archbishop Demboski that if he did not annul his decree to burn the holy books of the Jews, he would die....

On the spot, Deputy Archbishop Mikolski ordered one of his senior priests to notify the local rabbi and his congregation that the decree was annulled forthwith: the Jews could continue to pray as they were accustomed to doing.

The glad tidings spread through the city in a moment, and for the Jews of Lvov this was a time of light and joy. They quickly sent messengers throughout the neighboring provinces, and the learned R. Chaim gave out orders: The townsmen were to complete the daylong fast; at nightfall, in time for the Maariv prayers, they should light many candles in all the synagogues as they usually did for Yom-Tov; the prayers should be sung to the festive melodies reserved for Yom-Tov; and Aleinu LeShabeiach was to be sung to the solemn melody handed down from the saintly Maharal of Prague, as on the Days of Awe, though on this occasion the worshipers were not to prostrate themselves on the floor.


It transpires that R. Chaim Yisrael the Potter was one of the hidden tzaddikim8 of the time. No one knew of his comings and goings and no one took particular notice of him. After all, didn’t Lvov have hundreds of good simple craftsmen who — to all external appearances — looked just like him?

He had been the emissary of the Baal Shem Tov to warn Archbishop Demboski in Kamenitz-Podolsk that if he did not rescind the decree for the burning of the Talmud and other holy books, and if did not cancel the tax that had been imposed on the Jews for the renovation of the local cathedral, he would die a sudden death. Deputy Archbishop Mikolski had been there to hear Demboski’s retort: “Go and tell your master that I scorn him and his threats.” Demboski had then instructed the head priest to urge his colleagues to make haste and collect all the holy books of the Jews and to build a platform in the city square for the public burning. Furthermore, they were to send out couriers to summon the provincial population to witness and celebrate the vengeance that was to be wrought on the Torah of the Jews, who were hated by the religion of their countrymen. In addition, if by Tuesday, the appointed day, the Jews did not deliver the cathedral tax, Demboski authorized all the gentiles to break into the Jews’ houses and stores and to rob and pillage to their hearts’ desire.

His orders were immediately obeyed. Dozens of willing workers robbed the synagogues and Houses of Study and the Jewish homes of their libraries; others built an imposing platform in the city square; and yet others galloped off to spread their gleeful news in the surrounding provinces. The Jews of Kamenitz, terrified, held public fasts and prayed to heaven for deliverance.

For the next two days thousands of gentile men and women, young and old, streamed into town, excited by the prospect of a public burning and unrestrained pillage. On Tuesday morning the bells rang out from the steeple. Demboski gave orders for the preparation of the woodpile, and with all due pomp led the ceremonial procession that headed there from the cathedral. Halfway there he suddenly dropped dead. His colleagues, struck by consternation, arrived at the conclusion that the G‑d of Israel had intervened to protect His Torah from their burning.


During the two days preceding the Wednesday of his journey to the forest, R. Chaim had been far busier than usual. He was so weary that if I [R. Moshe Meshel] had not been vigilant, as the Baal Shem Tov had told me to be, he would have woken up late for his midnight devotions of Tikkun Chatzos. Wednesday morning’s sky was clouded and there were heavy torrents of rain. As soon as he stepped into the wagon that was to take him to the forest as he had been directed to do, the heavens burst with such fearful thunder and lightning that the horses, petrified, ignored the wagon-driver’s whip. R. Chaim urged the driver to make progress, but nothing changed until the skies came to rest. The mere eight parsas took us long hours, because in addition to the mud and mire, things went wrong at every turn: the reins came loose, the saddle-straps tore, a wheel fell off, the shaft between the horses broke, and so on and on, each crisis with its own delay. Exhausted and distressed, the wagon-driver was unable to steer his horses any longer. I took his place on the driver’s stand, but within twenty paces the whole wagon lurched off the road into a ditch. There we were stranded for a long time, until we finally managed to extract the wagon. It was already two o’clock in the afternoon when we arrived at the spot in the forest that the Baal Shem Tov had indicated in his letter.

