Odel, the Baal Shem Tov’s daughter, plays a unique role in early Chassidic history. She stood out as a wise, pious, and influential figure in her father’s court – the birthplace of Chassidism. In addition to being the daughter of greatness and mother to many great Chassidic dynasties, she was also a rebbetzin in her own right, who studied from her father and was among his first chassidim.

Stories and legends of her holiness are sprinkled throughout the books and accounts of all the various Chassidic dynasties. While the accounts differ in detail, there is much to be gleaned from this exceptional woman, who stands as a role model for all.

1. She Was Born Before Her Father Was Well Known

Odel was born around 1720,1 in the Podolia region (now western Ukraine), to Reb Yisrael and Chana. Born years before her father revealed himself and his message to the world,2 Odel grew up while the family was still living inconspicuously, in an off-the-road village in a small dilapidated house, her father a teacher for young children.

2. Her Soul Is Sourced in the Torah Itself

Before the Baal Shem Tov’s passing he explained that he attained Odel’s soul from the Torah, and that it can be seen in the name he chose for her, Odel (אדל), spelled in Hebrew ‘aleph-dalet-lamed,’ serving as an acronym for esh dat lamo, “A fiery law for them,”3 a reference to the Torah itself.4

3. Her Sons and Grandsons Were Rebbes

Sometime between 1730 and 1740, Odel married a young man named Yechiel Michel, nicknamed Der Deitchel (“The German”).5 There isn’t much written about him, but we know that he was a humble and scholarly man.6

The couple lived near her father, who had by then moved to the town of Mezhibuzh (Medzhybizh), considered the cradle of the Chassidic movement.

Together they raised three children: Reb Moshe Chaim Ephraim of Sudlkov, who wrote the classic Chassidic text Degel Machaneh Efraim; Reb Boruch’l of Mezhibuzh, a powerful leader in the next generation of Chassidism; and Faiga, who, in addition to her own piety and greatness, was the mother of the famed Rabbi Nachman of Breslov.

4. She Was Active in Her Father’s Affairs

Odel was a known figure in her father’s court, often listening to his lessons, at times taking part in the discussions. She was involved in running the Baal Shem Tov’s schedule and even traveled with him on one of his voyages.

Some of the Baal Shem Tov’s students would correspond with her, asking her to deliver messages to the Baal Shem tov, among other things.

Although there is not much documented from back then, Odel is described in Chassidic literature as a central figure in the Baal Shem Tov’s home, and a number of miracle stories are recorded, of incidents that either happened to her, or in which she played an active role.7

5. She Sold Shoes

To support their family, Odel and her husband ran a shoe store. One Simchat Torah, the Baal Shem Tov and his students were dancing the night away with joy and jubilation. At one point, Odel noticed that one man’s shoes had ripped. Having a large supply of shoes at her disposal, she approached the chassid and offered to bring him a new pair if he promised to bless her with a child. The chassid happily blessed her and continued to dance with a new pair of shoes. Within the year, Odel and her husband were blessed with a new baby.8

6. She Shared a Unique Bond With Her Father

Odel was the only daughter of the Baal Shem Tov, and many years older than her only brother, Tzvi, who was himself a very quiet and humble man. Odel was at her father’s side from the beginning of his public work, and remained so throughout his life, keeping his home and his legacy alive for more than two decades after his passing. Odel and her father shared a particularly close relationship and his immense respect for her is evident in many accounts, stories, and letters.

Some letters between Odel and her father still exist. The content ranges from reporting what is going on with some of the chassidim, to requests for blessings, and a detailed healing procedure written in Yiddish for one of the children.9

The Tzemach Dovid, the Rebbe of Skoliye, related that as the Baal Shem Tov prepared to pass on, he spoke to each of his students, providing direction before he would leave them alone on this earth. After all the students, Odel approached her father sobbing, “What will be with me? Who are you leaving me with?” The Baal Shem Tov comforted her and promised that for the next 10 generations he would be with her and all of her offspring at their births, weddings, and deaths.10

7. She Was Saved on the Mediterranean Sea

The Baal Shem Tov attempted to travel to the Holy Land several times. On each occasion he was met with obstacles that sent him home.11 On his first trip, he was accompanied by his attendant and scribe, Reb Tzvi, and his only daughter, Odel.

