In the town of Okop, the birthplace of the Baal Shem Tov, lived a wealthy man by the name of Yoel. He was a G‑d-fearing man, an accomplished Torah scholar, and very meticulous in his performance of the mitzvahs.

One day he was overcome with a desire to fulfill the commandment to write a Torah scroll. He would not skimp on any expense, Yoel was well aware of his own accomplishmentsensuring that his Torah would be the very best. He bought sheep, had them slaughtered, and distributed the meat to the poor. The hides were processed into parchment that would be used especially for this Torah.

Yoel contracted a well-regarded scribe who was known to be as G‑d-fearing as he was adept at his craft. Every morning the scribe would immerse himself in the purifying waters of the mikvah before beginning his sacred task. When the Torah was finally complete, Yoel wanted to make a grand siyyum (“completion”) celebration with a beautiful meal, and he invited all the leaders of Okop—the rabbis, the communal leaders, the shochtim (ritual slaughterers), the chazanim (cantors) and the wealthy patrons of the community.

Now, Yoel was well aware of his own accomplishments as a scholar. So in advance of the event, he began preparing a discourse that he would deliver in front of all his honored guests.

Berel, the water-carrier of Okop, was not invited. He was a simple, hardworking man who got up early every morning and prayed in the Chevrah Tehillim synagogue. Together with his peers, he recited the entire book of Tehillim (Psalms) every morning before spending the day trying to eke out a living.

When Berel heard that there would be a celebration in honor of a new Torah, he naively assumed that he would be welcomed to the joyful event. With a song in his heart, he put on his worn-out Shabbat cloak, cleaned up his appearance and arrived at Yoel’s home. Unaccustomed as he was to the niceties of fine dining, he took a seat that was intended for one of the most important guests.

When Yoel saw Berel the water-carrier sitting in a place that was meant for a Torah scholar, he approached him with an angry look and hissed, “Just because you recite lots of Tehilim, you see yourself as a prestigious individual?” Berl understood the hint, and rose and left the house.

The meal and festivities continued as planned: silverware and crystal glasses, candles in elaborate candelabra, braided challah, spiced wine and other delicacies. There was an orchestra that played happy tunes, and the assembled sang and danced in a circle in honor of the Torah.

When the dancers had exhausted themselves, Yoel got up to deliver his talk. It was a masterpiece, and demonstrated proficiency and depth of understanding of Torah, with many sharp insights that delighted the listeners.

That night, Reb Yoel got into bed with a glad heart: “Thank G‑d, there were no glitches in the delivery of my talk. It rolled off my tongue without an issue. The learned folk of the town did not hide their amazement at my novel insights into of the mitzvah of writing a Torah scroll.”

Still basking in the afterglow of the wonderful day, Yoel closed his eyes and fell asleep.

The angel in charge of dreams paid a visit to the bed of Reb Yoel, and Yoel dreamt that a giant wind blew him to a faraway place. Looking around, he found himself in the middle of a barren desert. In the distance he spotted a well-lit hut. Upon entering, he saw a table occupied by people with long beards, wearing the robes of judges.

The one who appeared to be the chief judge called Yoel by his name, and told him that he had been summoned to a court case by none other than King David, son of Jesse, the sweet singer of Israel.

The plaintiff stood up and began: “I am bringing a complaint against Yoel from Okop for denigrating my book of Psalms, and for publicly embarrassing Berel the water-carrier, who reads Psalms daily with great devotion.”

The prosecutor asked the judges to determine a heavy sentence for Yoel’s actions: death. Yoel stood dumbfounded, sure that he would never live to the next day.

Suddenly, one of the men asked to speak. It was the Baal Shem Tov himself. “What good will there be if this man dies?” asked the Baal Shem Tov. “No one will ever know the reason for his sudden death, and the He was gripped with fear and soaked in cold sweatrichness of Tehillim will never become known. Let him live, and be charged with the mission to rectify his wrongdoing, and let everyone know how sacred and precious the words of King David truly are!”

Yoel then felt another wind blow him right back into his comfortable bed.

When he woke up, he was gripped with fear and soaked in cold sweat.

The next day, during the time of the evening services, Yoel entered the small synagogue of the simple folk, the Chevrah Tehillim. There he stood before all the people whom he had once looked down upon, and asked for Berel’s forgiveness. He then told the entire story of what had transpired, including his dream, sparing no detail.

From that day on, a major change overtook Yoel. He stopped bragging about his scholarly acumen, and instead joined the humble Tehillim sayers. Every morning he’d go to Chevrah Tehillim and sit between the simple working folk, and read Tehillim with enthusiasm and warmth.

Based on Sippurei Tzaddikim, printed in Sichat Hashavua, no. 802 (5762).