From the desk of Yerachmiel Tilles: email@example.com
(for a free weekly email subscription, click here)
The Divorce Solution
About a half a year after the wedding, the young wife lost her sanity. Since she was not in a mental state to legally accept a bill of divorce, her husband was unable to remarry. Her father approached the Baal Shem Tov and asked for his advice and a blessing for her recovery.
Connection: Seasonal – the 257th yahrzeit of Rabbi Yisrael ben Eliezer, the Baal Shem Tov.
In 1740, the Baal Shem Tov came to visit the city of Slutsk. Many of the local inhabitants came to greet him. Among them was the aged scholar, Rabbi Uri Nosson Nata, who as a youth was known as the ilui of Karinik, near Brisk.
His son, Shlomo, who had initially been educated at home by his father, left home at the age of fourteen to seek the scholarly environment of Yeshivas – first in Vilna, then in Jorodna, and then in Cracow. There he had met a prominent scholar, Rabbi Menachem Aryeh, who was one of the hidden righteous. Reb Menachem accepted him as his disciple in the study of chassidut on condition that their connection is kept secret.
At the age of twenty-two, Shlomo returned to his childhood home in Slutsk. His father was overjoyed with his progress in learning, and arranged a marriage with the daughter of the leaseholder of an inn, Reb Eliyahu Moshe, who lived in a nearby village.
Aabout a half a year after their marriage, however, the young wife tragically, lost her sanity. Since she was not in a mental state to legally accept a bill of divorce, Reb Shlomo was unable to remarry.
During the Baal Shem Tov’s visit to Slutsk, Shlomo’s father, Uri Noson Nata, described their sad situation to him and asked for his advice and blessing. Soon thereafter, the unfortunate young woman’s father, Eliyahu Moshe, also approached the Baal Shem Tov and asked for his advice and a blessing for her recovery.
Later the same day, the Baal Shem Tov invited both fathers to meet with him together. He politely asked if either of them bore a grudge against the other. The bridegroom’s father, Reb Uri Nosson Nata, had nothing but praise for his mechutan (relative by marriage), the bride’s father. He extolled that despite the pressure of business, the innkeeper fixed times for the study of Torah, maintained a hospitable house that was open to all comers, supported Talmudic scholars generously, and maintained his son-in-law in the most respectable manner.
Since Shlomo had been mentioned, his father-in-law, Eliyahu Moshe, now spoke most highly of his noble character. He was clearly proud of his son-in-law who, in addition to his assiduous study schedule, always found time on weekdays to conduct study circles for the simple farming folk who lived round about, teaching them Chumash with Rashi’s commentary, and the moral lessons of Ayn Yaakov; and on Shabbos he would read for them from the Midrash and the Ethics of the Fathers. While teaching, he imbued them with a brotherly love for each other, explaining to them that no man’s profit ever came at the expense of that which Divine Providence had destined for another. In a word, he was well loved by the villagers from all around, and they all were praying that his young wife would be restored to complete health, and that he would return to teach them as in happier times.
The Baal Shem Tov listened carefully to both fathers, and then said: “With G·d’s help, I will be able to help the young woman return to complete health and restore her mind to its original clarity – but only on one condition: That when this happens the young couple not live together, and when several days have passed, and she is in a fit state according to the Torah Law to accept a Get (rabbinically sanctioned document of divorce), she accepts it from her husband with a willing heart.”
The two fathers were stunned! Rabbi Uri Nosson Nata proposed various legal objections to such a divorce, and Reb Eliyahu Moshe argued that his daughter would be grieved by such a procedure, since she respected her husband highly. He was certain that his son-in-law would likewise be distressed. He himself was prepared to contribute an enormous sum to charity – in the merit of which he begged the Baal Shem Tov to pray for her recovery, but to allow the young couple to rejoin each other in the love and harmony to which they were accustomed. The Baal Shem Tov answered unequivocally – that if they did not agree to the condition that he had stipulated, he would not be able to help them.
A few days later, they called on the Baal Shem Tov together with the young husband, and told him that they accepted his condition – though of course they could not guarantee that his stricken wife would agree. Upon hearing their reply, the Baal Shem Tov instructed Reb Eliyahu Moshe to immediately go home and tell his sick, ailing daughter that the Baal Shem Tov had come to Slutsk and had requested for her to come to speak with him about an important matter.
Hearing that, the two fathers looked at each other in amazement.
“But Rebbe, for the last six years,” Eliyahu Moshe protested, “she has not uttered a syllable! She just sits between the stove and the wall, and can barely be fed. In a word, my poor daughter is utterly out of her mind. How can I possibly explain to her your request?”