No sooner did R. Chaim step down from the wagon than a fierce outburst of thunder and lightning made the horses bolt. Man and beast were frightened out of breath. In the sudden darkness the wagon-driver wept bitterly: “Rebbe! I’m terrified! I’m afraid!” R. Chaim replied: “G‑d has acted thus so that He should be feared.”9 With that he went and found the place in which he was to sit, and as soon as he delved into the depths of his studies the sky cleared and the sun shone forth.

The place indicated was an open space of a few hundred cubits, about fifty cubits from the road. Here and there, among the ordered rows of old trees and at the edges of the open space, decayed foundations and remnants of diggings indicated that buildings had stood there long ago. We also saw the derelict walls of what had once been a very deep well, though now it was dry.

For about four hours the sage sat engrossed in his books. He grew so thirsty that the wagon-driver and I set out in search of water, and in a nearby thicket we found a spring.

After Minchah we returned to Lvov. The sage wanted me to stay with him over Shabbos, but I did as the Baal Shem Tov had instructed me and left town after Maariv on that Wednesday. A wagon was there waiting to be hired, I took my seat without speaking a word to the driver nor to anyone else, and on Thursday morning the wagon took me the three parsas to Mezhibuzh. There, as soon as I set foot in the courtyard of the Baal Shem Tov, he beckoned to me from his window. He told me to read the entire Book of Tehillim three times, once before morning prayers and twice after. Until this was completed I was not to utter a word, not even to respond to a greeting. I was then to read the Song of the Sea (Az yashir) once, and the Song that begins Haazinu twice. He also instructed me not to smoke my water-pipe until after Maariv that evening.

* * *

Here ends the part of the story that the Alter Rebbe heard from the mouth of the sheliach-mitzvah himself, R. Moshe Meshel from the village of Bezenke.


The Alter Rebbe heard the continuation of this story from his mentor, the Maggid of Mezritch, who was an eye witness, and relayed it to his grandson, the Tzemach Tzedek, as follows:

* * *

On a visit to the Baal Shem Tov early in Elul, the learned R. Chaim Rapaport told him that ever since he had carried out his mission in the forest — to study the four chapters of Rambam’s Hilchos Berachos and to pray Minchah there — his eyes had been opened in his understanding of the Torah and his heart had been opened in his service of the Creator. He praised G‑d for this great gift and thanked the Baal Shem Tov for having chosen him for this mission, for he had no doubt been privileged to be enriched by the radiance of some lofty soul.

At the next Shabbos table the Baal Shem Tov related the following:

About 160 years ago, in the year 5359 (שנ"ט; 1599) or 5360 (ש"ס; 1600), one of the eminent scholars of Prague by the name of R. Shmuel Tzadok settled in Lvov. There he hired erudite tutors to guide his sons, Moshe and Yehudah Aryeh, in the paths of the Torah. Though he was a disciple of the Maharal, and an outstanding scholar, he energetically opposed the study of Mussar, and felt no desire to study even the writings of the Maharal (then still in manuscript), which the other disciples drank thirstily. Instead of studying ethical texts, he was drawn to the study of other disciplines, notably astronomy, for he was a friend of the celebrated astronomer and geometrician, R. David Gans.10

His mentor, the Maharal, was deeply distressed by his approach to scholarship in general, in particular to his leaning to alien disciplines, and above all to his opposition to the study of ethical writings. Besides, in every question of ritual law R. Shmuel Tzadok would always take the lead in finding a lenient approach.

Among the many Kabbalists in Prague at that time there were those who followed the teachings of the learned R. Eliyahu Baal Shem of Worms.11 They practiced solitude, fasting and self-mortification. Groups of three or five people would go out together to a forest or field to study works of Mussar or Aggadah, and they would rebuke each other. Each man would lay bare the ailments that plagued his soul: one of them would bemoan his inclination to pride; another — to falsehood, or envy, or slander, and other such undesirable attributes. Most of them were well versed in other areas of the Torah in addition to the Kabbalah. They were punctilious in their observance of the commandments, and devoted long hours to their prayers.

The learned R. Shmuel Tzadok was hostile to the Kabbalists. At every opportunity he would insult them and scoff at their customs, to the point that he came to be called “R. Shmuel Tzadok, the opponent of Kabbalah and Mussar.” This hostility to Mussar, and of course to the Kabbalah in which he had no faith, he implanted in his sons. Since his business ventures prospered — and “a rich man12 responds with insolence” — he spoke out arrogantly against all the scholars whose views differed from his.

