Baal Shem Tov - in Legend

In Legend

In Chassidic tradition, there’s a saying, “Someone who believes in all the stories of the Baal Shem Tov and the other mystics and holy men is a fool; someone who looks at any single story and says “That one could not be true” is a heretic.”

About his parentage, legend tells that his father, Eliezer, whose wife was still living, was seized during an attack (by the Tatars perhaps), carried from his home in Wallachia, and sold as a slave to a prince. On account of his wisdom, he found favor with the prince, who gave him to the king to be his minister. During an expedition undertaken by the king, when other counsel failed, and all were disheartened, Eliezer’s advice was accepted; and the result was a successful battle of decisive importance. Eliezer was made a general and afterward prime minister, and the king gave him the daughter of the viceroy in marriage. But, being mindful of his duty as a Jew and as the husband of a Jewess of the then Wallachia, he married the princess only in name. After being questioned for a long time as to his strange conduct, he confessed to the princess that he was a Jew, who loaded him with costly presents and aided him to escape to his own country.

On the way, the prophet Elijah appeared to Eliezer and said: “On account of thy piety and steadfastness, thou wilt have a son who will lighten the eyes of all Israel; and Israel shall be his name, because in him shall be fulfilled the verse (Isaiah xlix. 3): ’Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified.’” Eliezer and his wife Sarah, however, reached old age childless and had given up all hope of ever having a child. But when they were nearly a hundred years old, the promised son (Besht) was born.

Besht’s parents died soon after his birth; bequeathing to him only the deathbed exhortation of Eliezer, “Always believe that God is with you, and fear nothing.” Besht ever remained true to this injunction. Thus, on one occasion, when he was escorting schoolchildren to synagogue, a wolf was seen, to the terror of old and young, so that the children were kept at home. But Besht, faithful to the bequest of his father, knew no fear; and, on the second appearance of the wolf, he assailed it so vigorously as to cause it to turn and flee. Now, says the legend, this wolf was Satan (or, in some versions, a werewolf inspired by Satan). Satan had been very much perturbed when he saw that the prayers of the children reached God, who took more delight in the childish songs from their pure hearts than in the hymns of the Levites in the Temple in Jerusalem; and it was for this reason that Satan tried to put a stop to Besht’s training the children in prayers and taking them to synagogue. From this time on, successful struggles with Satan, demons, and all manner of evil spirits were daily occurrences with Besht.The true meaning of the story is that even the wolf/(Satan) had a spark of the Divine that was in a shell.

Read more about this topic:  Baal Shem Tov

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