A Magical Meeting with the Master of the Good Name
Creative 2020 / Finalists
The concept being addressed is the nature of “Tzimtzum,” the means by which Hashem contracted his infinite divine essence in order to express his creativity. Contemplation of this concept can help us express our highest level of creativity and achieve peaceful harmony with those around us. Although we can no longer meet the historical Hassidic masters, studying their childhoods, their writings, and the lore and legends surrounding their lives, can also provide us with insights into applying the principles of Hassidus to our daily lives.
A Hassidic child as I imagined Israel Ben Eliezer – The Baal Shem Tov
Photo Credit: Roman Vishniac
Pirkei Avot, Perek 1, Mishneh 6
Aryeh Rubinstein, Hasidism, 1975, Keter Publishing House Jerusalem Ltd., pp. 1 – 115
Adaptation of Yanki Tauber on the writings of the Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, The Baal Shem Tov’s Sixteenth Birthday, Chabad.org, 2/20/2020
A Magical Meeting with the Master of the Good Name
As I skipped along the little creek in my backyard, a small figure scampered far ahead, on the other side of the water. Intrigued, I hopped across the flowing brook on a path of smooth opalescent stones. Suddenly, a mist descended over the area and a glow appeared on the horizon. A family of deer peered at me curiously from afar as I searched for the forest sprite. A faint yellow light shone ahead, highlighting the boy’s path through the woods. My home seemed to vanish as I found myself in a strange forest filled with the music of exotic birds and rushing wind. I dashed after him, following the illuminated, leaf strewn path beneath my feet. Breathless, I could never seem to overtake him. He pranced along, and turned somersaults in the soft spring grass.
When I had given up all hope of subduing him, the sound of joyous laughter reached my ears. And there he was, sitting on the ground, in the middle of a small herd of deer. He was in fact, not a sprite, but a young lad of no more than eight years of age. He was conversing with the deer, the rabbits and the birds. They all crowded around him, eager for his fond caress, eager to share their stories. His bright gaze descended upon me as I was enveloped in the warmth of his smile.
“Shalom aleichah. You have followed me here to my secret lair, in ‘Hagan Hanaeh.’ Please do not reveal the location to my guardians. They are sure to deal with me severely for traipsing around in the woods, skipping cheder this morning, and escaping to meet my forest friends. The people in our village often behave in a manner that is petty and proud. I prefer to wander in the fields and mountains where my spirit is free,” said the lad. “What is this strange place?” I asked. “These are the foothills of the Carpathian mountains, near the village of Okup. Far below flows the Vizhenka,” the boy pointed out.
Indeed, the small brook that I had traversed just minutes earlier had become a mighty river. I began to shake with the fear that I would never be able to return home.
As we continued on our way, a frightening pair of predatory eyes peered out from the woods. A large wolf-like creature, as large as a man, lunged towards us. My young guide met the creature’s gaze fearlessly.
“I fear nothing but my creator! You are banished from our midst!”
Three times did the child recite this verse, all the while spinning wildly with his arms outstretched. The animal hastily retreated into the woods.
“My dear companion. you are trembling with cold. Follow me to ‘Ohel HaTzaddikim’ and warm yourself by the hearth,” he offered.
Soon I was seated upon a small stool, beneath a course blanket, sipping a hot brew. The Ohel HaTzaddikim was little more than a crude hut in the wilderness. There were several other stools placed around a roughly hewn table. Stacks of sforim covered the entire surface of the table, except for a pile of tallisim at the opposite end. One could hear the echoes of sages learning and davening in this secluded hideaway. The sound of the thirty-six hidden Tzaddikim to be exact. I was later to learn that the sages gathered in this humble abode. These men had been close with Israel’s father, and now they were to become both the mentors and family for the young orphan boy.
“Who are you?” I inquired. “My name is Yisrael ben Eliezer. I have no mother, and no father. My secret Rebbe will soon be arriving. He has asked me to accompany him on his travels. My guardians will not give their consent, so I have decided to depart with him very soon.”
Either the heat of the hearth, or the ingredients in the strange brew caused my eyes to fall shut as I drifted off to sleep. After what seemed to be a brief nap I awoke in the presence of burly, bearded young man. He strangely resembled the charming child from my morning encounter who was nowhere to be seen.
The man’s eyes were shut as he swayed back and forth in ecstatic prayer. Revealed in his open pouch, I saw there were a variety of herbs and amulets which he carefully placed on the table. At the doorway, stood a line of people patiently waiting access to “Harofeh, Baal hanissim” as they called him. Many of them appeared to be handicapped or crippled in some way. Suddenly, “HaRofeh” opened his eyes and gazed out upon the crowd with a warm smile. As if one body, they all responded in unison,
“Zeit Gezunt Baal hanissim, Rofeh hacholim!” they chanted.
