In 1759, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov sent one of his young disciples, Rabbi Moshe Meshel, with a letter to his former opponent and now disciple, the great scholar Rabbi Chaim Rapaport, rabbi of the city of Lvov.

The letter instructed Rabbi Chaim that on a certain Wednesday in the summer month of Tammuz, he should travel to a designated place in the forest outside the city and study there, in depth, the first four chapters of the laws of blessings in MaimonidesMishneh Torah. He should briefly record his Torah insights, so as not to forget them, and then pray the afternoon minchah prayer, and return home. Rabbi Chaim did not know the purpose of this mission, but he implicitly followed his master’s instructions.

Although the place the Baal Shem Tov had designated was only eight miles from the city, Rabbi Chaim and Rabbi Moshe Meshel traveled for many hours, because there were problems with the coach every step of the way. First the reins broke; then the harness straps snapped; a wheel fell off; the shaft connecting the horses cracked; and so on. It took time to deal with every mishap and to repair everything that needed to be fixed. They had set out early in the morning but, because of the many difficulties and delays, arrived at the place the Baal Shem Tov had indicated only at two o’clock in the afternoon.

Following the Baal Shem Tov’s directives, Rabbi Chaim walked into the woods on the side of the road and led Rabbi Moshe Meshel and the coach driver to an opening among the trees, a flat area that seemed to be a ruin of some sort, with the remnants of a number of buildings. He sat there studying for four hours and, because of the hot summer day, became very thirsty. While he continued studying, his companions went to search for some water. In the midst of the thick forest undergrowth they discovered a fountain, and brought back fresh water for Rabbi Chaim to drink. He also washed his hands with that water before he prayed minchah; then they returned to Lvov.

At the beginning of the month of Elul, Rabbi Chaim went to the Baal Shem Tov in Medzibuz and told him that ever since he had been sent on the mission to the ruin in the forest that day, his eyes were opened in Torah study and his heart had opened in the service of G‑d. He had made more spiritual progress in that brief period than ever before in his life. He thanked G‑d and he thanked the Baal Shem Tov for sending him there, because he undoubtedly merited to benefit from the radiance of a holy soul buried nearby.

At the Shabbat meal, the Baal Shem Tov told Rabbi Chaim that the purpose of his trip was to help a Jew who had passed away one hundred and seventeen years earlier. This man, named Moshe the son of Shmuel Tzadok, had been a great Torah scholar, but was also an atheist who led a dissolute life. Yet, in his advanced old age, he had fully repented. “The time had come for the Torah that Moshe had studied in impurity to be raised up,” said the Baal Shem Tov. “And I chose you, Rabbi Chaim, for the task. That clearing in the forest is the place where Reb Moshe’s estate stood, and where he was buried. With G‑d’s help, your pure study and prayer elevated what had remained below, trapped by the kelipot (‘shells,’ the negative elements of creation). By succeeding in this holy work, you merited to be renewed spiritually.

“You also accomplished another great task there,” said the Baal Shem Tov. “It is written in the holy Zohar that the lower waters weep, crying, ‘We want to appear before the Holy King!’ From the time that the Holy One, blessed be He, separated between the lower waters and the upper waters on the second day of creation,1 the lower waters have been weeping and begging to appear before the Holy King, that they be used for holy purposes: handwashing before prayer; immersion in a mikvah for a mitzvah, or for purification before prayer and Torah study; handwashing before eating with a blessing mentioning G‑d’s name; or water for drinking with a blessing before and after. The weeping and pleading of these or those lower waters, that they be used for mitzvot and acts of holiness and purity, may continue for hundreds and thousands of years, until a Jew passes by and washes his hands for prayer or drinks some water to satisfy his thirst, making appropriate blessings.

“Near the former property and grave of Reb Moshe was a fountain that had been weeping for five thousand five hundred and nineteen years, since the creation of the world: Why should it be less than all the other fountains in the world? Why should its waters be denied their elevation? Since the Holy One, blessed be He, had created it, no one had ever made a blessing over its waters; they had never been used for holy purposes. That day,” said the Baal Shem Tov to Rabbi Chaim, “when you drank its water and used it to wash your hands for prayer, you elevated that fountain. This was all the working of divine providence. Every creature and creation has a time for its elevation, and it is foreordained when it will occur and by whom. And that is true for each and every soul; it too has its time for elevation.”2