The Baal Shem Tov did not reply.
Making his way homeward with a heavy heart, Eliyahu Moshe remarked to his mechutan that if the Baal Shem Tov had seen the state in which his daughter was to be found, he would not have spoken as he had. Uri Nosson Nata, in turn, sighed in sympathy from the depths of his heart for everyone suffering from this matter.
Not so his son, Shlomo. Before his marriage, when he had been a disciple of Rabbi Menachem Aryeh, he had been introduced to teachings of the Baal Shem Tov. Now that he had met him in person, and had heard his teachings, he became attached to him with all his heart. He therefore told his father-in-law that he thought they should follow the instructions of the Baal Shem Tov implicitly. Reb Uri Nosson Nata added that since they had already accepted the far more difficult condition of their daughter being crazy, they should certainly proceed to carry out the instruction that they attempt to speak to the young woman.
Opening the door to his house, Reb Eliyahu Moshe found his daughter sitting in her accustomed corner behind the stove. He told his wife all that the Baal Shem Tov had said, adding that he was widely reputed as a miracle worker.
To their amazement, their daughter suddenly rose from her. She approached her mother and father quietly, and in a voice they had not heard for six years, asked who was this person who worked wonders. They told her that the man about whom they were speaking was called the Baal Shem Tov, a renowned tzadik. She answered that before hearing any more, she first wanted to immerse herself in a mikveh for purification.
After going to the mikveh, the young woman began eating, speaking and sleeping as if completely normal, though she felt very weak. On the third day, she had a high fever and in her delirium spoke about the Baal Shem Tov. When her father heard her crying and asking to be taken to the wonder-worker, he was suddenly reminded of what the surprising sudden turn of events made him forget – that the Baal Shem Tov had asked to see her. He told her of the Baal Shem Tov’s request and she was visibly happy to receive the message. On the very next day, accompanied her parents, she made the journey to Slutsk.
Reb Shlomo soon heard of his wife’s recovery, for his father-in-law had sent a special messenger with the news. He now began to speak with his father about the principles of chassidus taught by the Baal Shem Tov. He explained the emphasis which the Baal Shem Tov gave to the mystical teachings of the Kabbalah; the workings of Divine Providence not only for man, but regarding all created things, even the inanimate; the intrinsic holiness and worth of even the simplest fellow Jew; the importance and obligation of Ahavas Yisrael; serving G·d with a joyful heart; and so on.
The aged scholar pondered these matters all day and throughout the following night. On the next day, he set out to tell the Baal Shem Tov what his son had told him of his teachings, and added that he desired to become his disciple. At the same meeting, he told the Baal Shem Tov of the good news that had just reached his son. The Baal Shem Tov replied that on that same day the young woman was again unwell, but that when her father would carry out his mission she would recover and come to see him.
When the young woman and her parents arrived at Slutsk, she and her husband entered the room of the Baal Shem Tov. He told them that they would have to divorce. With bitter tears, the unfortunate young woman told the Baal Shem Tov how highly she respected her husband for his refined character. If, however he decreed that they should divorce, he must surely know that she was unworthy of such a righteous husband, and felt it her duty to comply. Shlomo, likewise moved, told the Baal Shem Tov that his wife exemplified all the noble attributes by which the Sages define a good wife. If, however, the Baal Shem Tov ordered that they divorce, he too would be obey.
The Baal Shem Tov arranged to see them in four days; he would then arrange the legalities required by Jewish Law.
For the next three days the young couple and their parents fasted and prayed. On the fourth day, with heavy hearts, they made their way to the tzadik. They found a Rav, a scribe and two witnesses already waiting. The Baal Shem Tov asked them if they agreed wholeheartedly to the divorce. They answered that they believed that whatever the Baal Shem Tov told them would be for the best, and since they loved each other, each of them was willing to proceed with the divorce — for the benefit of the other.
The Baal Shem Tov retired to another room and stayed there for some time.
When he returned he related the following: “Six years ago a threat of terrible suffering hung over your lives because of accusations of the Heavenly prosecuting angel. The Heavenly court’s verdict was that you should both undergo the troubles that you have experienced these last six years. But now that you have shown great faith in my words, to the extent that you were both willing to proceed with a divorce, this very faith has freed you from the decree of the Heavenly court. The charge against you has been annulled. Live on happily together as man and wife. You have my blessing that your home be filled with sons, daughters and many grandchildren, and that you both live to a ripe old age.”