One by one, he ushered them in, bestowing blessings and incantations, removing various greens and powders from his pouch, mixing elixirs in a large cup, and performing rituals with the amulets that he freely distributed to his patients. An elderly
Woman appeared by his side with a large sack of vegetation. They conferred together on which plants to use for remaining patients. Many joyous faces left the Ohel that day. Faces that had earlier appeared bewildered and bereft, bodies once broken now were restored to their full strength. When the last person had been treated for his malady and had departed from the ‘Ohel Hatzaddikim,’ the gifted healer turned his intent gaze to me. The elderly woman tidied up the room and went to lie down on a blanket next to the hearth. She bade us farewell as he led me outside on the path.
“David my son, I have been waiting for you. I am so glad you could join us today. I believe we have met some years ago when I was yet a boy, recently orphaned of both my parents. It was on the eve of my departure from my childhood village. I am so glad to see you once again.”
He grasped my hand as we stepped out onto the grassy field. The Master waved his arms expansively at the pristine beauty of the Carpathians.
“Every bird of the sky and beast of the wood has its own language, my son. Remain here with me and I will teach you the secrets of the Ein Sof and the reason that Tzimtzum must precede Briah. The plants also have much to teach us about healing, in the tradition of our great sage and healer, the Rambam. I would like to share the knowledge that the old woman has imparted to me over the years.”
As he tread through the forest, I followed his illuminated path. The earth and the leaves under his feet seemed to possess a golden glow emanating from within. He explained that this strange light was called “hapnimiut haatik,” from a higher realm. As we proceeded, the master spun in circles, and even did flips in the air. I danced with abandon in his path. A sacred hush hummed all around us. I was amazed by the kaleidoscope of color and sound that swirled all around in nature. If only I could spend every day with the Baal Shem Tov, immersed in the beauty of nature, learning the hidden secrets. I sensed that our time together would be short, that I must cherish each moment.
“Our holy Hassidic tradition derives directly from Ari Hakadosh. Every object here in this mundane world of olam hatachton, is represented above in another exalted reality, olam haelion. Each of our actions also reverberates in the upper worlds in an amplified manner. We must guard each utterance with the intent to serve the Almighty. The prayers and blessings of the simple-hearted folk create the greatest stir up above.”
I was mesmerized by the glint in his eyes, and the stirring conviction of his voice.
Instinctively, I knew the truth in all he had shared. His healing abilities derived from an extensive knowledge of botany and a deep connection with the divine. In my heart, I resolved to apply these revelations to my own life. I promised to immerse myself in the powerful teaching of Hassidus. The knowledge from this great master and the other Hassidic leaders who would follow him, I committed in my heart to studying every day.
Suddenly, the child Israel appeared before me. The Hassidic Master vanished just as quickly. He skipped along the path, leading me to the banks of the Vizhenka. I rubbed my eyes and now a small brook was in its place. I recognized the familiar creek that ran behind my childhood home. The little boy skipped some flat stones onto the water. I waved good-bye, and I too skipped across the rocks that had guided my path earlier. As I reached the opposite bank, I turned to bade him good-bye. I squinted to catch a glimpse of my small friend. Wistfully, all that remained in his wake was the hushed golden glow of the sun setting over the tree tops and the swirling leaves.
Hassidus revived the remnant of our people after a failed messianic movement and devastating pograms. It had the power to reinvigorate the Jewish people after the Holocaust. Contemplating and diligently studying the principles of Hassidus provides a blueprint for living an intentional existence.
I often wished I had a Tzaddik to guide me through life’s complexities. I tried to find a Rebbe to guide my family, especially as a mentor for my youngest child, David.
My essay of historical fiction, “A Magical Meeting with the Master of the Good Name,” was written as an expression of that fervent wish. With two young adult children still living at home while attending college, we have battled some serious family problems. Effective communicative, respect for the family integrity, commitment to our home have all been issues as these young adults are trying to individuate. Applying the principles of Hassidus seemed like it held the potential key to end the discord.
I closed my eyes and thought about a very unruly cat that we had when my children were small. “Ozzie” the male cat was very loving to his feline companion “Kippy” (he was adopted before Yom Kippur). However he was extremely aggressive to people. My daughter’s arm was severely scratched when trying to pet him. I decided to return the incorrigible creature to the shelter. Our family drove Ozzie to the rescue facility. When we were about to relinquish him, my ten year old son David began to cry out bitterly, with tears streaming down his face. “Even if he doesn’t love us, I still love him.” My sensitive child didn’t care that the cat had nothing in the way of affection to offer us. He only cared about the love he wanted to continue to bestow. Ultimately, I relented to his heartfelt plea. Like Israel Ben Eliezer, my son could communicate with animals and sought the good in others. If a young child can make peace with a difficult situation, certainly I should do the same.
In my mind’s eye, I wanted guidance from this sage. A mystical encounter between him and my son took shape. After a period of prolonged discord at home, my daughter noticed that our dynamic had suddenly shifted. Communication improved. “What happened that you were able to do this? To stop being angry at me?” she asked. To her surprise I responded, “I contemplated the Hassidic concept of Tzimtzum. G-d contracted his infinite essence in order to bring about creation. By pulling back, wonderful things can happen and others feel free to be themselves.”
All she could say is “Wow.”
Thanks to our Rebbe, the Baal Shem Tov!