Thursday, January 27, 2011

Famous Births Part I - Ba'al Shem Tov and the Divrei Chaim

The story of the birth of the Ba'al Shem Tov is taken from an earlier post on the subject of hachnasas orchim (hospitality to guests).

Reb Eliezer, father of the Ba'al Shem Tov, was known for the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim. He would go so far as to send out emissaries to the town's crossroads, in order to see if anybody passing through might need a meal or refreshments, or even a place to stay for the night. He was also known for giving out money to travelers for provisions for the road. His actions were so great that his name became known up above. It was decided that he would be put to the ultimate test. The Satan immediately came forward and volunteered to carry out this test. But Eliyahu HaNavi (Elijah the Prophet) said that it would be more proper for he himself to go down to this world. And so it was.

One day on shabbos, Reb Eliezer got a knock on the door. He opened it to find a disheveled and slightly confused-looking man holding a sack over his back with a walking stick in hand. He was clearly being mechalel shabbos (desecrating the Sabbath). But Reb Eliezer promptly invited him in, prepared the third meal of shabbos for him to eat, and did not say one word to put him to shame. After shabbos he lavished him with a melavah malkah (meal that symbolizes taking leave of shabbos), and the man ate his fill. In the morning, Reb Eliezer gave the man some money for his upkeep, and escorted him to the door. Walking over the threshold he turned back to Reb Eliezer, and said, "you should know that I am Eliyahu HaNavi, and I have come down to give you a test. You did not make me feel ashamed, and due to this, you have been found worthy to beget a son who will illuminate the eyes of all of Israel." The blessing was subsequently fulfilled, and Reb Eliezer's wife gave birth to a baby boy within the year. Little did they know just how much light and fire he would bring to Israel and just how far it would spread.

The father of the Divrei Chaim of Sanz, Reb Leibush of Ternigrad, often visited Reb Moshe of Pshevorsk. On one of his visits the daughter of Reb Moshe, who was a mature twelve year-old, passed by the kitchen where the two gaonim were standing. Reb Moshe jumped backwards as she passed, and needed a second to catch his breath. His preeshus (separation from earthly things) was so great that he did not even recognize his own daughter (he, like many tzaddikim, went to great lengths to guard their eyes from temptation, especially from the sight of women, although not recognizing one's daughter is beyond the call). He did not even know her age. The Rebbetzin looked at him incredulously, and asked, "is this not our own daughter?" Answered Reb Moshe: "If we have a daughter that is already that age then we need such and such an amount of money to marry her off." Reb Leibush was standing with a small sack of money in his hands. He had planned on traveling to Danzig for business after he took leave of Reb Moshe, but when he heard Reb Moshe's words, he simply handed over the package of money. Reb Moshe, astonished at this gesture, knew not what to say or how to respond to such generosity, so he bentched Reb Leibush "b'zera shel kodesh," and said, "may you have a son that will illuminate the world," because up until that point he had no boys. The beracha came to fruition, and soon after was born the Divrei Chaim.

Have you ever heard a story of such preeshus as describe above involving Reb Moshe?

This is a bit of a different matter, but it reminds me of the story of a Rebbe who was walking with his gabbai (attendant), when the gabbai jumped back, and did a little dance. The Rebbe asked what the matter was, and the gabbai responded, "I bumped into a poll, but I thought it was a woman!" The Rebbe said, "Fool! When you bump into a woman you're supposed to think that it's a poll."

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