The young couple remained in Slutsk for three years. They then lived in several major Jewish communities, until they moved to Liozna as chasidim of Rabbi Shneur-Zalman, the founder of the Chabad dynasty. In 1796 they settled in Eretz Yisrael, where they lived for fifteen years until Shlomo passed away at age 99.
Source: Edited and supplemented by Yerachmiel Tilles from the adaption by Tzvi-Meir Cohn on his website //baalshemtov.com of a story in A Treasury of Chassidic Tales by S. Y. Zevin, as translated by Uri Kaploun.
Rabbi Yisrael ben Eliezer [of blessed memory: 18 Elul 5458 – 6 Sivan 5520 (Aug. 1698 – May 1760 C.E.)], the Baal Shem Tov [“Master of the Good Name”-often referred to as “the Besht” for short], a unique and seminal figure in Jewish history, revealed his identity as an exceptionally holy person, on his 36th birthday, 18 Elul 5494 (1734 C.E.), and made the until-then underground Chasidic movement public. He wrote no books, although many works claim to contain his teachings. One available in English is the excellent annotated translation of Tzava’at Harivash, published by Kehos.
Connection: Seasonal-Chai (18th) Elul is the anniversary of the birthday of the Baal Shem Tov in 1698, and of Rabbi Shneur-Zalman of Chabad (also mentioned at the end of the above story) in 1745.
I realized it was a careless thing to do the second I did it. I closed the laptop I use at home while its plug was lying on the keyboard – not hard, mind you – but that unusual cracking noise didn’t sound good. I turned it on and the screen was totally shattered inside, displaying digital abstract art. I couldn’t believe it broke.
It’s Elul, I told myself. I’m not going to let myself get all upset about this. It’s obvious the Almighty is sending me a message about my overuse of the computer.
I shlepped my home laptop to work so I could give it to the computer support team who service the Aish HaTorah offices. Our office manager wasn’t encouraging. “Getting a new screen is very expensive. It might not pay to fix it.”
The computer technician called me right away. “How old is your laptop?”
“Two or three years old. But it’s a perfectly good computer.”
“It’s not worth fixing. A new screen is going to cost you between 1500 to 2000 shekels. You can get a new laptop in the U.S. for that price.”
“What! Are you sure it’s going to cost that much? Can I first get a quote and then I’ll decide what to do?”
“Sure, but the quote will cost you 300 NIS if you don’t fix it.”
This is absurd, I thought to myself.
“Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you.”
Then I remembered this computer technician, a chasidic woman, who once paid a house call and fixed our computer that got hit with a virus. She was intelligent and affordable. I called her to see what she could offer.
“It’ll cost you 450 NIS. I can come by tonight to pick it up.”
I was incredulous (second time that day). She drove over 9 PM that night in her beat up car and I handed her the goods.
9 AM the next morning she called to tell me it’s ready. “When can I drop it off?” she asked.
It was too good to be true. I have a rule that I use, especially when it comes to some of the more fantastical submissions to Aish.com that come my way, that if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. In this case, though, it was an exception. My laptop was gleaming with its new screen, it cost less than a quarter of the original quote, I got it back in one day, delivery included, and I helped support a mother of many children (they were all packed into the car when she dropped it off) who I’m sure needed the business more than the professional company who services the Aish offices.
I was relieved that I didn’t listen to the “expert advice” to buy a new laptop, something I momentarily considered, and just fixed the one I had. Perhaps this is the message I’m supposed to get during this period of Elul: Just fix it. Don’t discard the problem. Don’t avoid dealing with the issue at hand. It’s easy to despair when thinking about all the issues you need to fix in your life as you gear up for Rosh Hashanah. How can I possibly create a whole new me? Confronting the problem is just too costly and difficult. It seems impossible to change.
All that negative self-talk is just a distraction designed to get us to run away from dealing with our real issues.
Don’t listen to that voice. Fix the problem instead. Confront the challenge head on and with some honesty and a sincere desire to repair it, you’ll be surprised to discover one or two very doable steps that could really make a difference and are not as hard as you initially thought.
Just fix it.
Source: Rabbi Nechemia Coopersmith is the chief editor of www.Aish.com, one of the world’s largest Judaism websites, which emanates from Jerusalem, where he lives with his wife and children. He is also the author of Shmooze: A Guide to Thought-Provoking Discussion on Essential Jewish Issues. AND, he provided me with lots of good advice to help start up www.KabbalaOnline.org .
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.
To receive the Story by e-mail every Wednesday – sign up here!