Weekly Chasidic Story #783 (s5773-12 / 12 Kislev 5773)
Protected by Esau’s Angel
“This army officer, who despises Jews and does everything he can to torment us, is about to become our mayor. It will be disastrous for us. Only you can help us, Rebbe.” [Baal Shem Tov]
Connection: Weekly Reading–Gen. 32:25
And then there was the time that a group of Jewish community leaders of Medzhibuz came to the Baal Shem Tov, also a resident of Medzhibuz, to discuss a serious problem.
“It is not a happy occasion that brings us,” they explained with a worried tone of voice. “There is an army officer, who despises Jews and does everything he can to torment us. We have just learned that he is about to become our mayor. What a disaster! He will make our lives unbearable. Only you can help us, Rebbe.”
“I am already aware of this problem but I don’t know what can be done. Esau’s guardian angel is at this man’s right side. I am powerless against him.”
“And so what if Esau’s angel supports this man!” the townspeople responded. “Are we not more influential? Are we not G-d’s own children?”
It was such utterances of implicit faith that made these townspeople so beloved to the Baal Shem Tov.
“We will see. There are good ministering angels on our side too. Let us wait and see how this turns out,” he answered.
The townspeople heard this and were satisfied. “Thank G-d. We can rely on the Rebbe,” they said to each other.
Medzhibuz had an annual fair which was attended by farmers and merchants from near and far. This fair was the main attraction of the town. Everyone found something of interest, be it buying, selling or just having fun.
On the morning the fair was about to open, the Baal Shem Tov arose early to pray with the Jewish merchants that were hurrying to open their booths. Following the morning prayers, the Baal Shem Tov announced “I am also going to the fair.”
This statement alarmed the merchants. They warned the Rebbe, “You can’t go today. The army officer we told you about will ride through the market place on his horse and strike whoever is in his way with a leather whip. He makes a special point of lashing Jews, whom he particularly despises. Please, Rebbe, don’t go.”
“And why should I be any different than the other Jews who feel his whip?” the Baal Shem Tov replied. Wearing hiscapoteh (a long black suit-coat) and his shtreimel (round, flat fur hat), the Baal Shem Tov walked to the market place, followed by a group of his followers.
“Good morning,” he said to whomever he passed. However, the townsfolk could not bear to look at his glowing face and answered his greetings with averted eyes.
Suddenly everyone froze. The anti-Semitic officer galloped into the market place on his huge, powerful, black horse. His uniform was pressed, his high boots polished to a sheen, and with a gleeful smile, he flicked his whip right and left in sadistic pleasure. He accompanied his lashes with shouts of fury, “Dirty Jews, out of my way!”
Everyone tried to flee from his path but few could escape the long reach of his vicious whip. Right and left it swung, tearing at coats, upsetting piles of merchandise, relentlessly striking whomever it could.
Only the Baal Shem Tov stood his ground. Following his example, his disciples behind him were equally steadfast.
The officer soon reached the group of chasidim. When he saw they weren’t fleeing, he grew furious. “Out of my way!” he shouted and brought his whip down.
It was fortunate that the Baal Shem Tov was wearing his shtreimel. The whip fell on it, merely grazing the Rebbe’s forehead. But its tip did leave an imprint and a drop of blood shone brightly upon his forehead. To add insult to injury, the officer spat at the group and galloped on.
Everyone crowded around the Baal Shem Tov to make sure he was alright. They were concerned about both his wound and the shame he had suffered at the hands of this cruel officer, a truly despicable person.
But, the Baal Shem Tov didn’t appear to be upset and maintained his usual calm demeanor. “When the fair is over this evening, I want everyone to come to my shul,” he announced.
At the end of the day, everyone came to the shul and found many tables set with platters of cake and shnaps. “Drink a‘lechayim’!” he happily urged each newcomer. “Eat something! Rejoice!” exclaimed the Baal Shem Tov.
Everyone could not help but wonder why they were celebrating.
Finally, after much anticipation, the Baal Shem Tov arose and spoke. “I have good news for you. Today, when the officer so arrogantly rode through the market place, I whispered a prayer.
‘G-d All Mighty, this evil man, in his great pride and haughtiness, sees himself as the ruler of Your children. Does he really deserve such greatness?’
“Thank G-d, my prayer was accepted and the heavenly court ruled against him. Therefore, I am happy to inform you, my brothers and sisters, that this wicked man lost his future post as mayor. Now eat, drink and be grateful to G·d.”
And so it was.
Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from the rendition of Tzvi-Meir HaCohane (Howard M. Cohn, Patent Attorney) , as posted on // baalshemtov.com
Connection: Weekly Torah-Gen. 32:25
Rabbi Yisrael, the Baal Shem Tov [“master of the good Name”], a unique and seminal figure in Jewish history, revealed the Chassidic movement and his own identity as an exceptionally holy person, on his 36th birthday, 18 Elul 1734. He passed away on the festival of Shavuot in 1760. He wrote no books, although many claim to contain his teachings. One available in English is the excellent annotated translation of Tzava’at Harivash, published by Kehos. Also, translations from Sefer Baal Shem Tov and Kesser Shem Tov can be found on //baalshemtov.com.
Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). He has hundreds of published stories to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.