One day a ritual query arose as to whether a certain woman in his neighborhood was ritually pure or not. Knowing that R. Shmuel Tzadok was reputed to be a prominent scholar, her husband showed him the relevant evidence, and he ruled that the couple could resume relations. It so happened that a few days later this woman told a close friend confidentially of the query that she had had, and showed her the evidence that the scholar had been shown. The friend was astonished: when she herself had once shown an identical case to the local rabbinical judge, he had ruled that she was ritually impure. The poor woman, aghast, told her husband what she had just learned. They went together to the beis din, cried their hearts out, and asked the presiding scholar to show them how they could repent for the transgression that had come their way.

At this point the longsuffering patience of the Maharal came to an end. He summoned R. Shmuel Tzadok and rebuked him. When R. Shmuel Tzadok persisted in trying to vindicate his mistaken stand by ingenious scholarly acrobatics, the Maharal told him that he was a revived spark of the Talmudic scholar who was able to muster 150 specious arguments13 to pronounce a defiling reptile pure.

R. Shmuel Tzadok and his sons and their families thereupon left Prague for Lvov. He was now advanced in years; his elder son R. Moshe was occupied all day in the tent of the Torah and in the world of ideas, and the administration of the family’s business concerns was left to the hands of the younger son, R. Yehudah Aryeh.


Like his father, R. Moshe too favored foreign disciplines and studied them energetically. At the same time he was renowned for his expertise in the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud, in the legal works of Rambam and in the Arbaah Turim. In every field of Halachah he sought to rule leniently, but especially in the field of berachos, the blessings to be recited on specified occasions. As to the study of Kabbalah and Mussar, he opposed it ten times more fiercely than his father had ever done.

In due course, a few years after his father’s passing, he turned his back on the straight path. He bought himself an estate four parsas out of town, built himself a house, and moved there.

He grew accustomed to drinking wine in the company of the gentile scholars who visited him, until eventually he removed his beard and desecrated Shabbos and the festivals. His G‑d-fearing wife fell ill from sheer anguish, and died, leaving no children. He later married a gentile wife, but then, far from forsaking his Torah studies, he became deeply engrossed in them. And whenever an innovative interpretation came to mind, he would write it down, even on Shabbos or Yom-Tov.

This state of affairs continued for thirty years: he never visited a shul, but continued to study Torah. The local Jews all knew of his lifestyle, and none of them ever crossed his threshold. If a poor wayfarer happened to come his way he would receive him warmly, give him a generous donation, and warn him not to touch any food because everything in the house was treif. In addition, if the wayfarer was a Torah scholar, he would delight in the scholarly exchange of novel interpretations. And so his life went on: he ate every kind of treifah and neveilah, drank forbidden wine, desecrated Shabbos and Yom-Tov — and studied Torah diligently.


His brother R. Yehudah Aryeh was less of a scholar than his father or brother, but he was a G‑d-fearing Jew. He studied ethical texts, kept company with pious and upright people in Prague and even more so in Lvov, and in this spirit brought up his family. As old age drew near, he handed over the reins of business to his sons and sons-in-law, built a shul in his courtyard, brought ten outstanding scholars to study there fulltime, supported them and their families, and enjoyed their company. However, his distress over his brother’s lifestyle caused him such acute heartache that his doctors ordered him to move elsewhere and hopefully forget its cause.

Concerned by his deteriorating health, his sons and daughters insisted that he obey. So it was that R. Yehudah Aryeh chose to return to his birthplace, Prague. He took with him several of his grandsons, the children of his sons and daughter, so that they could study in the great yeshivah there.

Arriving in Prague around the year 5377 (שע"ז; 1617), R. Yehudah Aryeh found childhood friends. The community received him warmly and eventually appointed him as one of their wardens. Seeking among the eminent scholars of the town to determine who among them should be entrusted with the education of his grandsons, he decided to bring two of them, Avraham Moshe and Chaim Zelig, to study at the feet of the illustrious R. Yom-Tov Lippman Heller, author of Tosafos Yom-Tov.

