Chassidim traveling to their Rebbe - a painting by Chassidic artist Zalman Kleinman
Chassidim traveling to their Rebbe - a painting by Chassidic artist Zalman Kleinman

A man once complained to Chassidic master Rabbi Bunim of Peshischa:

"I saw it written in the holy books that if a person fasts a certain number of times, he will merit that Elijah the Prophet will reveal himself to him and teach him the secrets of the Torah. Well, I fulfilled the regimen of fasts, exactly as prescribed, yet Elijah did not reveal himself to me."

Rabbi Bunim told the man the following story:

Once, the holy Baal Shem Tov had to travel to a far-off destination on a matter of extreme importance to the welfare of a Jewish community. As was his custom on such trips, the Baal Shem Tov told his coachman, Alexis, to drop the reins and turn around in his bench. No sooner had the coachman turned his back on the horses that the road began to literally fly under their feet, and they traversed a many weeks' journey in a few hours.

The horses, noticing that they were galloping past the feeding stations without stopping, thought to themselves: "Perhaps we are not horses after all, but human beings. Otherwise, why are we not being given oats and water at the customary places? Surely we will eat with the men, when they stop for their meals at the crossroads inns."

But the inns, too, flew by, one after another, with dizzying speed. "It seems," the horses now surmised, "that we are not men after all, but angels, who do not partake of earthly food at all."

But then the Baal Shem Tov and his disciples arrived at their destination and rushed off to attend to their holy mission, while Alexis unhitched the horses and led them to the barn, where they guzzled water and devoured oats like the horses they were...

"The purpose of a fast," concluded Rabbi Bunim, "is to refine the person, to have him transcend, if only for a few hours, the gross materiality of the human state. But if the moment the fast ends he attacks his food with the fervor of a man who hasn't eaten all day, what has been achieved?"