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Thursday
Dec062018

RESCUED BY THE BAAL SHEM TOV IN RECENT TIMES

PART I

A group of Vizhnitzer Chassidim from Monsey went on an organized trip, a few years ago, to the graves of tzaddikim in Poland. According to the itinerary, they were supposed to visit the grave of Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk, author of the Noam Elimelech, as well as the graves of other tzaddikim. A packed and well-organized trip was planned to enable them to visit as many graves as possible.

One of the members of the group was a Vizhnitzer Chassid by the name of Rabbi Gavriel Yosef Vizhnitzer. He himself is a descendant of the Baal Shem Tov which is why he decided that at the end of the tour, he would go on alone, to Ukraine, and visit the graves of famous tzaddikim there as well. He planned on meeting up with his friends afterward in the city of Vizhnitz.

Upon concluding the main part of the trip, he said goodbye and went with a driver who took him to Ukraine.

PART II

It was Friday, 25 Adar, in the wee hours of the morning, when R’ Yosef arrived in Berditchev. Just the mention of the name of the town serves to defend the merit of the Jewish people, and he went to prostrate himself at the grave of the great lover of the Jewish people, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok.

Despite his fatigue, he continued on at three in the morning with his gentile driver on the way to Zhitomir and other towns, so he could daven at the graves of other tzaddikim.

When he finished Shacharis, they continued traveling, as planned, to Vizhnitz, hoping to reach it before Shabbos so he could spend Shabbos with his friends in the place where his Rebbes had prayed for generations.

He was exhausted and his eyelids drooped closed. He dozed off as much as the bumpy roads allowed him.

He himself did not know how much time had elapsed, for in his sleep he had sensed how the car had stopped for a long time. He opened his eyes and saw that the car was on the side of the road. The driver was standing outside, talking with a traffic cop who lay in wait for cars.

R’ Vizhnitzer went out to the driver and asked where they were. The driver said in the Kamenitz-Podolsk region.

The policeman told R’ Vizhnitzer to follow him to a nearby building. At first, he thought it was a local police station and he followed the policeman, albeit with demonstrable annoyance. Even when they entered the building and he saw that it did not look at all official, he still naively thought that’s the way it is in Ukraine.

The stern-faced policeman took his passport, leafed through it with no rhyme or reason, and then asked him a series of questions that had no bearing on the law. Fortunately, the policeman spoke English, which made it easier for R’ Vizhnitzer to communicate with him.

Suddenly, the policeman took out a revolver.

R’ Vizhnitzer’s heart skipped a beat.

He suddenly realized that this wasn’t a policeman but a highway robber.

“Your money,” said the man dryly. “All the money you have.”

R’ Vizhnitzer broke out in a cold sweat. He had heard stories about bribe-taking policemen who lay in wait for tourists on long stretches of road, and even worse stories. He still wasn’t sure whether the man was a policeman or merely a highway robber, but what difference did it make? He was a robber with or without a uniform.

With trembling hands, he took all his money out of his pocket. The policeman motioned with his gun at the briefcase he carried. “The money in there too,” he ordered.

R’ Vizhnitzer, who had hoped the first pile of money would satisfy him, was disappointed. He took out all the money that was meant to cover the expenses for the rest of his trip and handed it over to the man. He thought matters would end here, but the robber had other plans for him.

“If I free you, you will lodge a complaint against me with the police,” he said. “You have one minute to live. Pray before I shoot you in the head,” he said coldly.

R’ Yosef was drenched in sweat and he shook like a leaf as he tried to explain that he wasn’t a local and he knew of no police station in the area. He had to continue on his way and had no time to tarry. And anyway, the idea of complaining about him wasn’t even a consideration.

The would-be murderer was unimpressed by this argument and impatiently waved his revolver. “Hurry up,” he barked.

R’ Vizhnitzer began pleading for his life. “You have the money. I am a father of 12 children, the grandfather of thirty grandchildren. Have mercy on them if not on me!” But the murderer was adamant. “Your time is running out. You have less than a minute left.”

R’ Vizhnitzer tried offering him other items of value that he had in his bag in the car, but the murderer was not moved by his generosity. In any case, he would take all his victim’s belongings.

PART III

R’ Vizhnitzer realized that the end was nigh. His family, relatives, dear ones, friends in the community and his Rebbe; they all passed through his mind quickly, as though he was taking his leave of them.

He suddenly remembered that during the long trips he had made in recent days, he heard on a recording of a well-known speaker that when a Jew is in distress, it is a big segula to mention the name of the holy Baal Shem Tov – Yisroel ben Eliezer v’Sarah.

R’ Vizhnitzer did so; he began mumbling the Baal Shem Tov’s name over and over, while occasionally trying to plead for his life.

The murderer’s impatience was apparent. He aimed his revolver at R’ Vizhnitzer’s temple. In the last second, before he squeezed the trigger, R’ Vizhnitzer tried his luck one last time. “Send one of your people after me to make sure I am going straight to Mezhibuzh and am not going to report you.”

R’ Vizhnitzer meant to say he was going to Vizhnitz but blurted out Mezhibuzh instead; maybe because he hadn’t stopped thinking of the Baal Shem Tov in recent moments.

The murderer’s face changed in an instant. “Did you say Mezhibuzh?” he asked as he turned the revolver away. “Why are you going there?”

R’ Vizhnitzer was afraid to correct himself lest he sound like a liar. “There is a great Jewish holy man buried in Mezhibuzh and I am a grandchild of his. I want to pray at his grave.”

The ruthless Ukrainian looked into R’ Vizhnitzer’s eyes and asked, “Is this grandfather of yours, perhaps, the Baal Shem Tov?”

“Indeed,” he replied enthusiastically. He was amazed that this murderous gentile knew of the Baal Shem Tov altogether and had even pronounced his sobriquet correctly.

The gentile put his gun down and without saying a word, he took out the money he had robbed just minutes before and held it out. “You can go to Mezhibuzh now,” he said.

R’ Vizhnitzer was stunned. He found it hard to move from his place. The goy couldn’t help but see how the Jew was shocked.

“You don’t understand what caused me to change my mind? I will tell you.

“When my grandfather was still alive, he would tell me about a great Jewish holy man who was called Baal Shem Tov. He said he was a wonder-worker. One of the times he told me about him, he made me swear that I would never harm any of the Baal Shem Tov’s descendants.”

PART IV

It was Friday and getting late. R’ Vizhnitzer looked at his watch and figured out that he would not be able to make it to Vizhnitz in time for Shabbos. He went back to his car on the side of the road where the driver had no idea of the drama taking place a few yards away. He instructed him to drive to Mezhibuzh.

“To Mezhibuzh?” exclaimed the driver, surprised about the change in plans.

“Yes, to Mezhibuzh,” said R’ Vizhnitzer, while still trying to calm down from his ordeal. “I will tell you why as we go.”

***

R’ Vizhnitzer will never forget the Shabbos he spent with his great ancestor in Mezhibuzh; it was a most uplifting Shabbos. It was also a chance for him to recover from the traumatic events of Erev Shabbos and to thank Hashem for the great miracle that occurred in the merit of the tzaddik whose name was known even by a Ukrainian murderer.

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