R. Yom-Tov Lippman Heller was a disciple of the learned R. Eliyahu Baal Shem of Worms, where he had studied with exceptional assiduity for three years. After his arrival in Prague he continued with his accustomed studies of Kabbalah, and likewise emulated his master’s practice of making simple and unlettered Jews, too, feel welcome in his company. This practice he passed on to the two newly-arrived grandsons of R. Yehudah Aryeh.

After four or five years, their grandfather — with the permission of their parents — married them off to daughters of the most respected families of Prague, where they continued to pursue their studies.


The reputation of R. Eliyahu Baal Shem of Worms had already spread far and wide while the Maharal was yet alive. Opposition to his teachings14 was sparked off by the aged scholar, R. Pinchas Zelig of Speyer. R. Pinchas Zelig’s son, the learned R. Shammai Zundel, traveled about from country to country, proclaiming — in the name of his father (“this generation’s leading sage”) and in the name of other sages — a ban of excommunication on the teachings of R. Eliyahu Baal Shem of Worms. The Maharal, accompanied by his erudite son, R. Betzalel, thereupon made a journey to Worms to see with his own eyes just who this scholar was. On his return home he published his highly-regarded view vindicating R. Eliyahu Baal Shem, whose disciples multiplied in Prague and its environs from that time on.

When R. Yehudah Aryeh returned to Prague the civil head of the community was R. Shmuel, son of R. Betzalel, only son of the Maharal. He had served in this capacity for eighteen years, having been chosen to fill the place of the renowned philanthropist, R. Mordechai Meisels, who had passed away in the year 5361 (שס"א; 1601). For eight years R. Shmuel had served as communal head in the lifetime of his celebrated grandfather, the Maharal, who passed away at the age of 97 on the eighteenth of Elul, 5369 (שס"ט; 1609).

R. Shmuel was exceptionally wealthy. Every year he would fill the communal coffers with the same amount that the whole community had contributed. Half of his income was devoted to redeeming the three dues that the city’s paupers — like all other citizens — were obliged to pay: the government tax, the municipal tax, and the community’s tax. His good name traveled before him, for in addition to his generosity, both manifest and anonymous, to local individuals and institutions, he used to send out large sums for the support of yeshivos in Poland and Germany. One of the institutions which he thus supported with an open hand was the yeshivah of R. Eliyahu Baal Shem of Worms. Moreover, when R. Eliyahu Baal Shem moved to Grodno, Chelm and Lublin — the most prominent seats of learning at that time — R. Shmuel continued to support him on a generous scale, because he had heard from his grandfather, the Maharal, that from the yeshivos of R. Eliyahu Baal Shem light would shine forth over the Jewish people.

When R. Yehudah Aryeh settled in Prague he too helped to support the yeshivah of R. Eliyahu Baal Shem. Indeed, when word arrived in the year 5384 (שפ"ד; 1624) that R. Eliyahu Baal Shem was about to transfer one of his yeshivos to Prague, R. Shmuel, head of the community, and R. Yehudah Aryeh, his deputy, dispatched an emissary with a bag of money to cover their travelling expenses. Even before they arrived, moreover, these two philanthropists bought a courtyard with dwellings for them all, as their private contribution.

Though the author of Tosafos Yom-Tov was already about fifty years old and a celebrated scholar in his own right, he too became one of the twenty-seven handpicked scholars who studied under R. Eliyahu Baal Shem in this newly-established yeshivah. (Their mentor was fond of referring to them metaphorically as the twenty-seven letters15 with which the Torah was given, the letters with which G‑d created His world.) Though most of these scholars studied there in order to progress in the revealed plane of the Torah, they were also guided in the path of the teachings of R. Eliyahu Baal Shem. From time to time they were taught Kabbalah; many of them labored with success in the refinement of their characters; and from day to day the yeshivah attracted more gifted scholars.

One of those whose exceptional progress included the study of the Kabbalah and an understanding of the teachings of R. Eliyahu Baal Shem was the young R. Avraham Moshe, grandson of R. Yehudah Aryeh. When his mentor, the author of Tosafos Yom-Tov, perceived his awe of heaven, his lovingly meticulous observance of the mitzvos, and his unquenchable thirst for the study of Kabbalah, he began to privately teach him its deepest secrets. In particular, the young man was so struck by Sefer HaPardes of R. Moshe Cordovero that he came to know it almost by heart. Over the years his reputation grew among the scholars and Kabbalists, and R. Eliyahu Baal Shem eventually accepted him into the inner circle of his most prominent disciples.


