"Many years ago," Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov told his disciples, "in the holy city of Safed, there lived a simple but G‑d-fearing Jew. Though not blessed with a great mind or with any exceptional talents, he served G‑d with a whole heart and a humble spirit.

"Late one night, there was a knock on his door. On his threshold stood an old man with a long white beard and a countenance as radiant as the heavens. 'I am Elijah the Prophet,' said the visitor. 'I have come to open your mind and heart and teach you the deepest secrets of creation.'

"'On the day of your Bar Mitzvah,' continued Elijah, 'you did a great and wondrous deed, a deed which reverberated through all the universes. The angels and souls that dwell on high all wondered: what has this man done that has flooded the heavens with this magnificent light, such as has not been seen for many generations? But your deed was too radiant for us to behold.

"'Tell me what it was that you did,' said Elijah, 'and I will reveal to you things that only the greatest souls are privy to.'"

"'What I did,' replied the Safedian, 'I did for G‑d alone. It is not for the knowledge of any creature, man or angel.'

"Elijah pleaded and cajoled, promising even greater spiritual gifts. But the man was steadfast in his refusal, and the prophet-angel departed empty-handed.

"In my previous life," concluded the Baal Shem Tov, "I was that man."