January 6, 2016
Menachem Ziegelboim in #1003, Hebron, Story

R’ Gershon Kitover, brother-in-law of the holy Baal Shem Tov, experienced many difficulties before he was able to make his way to the secret yeshiva of the holy Ohr HaChayim.  Even when he was accepted there, he only merited to bask in the glow of the holy Ohr HaChayim for three days.
It was a tiny yeshiva, hidden in a cave amid the mountains that surround Yerushalayim.  Very few had the privilege of learning the secrets of the Torah there.  Most of the students were accepted because of their greatness, but this was not the case for R’ Gershon.  His relationship as the brother-in-law of the Baal Shem Tov actually worked against him.
When R’ Gershon wanted to enter the yeshiva, he had to overcome many hurdles until his greatness and asceticism were recognized and the rosh yeshiva, the holy R’ Chaim, agreed to accept him.  R’ Gershon sat in yeshiva, immersed in the world of the esoteric for three days.  When he arrived at the yeshiva on the fourth day, a guard stood there, blocking the entrance and preventing him from entering.
“Why are you stopping me from going in?” asked the perplexed R’ Gershon.
“It’s an order I received from our holy master,” replied the guard.  “I don’t know the reason,” he added with a shrug.
R’ Gershon knocked at R’ Chaim’s door and protested, “I was prevented from learning Torah!”
R’ Chaim looked up and gazed at R’ Gershon.  R’ Gershon shook in fear of that pure, holy gaze and stood rooted in his place.  There was a moment of silence and then the tzaddik broke the spell.
“Yesterday, while washing my hands for the morning bread, it was revealed to me that you are the brother of the wife of Rabbeinu Yisroel Baal Shem Tov.  This is aside from your other wonderful qualities that I did not know of until now.  Now that I know who you are, I am beside myself with aggravation over having put you to personal use a number of times because it is a serious matter to make use of Torah scholars.”
R’ Chaim paused and then added, “As far as this matter goes, I deliberated over this a lot and finally decided, not for this reason, to prevent you from entering the yeshiva where you would be one of my disciples, despite the fact that our holy sages said that it is permissible for a rav to make use of a student.”
R’ Gershon bowed his head before R’ Chaim, and with a voice choked with tears he said, “Why then was I not permitted to enter the yeshiva?”
“My son, how did you know about our secret yeshiva in the mountain? You yourself told me, ‘My brother-in-law, the Baal Shem, revealed this secret to me.’  You should know that that was a great sin that you shortened his holy title.  Why weren’t you careful to say, ‘the holy Baal Shem Tov?’ Shortening the title of a tzaddik is considered like disparaging the holiness of the faithful servants of G-d.  This is why you are not allowed into the yeshiva.”
R’ Chaim added one last point in a loving tone as though to appease him, “Moreover, you do not need us because you have your own master; return home in peace.”
R’ Gershon returned and wrote about these events to his holy brother-in-law in Mezhibuzh.
Those were difficult times for the Jewish people.  The evil government passed laws against the Jewish people and the Jews were miserable.  The wicked ones rejoiced and enacted more decrees and ordered to burn and destroy the Jews’ holy books.
The holy Baal Shem Tov wrote the following to his brother-in-law in Eretz Yisroel, “I increased my prayers and pleading before G-d.  I asked for heavenly mercy and tried to cancel the decree.  Go, my brother-in-law, to Chevron and visit the resting place of our Fathers, Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov and our Mothers, Sarah, Rivka, Rochel, and Leah, and tell them that their children in the world are in trouble.”
R’ Gershon did not delay.  He hurriedly saddled his donkey and took his s’farim with him, and food, and set out, making his way south to the holy city of Chevron.
It did not take long and from a distance he could see the holy city.  He prepared himself as he approached.
It actually wasn’t a simple matter to get into the Meoras HaMachpeila.  An Arab strongman stood at the entrance, his hand on his sword, and his eyes radiating wickedness.
R’ Gershon prepared himself by praying and with bribes too.  He had gold coins in his pocket and when he approached the guard he had a bundle in his hand.  The Arab suspiciously glanced at the bundle, then his eyes widened with greed and he reached for it.
They stood there like that, alone, the holy one and the impure one, at the entrance to the holy cave.
“I need to go inside,” stated R’ Gershon.  “I must go to our Fathers and pray.”  
The Arab looked at him with hate in his eyes, grasping the bundle of money and remaining silent.