As the years gradually clouded R. Yehudah Aryeh’s recollection of his brother Moshe’s sorry state, his health improved. One very old man in Prague, however, had been a friend of their father, R. Shmuel Tzadok. When he heard of what had come of his friend’s son outside Lvov he approached R. Yehudah Aryeh and wailed: “I warned your late learned father against his lenient approach to the law! I warned him against his outspoken attacks on the G‑d-fearing Kabbalists! But he only made fun of me and said: ‘So you, too, Elimelech, are among those who see things that cannot be seen!’ Your father denied the validity of the Kabbalah, and his retribution is a wicked son who wallows in abomination! Behold the judgment of the L‑rd! In the very matter in which your father wantonly sinned, he was punished — with shame and disgrace more bitter than death. Your father was a great Torah scholar who took the mitzvos lightly, scoffing at those who observed them meticulously and scorning those who studied the Kabbalah — and G‑d punished him with a son who is a great Torah scholar and transgresses all of His commandments.”

As the old man’s hearing and sight were failing, no one was able to explain to him what pain he inflicted upon the innocent son of his old friend by blasting forth at every encounter. And since R. Yehudah Aryeh respected him as his father’s old friend, he chose to overlook the old man’s insensitivity. He visited him often and heard him out patiently.


On one of these visits, R. Yehudah Aryeh took along his grandson Avraham Moshe with him. The aged R. Elimelech’s customary tirade reminded him of his long-forgotten greatuncle Moshe, and he was deeply grieved by his grandfather’s sorrow. He was also distressed to learn that his greatgrandfather R. Shmuel Tzadok had been exceedingly lenient when handing down halachic rulings, and that he had often scoffed at the local Kabbalists and pietists. Until that day he had only known that his greatgrandfather was a Torah scholar renowned for his innovative interpretations and expositions. Indeed, he himself had made good use of them when studying some of the more formidable Talmudic texts, notably in the Order of Nashim.

For this reason, that day’s encounter cast his memory back to a painful private battle.

One day, long earlier, his colleagues had been unable to plumb the depths of a particularly thorny passage in Tractate Yevamos. He alone, having quietly consulted his greatgrandfather’s commentaries on this text, was able to explain it all smoothly. His colleagues were amazed and duly impressed. For the next two days, however, by day and by night, he did not enjoy one moment’s peace of mind: should he tell them the secret of his borrowed brilliance or should he not? At one point he almost decided to speak up — but then an ingenious thought crossed his mind. The Talmudic Sages, no less, taught that “envy among scholars16 increases wisdom.” If so, would he not be doing his colleagues a pious favor by remaining silent? Let them envy him for his seeming brilliance! After all, would the printed brilliance of some deceased scholar from a past generation lend them such praiseworthy envy...?

The claims of innocent honesty, however, threw him into turmoil. Seeing a Gemara before him, which happened to be Tractate Sotah, he decided to open it at random: perhaps the first statement to catch his eye would release him from his quandary. With a prayer in his heart that G‑d should lead him along the path of truth he opened up the volume. Staring right at him was the following teaching: * Tractate Sotah 22b [and see Rashi there]. “The Heavenly Court will exact justice from those who cloak themselves in pious garments that are not their own.” He had his answer.

That night he did not sleep a wink: he could only picture the disgrace that awaited him. His colleagues would scorn him like a thief caught in the act. The day was no better. Despite his resolve to speak up, his tongue stuck to his palate. And when he finally succeeded in breaking his agonized silence, it was a friend, R. Chaim Shmuel, who was the first to rebuke him; the others simply looked at him with the disdain that befits a person who flaunts stolen riches. For two weeks, as he now recalled, that incident had left him utterly crushed.


