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Saturday
Sep152018

HOLY GUESTS IN THE SUKKA

PART I

The year this story took place, the Baal Shem Tov changed his usual routine and right after Havdala on Motzaei Yom Kippur he went to the beis midrash to conduct a tish. After all, it was a festive day and it was a mitzva to eat and rejoice.

The glow on the face of the tzaddik was in complete opposition to the service of the day that had been exceedingly grave. It was apparent that a black cloud hovered over the Jewish people and the Baal Shem Tov had worked to remove the evil decree.

“It was a difficult avoda this year,” he began. “A harsh decree hovered over the Jewish people and only in the merit of the mitzva of hospitality of our Jewish brethren in the nations of the west were we saved from great danger. Thanks to this mitzva, our Father Avrohom went about with a shining countenance and said, ‘Rejoice, my children!’ He himself, our first father, closed the mouths of the accusers.”

The Besht’s joy was tremendous. He conducted a tish until dawn.

The day after Yom Kippur was Erev Shabbos. The preparations for Shabbos were different than on other Fridays and the great joy continued into the night and day of Shabbos.

As twilight of the Shabbos day set in, during the seuda shlishis meal the tzaddik acceded to the requests of his students, the holy brotherhood, and said, “Since the supernal realms rejoice with the mitzva of hospitality done by village Jews, it would be fitting to travel there to see their behavior from up close.”

After Birkas HaMazon, Maariv and Havdala, the order was given to Alexei the wagon driver to get the wagon ready for a trip. Not much time passed and a small group of students was ready and waiting for their master.

PART II

The wagon traveled over mountains with the nonstop gallop of the horses. Before the eyes of the passengers passed cities, towns and villages. They were already used to this miraculous speedy travel, yet they were always astonished by the open miracle. Under the circumstances there were no borders and no customs checkpoints. They traveled, leaping forward, with nobody to interfere and stop them.

When day dawned, they noticed through the windows that they had arrived at some town. Some speculated that they had arrived in Germany, but it was impossible to ask anyone before the horses stopped. But this they knew, that the horses did not go just anywhere and did not stop except when directed by heaven, according to the will of the tzaddik.

The horses passed through the streets and left the city without stopping. In another little while they had stopped on a little street in the center of a village, opposite a big house that looked like an inn.

Upon hearing the neighing of horses, a pure-faced Jew came out of the inn. Seeing that they were Jews, his face lit up. He ran to welcome the guests, extending his hands to them spread open wide:

“Thanks and praise to G-d, may He be blessed, who did not abandon me. Such guests for the holiday! Ah, surely we will have a happy holiday! We have a kosher, beautiful sukka, set up very beautifully!” The man’s joy radiated from his face and from every word he uttered.

The Besht did not accede to the man’s request and expressed his desire to stay in the city proper for the holiday, where there surely was a shul and a mikva, as well as an esrog. In those days, dalet minim were not owned by every Jew.

The man responded enthusiastically, “We also have a mikva, a shul with a kosher Torah, as well as a beautiful esrog. Though if you want, we can daven in the big shul in the city, but please, dear Jews, do this chesed and stay with me for Sukkos!”

The Besht saw how the man so greatly desired their company and agreed to stay, indicating as such to his students. The joy in the man’s house was indescribable. His family, from big to small, began energetically getting ready for the holiday and the guests.

After Maariv on the first night of sukkos, they all entered the villager’s spacious sukka. The tzaddik’s face shone; the fulfillment of the mitzva, sitting in the sukka, made him supremely happy.

This is when the host found out that the man he was hosting in his home and his sukka was the holy Baal Shem Tov himself, whose reputation had spread far and wide, even to western Europe. His joy was boundless.

The next morning, the host said, “In honor of our master, all the residents of this village will go and pray together in the big shul as you wish.”

The Besht said that actually, he wanted to daven in the villager’s house and the following day they would daven together in the big shul in the city.

Indeed, the next morning, dozens of simple devout villagers alongside the holy students of the Besht, walked together from the village to the big city, an hour’s walk. The city was all abuzz and they gave great honor to the tzaddik. The heads of the community begged the Besht to honor them by being their guest during the meals.

The Besht said it depended on the consent of his host. The host, with his golden heart, agreed to forgo the privilege, the main thing being to give merit to all the Jews of the city with the presence of the tzaddik.

PART III

Shortly before leaving, the Besht asked his host how he could bless him for his hospitality. The man said, “Holy master, I lack for nothing. Hashem provided me with a family and dear children, and I am well to do as well. I have just one request, to merit life in the world to come!”

The tzaddik smiled and warmly said, “If you want my promise, you need to come with me to Mezhibuzh.”