The voyage was laden with dangers and unwanted detours, and they never actually made it to their destination.

Their first unplanned stop was Constantinople (Istanbul). There, the Captain tricked them into getting off at the port to “make some repairs,” and they were stranded with no supplies right before Passover.

The Seder night was quite eventful. Odel had met a wealthy Polish Jew who supplied them with Passover necessities, and the Baal Shem Tov blessed the Polish Jew and his wife (who were childless) with children (for which he subsequently lost his portion in the World to Come for a few minutes12 ). And while saying the passage in the Haggadah “Le’osei Niflaot Gedolot,” “to the One who performs great wonders,” the Baal Shem Tov intervened in the heavenly courts and saved the local Jewish community from a terrible decree.13

But the worst was yet to come. On Chol Hamoed (the interim days of) Pesach, the Baal Shem Tov, Odel, and Tzvi boarded another ship headed straight to Israel. During the trip there was a wild storm that almost caused the ship to capsize, and it showed no signs of abating. The Baal Shem Tov tried using spiritual means to save the ship from going under, but he wasn’t very successful. Odel was in grave danger14 (according to most versions, she actually ended up in the stormy sea), and only through prayer and a miracle was the Baal Shem Tov able to save her. They ended up at a forsaken island port, and after some more hardships and clear signs that it was not Divinely ordained for the Baal Shem Tov to reach Eretz Yisrael at this stage, they headed back to Mezhibuzh.15

8. She Bested Her Father’s Students in a Torah discussion

Growing up in the Baal Shem Tov’s home, she not only loved and respected the ways of Torah and Chassidism, she learned and understood it as well.16

One Motzei Shabbat, the Baal Shem Tov’s students were sitting and discussing through which “gate” one could best connect with G‑d (in connection with the prayer that many communities say on Motzei Shabbat which lists close to 60 such gates). Each student suggested another level and another gate, but the Baal Shem Tov did not accept any of their answers.

Odel, who was listening to the entire conversation, shared her opinion that the gate of “siyata dishmaya” [Help from Heaven] must be the best gate, and the Baal Shem Tov explained to the students that she was correct, because all the other gates need “Help of Heaven” to be opened.17

Toldot Yaakov Yosef from Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Pulnaah (the first written book of Chassidus) quotes a “woman in Mezhibuzh,” as saying: “We did well choosing our G‑d, but He also did quite well choosing the Jewish People, for as you see, Feivish is a simple Jew but he sanctifies G‑d’s name”

The Tzemach Dovid, the Rabbi of Skoliyeh, writes that the “woman from Mezhibuzh” is actually Odel.

9. She Conveyed Her Father’s Traditions

After the Baal Shem Tov’s passing, Odel kept her father’s house and she remained an influential figure in the rapidly growing Chassidic world. Up until her passing circa 5547 (1787) she was sought after for advice, blessings, and to relay the practices and traditions of her saintly father.

A story is told in which Odel visited her father’s resting place and subsequently relayed a message to a troubled father whose son had gone missing.

Chassidim would consult with her about the traditions and customs of her father, as is evident in this excerpt of letter from Odel to a chassid (translated from Yiddish):18

“…I will write a little about the behavior of my holy father, the Baal Shem Tov: he would always go to sleep at midnight, not earlier and not later. One time I asked him “Aderaba! What will be with chatzot?” [“On the contrary! It would be better to sleep earlier and get up at chatzot – midnight”, (when it is customary to wake up and mourn the destruction of the Holy Temple)]. He answered me with these holy words: “My dear child Odel’e, you ask well, but the second half of the night they have already fixed (elevated) a long time ago. I came down to fix (elevate) the first half of the night, which they have unfortunately till now left alone. Till here were his holy words. He would wake between six and seven, and every day, winter and summer, he would go out to immerse in the mikvah. By ten, he was always finished with the prayers…”19