That visit to the aged R. Elimelech, and the sight of his own grandfather’s visible suffering, stamped a heavy imprint on the soul of the young R. Avraham Moshe. The old man’s words resonated in his ears: “Your father was a great Torah scholar, but he took the mitzvos lightly and scoffed at those who studied the Kabbalah — and G‑d punished him with a son who is a great Torah scholar and transgresses His commandments.” Having studied penitential works, R. Avraham Moshe knew exactly what dire punishment awaited those who took the mitzvos lightly, particularly if they were Torah scholars. What was his greatgrandfather now undergoing in the World of Truth? Since over thirty years had elapsed since his passing, the sufferings of Gehinnom were now no doubt behind him, but he was possibly not yet free of the pangs of imposed restlessness.*

The more he read and reread these penitential works the more was he distressed, especially since he knew that** “there is no cure for the suffering of a person who shames a Torah scholar.” It was clear to him that the angels of destruction were tormenting the soul of his greatgrandfather with scorn and abuse because he had poked fun at people who had observed the mitzvos meticulously. Indeed, the Sages teach that*** “he who disgraces his fellow will himself ultimately be disgraced,” and one of the ethical works explains this statement as follows: He who disgraces his fellow in this world will himself ultimately be put to disgrace in the World to Come, at the hands of the punitive angels.

For months on end, vexed and melancholy, R. Avraham Moshe yearned to do something to uplift and rectify his greatgrandfather’s tormented soul. But what could he do? He decided to consult his mentor, R. Eliyahu Baal Shem.

R. Eliyahu replied that as far rectifying the soul of the greatgrandfather was concerned, he himself would send three of his disciples to the burial place in Lvov, there to meditate upon the kabbalistic concepts — yichudim and kavanos — that he would specify. R. Avraham Moshe, for his part, was to make it his business to arouse his greatuncle Moshe to repent wholeheartedly and to return to the complete observance of the mitzvos.

To enable his young disciple to attain this goal, R. Eliyahu Baal Shem prescribed for him a detailed regimen of avodah, and specified mystical exercises involving kavanos and yichudim. He instructed him not to eat or drink anything, even plain water, in his greatuncle’s house, though he could use the water there to wash his hands and face. Every weekday he was to conduct the midnight meditations of Tikkun Chatzos and recite his prayers in the house, but he was to spend Shabbos in a Jewish town about a kilometer away. Moreover, R. Eliyahu gave him a mezuzah. After morning prayers on his second day there he was to affix it to the front door, though without reciting a blessing over it. Finally, even after G‑d made his path prosper and he aroused his greatuncle to repentance, he was never to reveal to him that he was his relative.


Moshe rose to greet his unfamiliar guest and offered him a seat. The young man was amazed: though his greatuncle must have been about eighty-six he looked like a sixty-year-old. With his broad shoulders he stood as sturdy as an oak, he was cleanshaven, and his locks and moustache and clothes all followed the fashion of the local gentiles. He was in high spirits and, according to gentile custom, at his feet lay a huge dog.

The young visitor saw from the open volume on the table that his greatuncle was studying a certain subject in Tractate Sanhedrin, so he began to discuss it with him. Moshe was overjoyed at the opportunity for this exchange, and the young man for his part was impressed by his greatuncle’s arguments and textual proficiency. But his mood was darkened by what he saw before him — gross features coarsened by pigfat, reddened eyes inflamed by wine, gentile fashions and long locks with no head covering.

He blurted out: “Is it possible to study G‑d’s Torah with an uncovered head?!”

Moshe asked in reply: “And why should it not be possible?”

R. Avraham Moshe: “Because it’s insolent in the extreme.”

Moshe: “What insolence?”

R. Avraham Moshe: “Insolence toward heaven!”

Moshe: “But the whole point of covering one’s head is to show that one stands in awe of his Master; a person who has no Master cannot show that he stands in awe of Him. Out of respect for you, however, I’ll put on my hat.”

He rose to bring it, leaving R. Avraham Moshe thunderstruck, shuddering and bleary-eyed, open-mouthed but speechless.

By the time his host returned, he was able to say: “Words like this oblige a man to rend his garments.”

Moshe disagreed: “I’m afraid you’re wrong. The law requires that one rend his garments only if he hears the Divine Name articulated, but not if he hears someone say that he does not believe in G‑d.”