“Yes, Rebbe,” said the man. “To merit life in the world to come, it is worth going through fire and water!”

“If so,” said the Besht calmly, “You will also have the reward for the effort of travel. But, if you take my advice, you will bring with you wagons with barrels of wine. Wine costs a lot of money in our area. Hashem will help you and you will earn a big profit.”

After the illustrious guest left, the villager set aside all his affairs and began preparing for the long trip. He did not have that miraculous shortening of the way and knew that he had several exhausting weeks of travel ahead of him. He bought many barrels of wine, hired wagon drivers, and set out.

The obstacles set in early. At a certain point, heavy rain began to fall which made it impossible to continue. It continued to pour and with great difficulty they reached the nearest inn. The innkeeper cleared a place for the wagons, leaving the wagon drivers to guard the merchandise while he went to sleep.

The next morning, the skies cleared and the sun came out.

The villager woke up, davened, put away his tefillin and was ready to leave. However, when he went to where he had left the drivers and the merchandise, he saw no sign of them! He rubbed his eyes in astonishment, trying to remember where he had left them, but his thoughts became jumbled. He immediately returned to the inn to check whether some of them had gone there, but he saw none of them, neither the wagon drivers nor the merchandise, and not even the inn! As though there had been nothing there all along!

The villager realized that something terrible had happened but did not understand what was going on. He was fearful. Was it all a dream or was he hallucinating? He began running around like a crazy man, but saw nothing. Terrified, he fell down in a faint.

He did not know how much time had passed and what happened in between. He slowly woke up and found himself lying alone in an open field. He tried to remember how he had gotten there and what had occurred. He slowly began to remember the strange episode. His head hurt and his stomach began to remind him that it was empty.

He did not know where to begin, when there suddenly arrived a band of paupers who were surprised to see a Jew lying on the ground, pale and confused. They hurried to help him and he slowly began to recover. He drank a little bit and slaked his terrible thirst. Then he had some dry bread proffered by one of the group. When they saw that he was doing a little better they had him join them.

He went with them wherever they went. Within a short time, he had acclimated to his new circumstances and forgot his past. He wandered with them from place to place, from city to city and from town to town and whatever they did, he did. He continued in this way for a long time.

PART IV

One day, the group arrived in Mezhibuzh. He knew this because the other beggars said so.

Upon their arrival in town, the Besht said to his attendant, “A new group of paupers has arrived in town. Go and find them and invite them to eat the Shabbos meal with me.”

When the group arrived at the Besht’s court, the tzaddik said each one of them should enter to be personally greeted. The tzaddik received them warmly and with open affection. When it was our villager’s turn, the Besht said, “You will stay with me.”

Then and there, he told his attendant to bring new Shabbos clothes for the guest and took him to the bathhouse to immerse before Shabbos. During the davening, the unusual displays of affection for the man did not stop. The Besht invited the poor man to stand near him and during the tish he sat him right next to him.

The villager himself did not understand what was happening. Suddenly, all eyes were upon him. The tzaddik himself had seated him next to him, at the head of the table, and he had no idea why he was being honored in this way. How was he better than his fellow beggars?

It seemed that the influence of the tzaddik was starting to pierce his fog of amnesia. The man slowly began to remember what happened to him, all the travails he had experienced since he set out for the tzaddik in Mezhibuzh.

The tzaddik knew what the man was thinking. “Do you recognize me?” he suddenly asked.

“Yes,” the man said, his teeth chattering in fear. “You are Rabbi Yisroel Baal Shem Tov!”

The tzaddik looked pleased.

“Do you remember when I visited your house last Sukkos and you asked me to promise you life in the world to come?”

All at once, the last remnants of his amnesia left him and he remembered that scene clearly. He shuddered. He had undergone so much since that day, such hardships!

“Yes, yes,” he said. “Much time has elapsed since that day!”

“You are mistaken,” said the Besht with a smile. “Not even two months have passed. As for the wine, don’t worry, tomorrow morning all the missing merchandise will appear and your star will begin to shine.”

The villager sat there with bulging eyes, without removing his gaze from the tzaddik. He could not believe everything that was happening. It was all still confusing. He only managed to grasp that he had lived through a terrible hallucinatory experience.

“You made quite a request,” said the tzaddik, after a prolonged silence. “The world to come is not a simple matter. A person needs to work hard, to be purified like silver and keep his soul away from all dross. To your credit, you accepted all your suffering with love. You inclined your head at heaven’s justice so that you completely forgot about your very own self and your entire past. In this period of time, your soul was purified. Fortunate are you that you merited to inherit both worlds!”

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