“We are all children of our Father Abraham.  We are all children of one father.  Allow me to spend time with him, even for a few minutes.”
The Arab turned the bundle of coins over in his hand and looked from R’ Gershon to the bundle, thinking about what to do next.  He finally said, “My guard duty is over in just a little while.  After that I go home and someone else will come to replace me.  What will I do if this becomes known?”
R’ Gershon tried to respond but the Arab cut him off.  “It’s a pity over every minute we lose.”  He glanced at the sun which was moving toward the west.  “Go inside for a few minutes.  Pray and then come right back out before another guard replaces me.  If you stay in there too long, your life will be in danger.”
R’ Gershon did not manage to say anything before the man pushed him inside and closed the door behind him.
R’ Gershon found himself standing in the gloom of the Meoras HaMachpeila in the presence of the holy Avos.  He closed his eyes for a moment and he suddenly recalled the plea of his brother-in-law in Mezhibuzh, “Ask them to prostrate before His footstool and arouse His mercy for His embittered children.”
His pain was so great that he felt he could not restrain himself and he burst into tears and cried, “Please, our holy Fathers, your children are in great distress.  Wicked ones surround us from all sides.  Jews who live in this terrible exile are at the mercy of those who hate us.  Please, compassionate Avos and Imahos, plead before the King of all kings.”
R’ Gershon was swept up in his prayers.  He completely forgot about the time and where he was, when he felt strong hands grabbing him and carrying him away.  “What’s this?” thundered a voice.  “A Yahud, eh?”
R’ Gershon immediately returned to reality and looked at the Arab who was dragging him.  No, it wasn’t the Arab that he had bribed.  Much time had elapsed and while he was importuning the Avos and Imahos to beg Hashem for help, there had been a changing of the guards.  The Arab glared at him and with lips curled in fury, roughly led him to the Kadi’s palace.  The Kadi immediately sentenced R’ Gershon.  “Because you went inside,” he hissed, “you are sentenced to die.  Next Friday, when our brothers come to pray, we will hang you for all to see and the Jews will know what punishment awaits anyone who breaks our laws!”
The holy Ohr HaChayim, who was in Yerushalayim, knew what was going on.  Fear and pain gripped him when he heard the fate of his friend.  R’ Chaim knew that R’ Gershon was in real danger and there was no end to his anguish.  He sent emissaries to the Jewish communities in Tzfas and Chevron, to gather in shuls, and to call for fasting and prayer.
When the sun set on Thursday night, the night before the sentence would be carried out, R’ Chaim wore sackcloth and sat on the ground.  He placed his head between his knees and sobbed, pleading with Hashem to do away with the evil decree.
The night passed rapidly and the sun rose on a new day.  Within a short time, R’ Gershon would be brought to the town square.
At that time, R’ Gershon sat in his cell.  He knew that in a few minutes they would come and take him to be hung, but his spirit was strong.  He was preoccupied with prayer and had already accepted the decree with love and prepared to say Vidui.  
He heard a slight creaking of the door and he saw it slowly swing open.  A light breeze could be felt.
Incredulously, R’ Gershon walked over to ascertain whether he was seeing properly.  He caught his breath.  The guard was sleeping at the door.  Beyond the open door he could see the hills of Chevron.
R’ Gershon skipped over the body of the guard, quietly closed the door of the cell behind him, and rushed to get out of the area.  He looked up at the sky and thanked G-d.  He then hurried along toward Yerushalayim.
The Shabbos Queen was descending upon Yerushalayim.  Those who made haste were already sitting in the shuls and reciting the Song of Songs.  Others were still finishing last minute Shabbos preparations.
R’ Gershon entered Yerushalayim and walked toward the house of R’ Chaim.  His heart overflowed with praise and thanks to G-d and he wanted to tell the tzaddik what had happened.
By the time he got to R’ Chaim’s house, the tzaddik was lifting the cup to recite the Kiddush.  Suddenly, the door opened and there was R’ Gershon.  R’ Chaim stood at the head of the table, slightly nodding his head.  Both of them knew everything.

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (
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