And with that Moshe spelled out his outright denial of the Creator’s existence, of the Torah’s Divine origin, and of all Thirteen Principles of the Faith as enunciated by Rambam. At the same time he insisted that he dearly loved the Torah; he liked and respected its students, and found no favor to a scholar too difficult; but he had no faith in the Creator and His commandments.

After a long discussion it was time for Minchah. Moshe offered his guest a bag of coins but was assured that he was in need of nothing, except that he would like to enjoy the hospitality of the house for a little while. His host went happily ahead to prepare a large furnished room, complete with a bowl and a pitcher of water, but warned him that he would not be able to offer him any food because the dishes in the house were all treifah. Once again R. Avraham Moshe assured him that he needed nothing apart from a place to stay. His host, having shown him to his room, returned to his books and resumed his studies in his accustomed manner.


Looking out of the window after Minchah, R. Avraham Moshe saw two carriages entering the courtyard, each of them drawn by four fine horses. Drivers and servants in fancy livery were perched at front and back, according to the custom of the local squires. As soon as the carriages reached the entrance to the building, servants in gold-buttoned coats sprang from their appointed positions, opened the doors wide, and helped the newly-arrived ladies and gentlemen to step down. The guests, toying with the purple leashes tied to their little dogs’ silver collars, then made their way inside with mincing steps.

A moment later R. Avraham Moshe heard his greatuncle jovially ordering his servants to offer the guests wine and other delicacies. As evening fell, candles were lit in the main salon. The hours from then till late in the morning resounded with raucous singing and wild dancing. When the last of the guests finally collapsed in a drunken stupor, their host’s servants and their own carried them all out into their carriages, closed the elegant doors, and trundled them off to their homes. In the silence that remained their host could be heard vomiting. His trusty servants carried him to his bed, and there he lay until afternoon.

Hearing what was going on in the house, R. Avraham Moshe wept bitterly over how his greatuncle’s soul had plummeted into such a filthy quagmire. It was high time for Tikkun Chatzos: his bruised heart lamented the destruction of the Sanctuary, the exile of the Divine Presence, and the disgrace of G‑d’s people. After due self-preparation, he then prayed and studied until two o’clock in the afternoon.

As for Moshe, he finally rose, ate breakfast, and sat down to study as if nothing had happened during the night, because he was accustomed to such visits from the neighboring gentile squires.


Among the kabbalistic meditations on the letters of the Divine Names that R. Eliyahu Baal Shem prescribed for his disciple R. Avraham Moshe, there was one that focused on the verse, “They will express the remembrance They will express the remembrance: In the original, זֶכֶר רַב טוּבְךָ יַבִּיעוּ; Ps. 145:7. of Your abounding goodness, and sing of Your goodness.” This particular meditation effects a mystical union in the supernal spheres that arouses the memory of the individual for whose benefit this exercise is undertaken: he recalls everything that he ever saw from the moment that he first opened his eyes, and everything that he ever heard from the moment that he first understood a spoken word.

It was in this meditation that R. Eliyahu Baal Shem instructed his disciple R. Avraham Moshe to immerse himself — after Tachanun and before LaMenatzeiach, during the morning prayers on the day after his arrival in Lvov.

R. Avraham Moshe fulfilled his master’s spiritual directives in every detail. Finally, having completed the study sessions that followed every morning’s prayers, he affixed the mezuzah to the front doorpost as he had been instructed to do before Shabbos.

The sight of the mezuzah made Moshe’s heart melt into tears.

“In the thirty years since I moved out here I have not laid eyes on a mezuzah nor tefillin nor a sefer Torah,” he exclaimed. “When I was three years old, as I now recall, my devout mother, with tears in her eyes, used to pick me up twice every day, as soon as I awoke and before I went to sleep, so that I could kiss the mezuzah on the doorpost. My father used to make fun of her: ‘How foolish of you to kiss an animal’s skin!’ When I was big enough to attend the local cheder, I used to climb up on a chair so that I could kiss the mezuzah myself. One day, when my father saw my mother bringing me to kiss the straps of his tefillin, he said: ‘Does he now also have to kiss the hide of an ox or a calf?!’ With this he laughed aloud, and my mother wept alone.”

