The students of the Baal Shem Tov repeatedly implored their rebbe to show them Elijah the Prophet. Finally, he promised to fulfill their wish.

One Friday afternoon, the Baal Shem Tov went with his students to a field to usher in the holy Shabbat with words of Torah and Psalms, as was his usual custom.

Soon after they arrived at the field, the Baal Shem Tov suddenly said:

“I would like to smoke a pipe.”

There was time until the onset of Shabbat, and the students spread out, scouring all paths leading to the field for a gentleman who might lend them a pipe. However, they could not find anyone and returned empty-handed to the Baal Shem Tov.

The Baal Shem Tov stood up, looked all around and said: “Look, I see a Polish noble walking. Go and meet him. Perhaps he has a pipe, and you can ask him to lend it to us.”

The students approached the noble and asked if he had a pipe, and he answered that indeed he did. When they asked if he could lend it to them, he answered, “I will go myself to the rabbi to give him the pipe.”

The Polish noble followed the students back to the place where the Baal Shem Tov was waiting. When they reached the Baal Shem Tov, the noble filled the pipe with tobacco himself, rubbed two stones together to make a fire, lit the pipe, and handed it to the Baal Shem Tov.

The Baal Shem Tov took the pipe and thanked him.

Holding the pipe, the Baal Shem Tov asked the noble about this year’s grain, if it had a good growth cycle and if it was plentiful, if the grain was producing much kernels during the threshing and other such questions.

The students paid no more attention to the man. While the Baal Shem Tov was talking to him, they went off to the side and used the time to review the teachings they had recently heard from the Baal Shem Tov.

Soon after, the Baal Shem Tov bade farewell to the Polish nobleman, and he went on his way.

Then the Baal Shem Tov said to his students, “Now I fulfilled my promise to you, because I showed you Elijah the Prophet.”

The crestfallen students replied, “Why didn’t the Rebbe tell us that this was Elijah? We would have asked him to teach us Torah . . .”

The Baal Shem Tov answered them: “If you had understood yourself, and asked who this was, I would have revealed him to you. However, since you did not understand, I did not have permission to reveal it.

“But I will tell you what I spoke to him about. When I asked him if the new crop was sprouting satisfactorily, I was asking if the Jewish people had taken the initiative to turn their souls toward their Father in heaven. And when I asked him whether the harvest yielded ample grain, my question was if this initiative from below had caused a reciprocal arousal of Divine grace to draw down all manner of good to the house of Israel.

“And he answered me what he answered . . .”

Rendered from Rabbi S.Y. Zevin’s Sippurei Chassidim, Torah # 241