Sensing what profound reverberations had been stirred up by the sight of the mezuzah, R. Avraham Moshe saw before him the first signs of the old man’s redemption. Hopefully, G‑d was going to bless his path with success: his greatuncle’s soul was going to be liberated from the clutches of the Evil One.

For hours on end Moshe shared his freshly aroused recollections of his childhood and youth. He spoke of himself, of his learned teachers, and of the leading sages of that generation. The more he spoke the more was he moved, until by the time he came to repeat one of the ethical teachings of R. Ephraim Lunschetz17 he was aroused to the core. Suddenly he confided that these recollections had ignited in him a desire to be a Jew as he had once been. He felt that his head and arm were burning. He begged his guest to lend him his tallis and tefillin, and prayed the words of Shacharis with the contrite and humble tears of a true penitent.

Accompanying his endeavors, R. Avraham Moshe concentrated his entire mind and soul on the mystical themes with which R. Eliyahu Baal Shem had armed him. Later in the day he visited the nearby Jewish town of Belz and bought a tallis and tefillin. About a week later, when Shabbos had passed, Moshe dismissed his servants, paid them well and gave them gifts. He left his estate with its house and contents for the gentile members of his household, packed up his library, and moved to Belz. There he bought a house near the shul and hired an attendant to see to his ascetic needs.

By way of penance, from the day he moved to Belz he tasted neither meat nor wine, but lived only on bread and salt and tepid water. Nor, throughout the nine remaining months until his last day, did he exchange a single word with any mortal. Every week he handed the local rav a large sum of money to be distributed for charitable purposes. Finally, a few days before his passing, he entrusted to him in addition all his worldly goods.


[The Baal Shem Tov, addressing his chassidim at the Shabbos table, At the Shabbos table: See sec. 5 above. now brings this saga to a close:]

The Heavenly Court handed down its verdict. For 117 years, Moshe the son of Shmuel Tzadok was to undergo the torments of Gehinnom and the upheavals of Sheol. On the day in the month of Tammuz on which this period came to an end, the words of Torah which he had studied in a defiled frame of mind for thirty years had to be purified and elevated.18 For this task I chose the learned rav of Lvov, a Kohen, to cleanse the unclean by his profound study of the first four chapters of Hilchos Berachos as codified by Rambam, and by the Minchah prayer.

However, when the Evil One and his associates discovered that the suffering of Moshe ben Shmuel Tzadok was coming to an end, and that his Torah study was about to be purified and elevated by the sage of Lvov, they made fierce and desperate endeavors to sabotage his journey. But with G‑d’s help — and here the Baal Shem Tov turned to R. Chaim Rapaport — you succeeded in your holy task. And for your part, you were then found worthy of having your eyes opened in your understanding of the Torah and having your heart opened in your service of the Creator.

With this same journey, moreover, another significant mission was accomplished. The Holy Zohar ** Tikkunei Zohar, Tikkun 5. teaches that the waters of this nether world weep: “We want to stand before the Holy King!” From the day that G‑d first divided the upper waters from the nether waters, this is the plaint of all the springs in the world. They yearn to be used for a holy purpose — for the washing of hands before prayer, for an obligatory immersion in a mikveh, for an immersion that heightens one’s degree of purity before prayer or Torah study, for the washing of hands with a blessing that includes G‑d’s Name, or for a drink of water that is preceded and followed by words of thanksgiving to its Maker.

This plaint of the springs can continue for hundreds and even thousands of years — until one day a Jew washes his hands or drinks of their waters and pronounces the appropriate blessings. In the forest that lies near the estate of Moshe ben Shmuel Tzadok there is a spring. For all these 5519 years it has wept: why should it be singled out from all other springs, ever since G‑d first created it, with never a solitary Jew to pronounce a blessing over its waters or to use them for a pure and holy purpose? But on that day, R. Chaim, when you drank of its waters and washed your hands there in preparation for Minchah, that spring was redeemed.

From this — and here the Baal Shem Tov turned to all the disciples who surrounded his Shabbos table — you may observe the detailed workings of Divine Providence. Every object that was ever created has a specific time at which it is to be uplifted and a specific individual through whom it is to be uplifted. And every single soul that comes down to this world has its own ordained purpose — what is to be its task, and what part of the world it is to rectify.