The Wings of Morning -
A Torah Review
Yaacov Dovid Shulman
|WINGS OF MORNING
Volume V, Issue 29
Pesach 5761 April 2001
Unless otherwise noted, translations and original material copyright © 2000 by Yaacov Dovid Shulman (firstname.lastname@example.org).
by Menashe Unger
In the courts of various rebbes--in particular of those rebbes descending from the Baal Shem Tov and his disciples--there is a custom that on the last day of Passover, following the afternoon prayers, a third meal--a "shalosh seudos"--is eaten, which is called "the Baal Shem Tov's feast."
At this meal, "the Baal Shem Tov's kneidlach" are eaten, and a story is told of the miracle that took place at the time of the Baal Shem Tov's attempted journey to the land of Israel.
The rebbe, R. Israel Ber of Vilendik, a student of R. Nachum Tchernobler, would on the seventh of Passover tell the story of the Baal Shem Tov's travels to the land of Israel and the problems that he underwent, for his travels were disrupted by heavenly forces, and he only arrived as far as Constantinople. (R. Israel Ber of Vilendik, author of She'eiris Yisroel, was revealed to the world by the rebbe, R. Mendele of Lubavitch. He passed away on 29 Teves, 5510--1850. According to a reliable source, Hasidim to this day travel to pray at his gravesite.) There exist various versions regarding this journey and the miracle that occurred. We will here relate the story as it is told in Halachos V'halichos B'chasidus by Rabbi Dr. Aharon Wertheim (pp. 176-78), a descendant of the Baal Shem Tov's family, who relates the version that was passed down in his rebbe-family.
When R. Israel Baal Shem Tov traveled to the land of Israel, he took with him his scribe, R. Hersh.
According to another version of this story, which was told by the rebbe, R. Yitzchak Eizik Kamarner, the Baal Shem Tov's daughter, Adel, traveled with him, and a miracle took place when the ship sank. This is also alluded to in the gathered teachings at the end of Toldos Yaacov Yosef of the Baal Shem Tov's disciple, R. Yaacov Yosef of Polnoe. There it is written: "When [the Baal Shem Tov] went on his well-known journey, his teacher showed him a certain place where there was an allusion to the journey that the Jews traveled in the desert. And a person's every journey is alluded to in the Torah...Also, when his ship foundered and he was very upset, his teacher came and was astonished at him, and showed him what spiritual worlds he is now inhabiting, and these were the names "I will be and the permutations of ‘I will be'...and then [the Baal Shem Tov] strengthened his heart to rectify them in their root, in the manner known to him" (note ten).
In order to reconcile these two versions, Hasidic tradition tells that the Baal Shem Tov made two attempts to travel to the land of Israel, both of which failed, due to opposition by heavenly forces. His daughter Adel traveled with him on the first trip, and his scribe, R. Hersh, on the second (cf. Wertheim, ibid., in note 31)}.
One day the ship came to a small island and the ship anchored there. Everyone came down onto the island to rest (Sh. Bastomsk writes in his Legendes fun Baal Shem Tov," Vilna 1925, p. 131: "the Baal Shem Tov was Istanbul on the first days of Passover, and on the middle days of Passover, they sailed to the land of Israel." That book also cites a number of variants about the Baal Shem Tov's journey to the land of Israel and the difficulties that he suffered).
On the island, the Baal Shem Tov and his shamash R. Hersh Sofer went for a walk and discussed "matters that stand at the height of the world" until they forgot that they must return to the ship at a certain time. They did not even hear the sound of the bell summoning everyone back to the ship. When the Baal Shem Tov finished his profound discussion with R. Hersh, they remembered that they must return to the ship. But when they hurried back to the seashore, they saw that they were too late. The ship had already left. And as they stood there in shock, they were attacked by pirates. On that island, there was a pirates' hide-out in a cavern. The pirates did not dare attack large ships, and so they had hidden in their cave. But when the ship sailed off, they emerged, thinking that perhaps someone or something valuable had been left behind.
When the pirates saw the Baal Shem Tov and his shamash, they grabbed them, tied them up, and wanted to kill them.
R. Hersh called out to his rebbe, the Baal Shem Tov, "Why is the rebbe still? In another minute we will be lost!"
The Baal Shem Tov replied, "What do you want me to do?"
R. Hersh said, "Rebbe, why do you not pronounce a Divine Name?"
"I cannot," said the Baal Shem Tov. "My entire memory has been erased. I have forgotten everything. I do not even remember one word of the Torah or of any prayers. Perhaps you remember something?"
R. Hersh replied, "I have also forgotten everything. The only thing that I remember is the alphabet."
All this was of course the act of Satan, who had taken away the Baal Shem Tov and R. Hersh Sofer's memories, for Satan wanted to keep the two of them from coming to the land of Israel. Had R. Israel Baal Shem Tov come to the land of Israel, he would have brought the redemption and the messiah. But the generation was not ready for the messiah, and one cannot bring him by force. And so Satan removed the Baal Shem Tov's memory, so that he would not remember even a single prayer. Satan knew that if the Baal Shem Tov could pray, he would be saved from all dangers. But Satan did not understand the way of Hasidism: that the essential thing is not prayer, but intent. And in this he was frustrated.
As soon as R. Israel Baal Shem Tov heard that R. Hersh still remembered the alphabet, he told him, "Good, say the letters for me!" R. Hersh began to recite, "Alef, beis, gimel, daled, hei...." And the Baal Shem Tov repeated every word with great fire. R. Israel Baal Shem Tov said, "Ribono shel Olam, Master of the world: DoYou need the prayers of a simple person who is called Israel? If so, I am reciting the letters before You, and You, merciful Father in heaven, braid them Yourself into a wreathe of prayers!"
And the Baal Shem Tov again began to recite the letters with great intent, "Alef, beis, gimel..."
When he finished reciting the letters, he and R. Hersh suddenly heard the bell of a large ship that had just anchored in the harbor.
The pirates were frightened and fled to their cave. The people on the ship disembarked and saw the Baal Shem Tov and R. Hersh lying tied up with rope. They quickly untied them and brought them to the ship.
This ship was not traveling to the land of Israel. To the contrary, it was returning from the land of Israel to a Russian port on the Black Sea. All this took place on Passover. On the ship, the Baal Shem Tov and R. Hersh ate nothing but fruits and potatoes. They had nothing with them, for all their belongings had remained on the other ship. When the captain asked them for payment, they did not have anything to give him. They told him that if he brought them to a port city where Jews live, R. Hersh would disembark and tell the Jews that the Baal Shem Tov is on the ship, and the Jews would certainly bring money.
The captain agreed, and on the seventh of Passover the ship came to the port city of Kilia.
R. Hersh went down from the ship early in the morning and went to the synagogue, where all the Jews were at prayers. An hour after R. Hersh left, the captain told the Baal Shem Tov, "I see that you are a reliable person. I will let you go into town, and I trust that you will pay me."
The Baal Shem Tov left the ship. He entered the town and, since he was tired and broken by the long journey, he went into the first Jewish house that he came across.
Since everyone had gone to the synagogue, there was no one there. The Baal Shem Tov was hungry and tired. He climbed onto the pyekelik, the large stove, to rest.
There the Baal Shem Tov saw a plate filled with thirty kneidlach, the largest of which lay in the middle. Although Hasidim are careful not to eat gebrokhts (soaked matzah) during the first seven days of Passover, because the Baal Shem Tov felt his strength slipping away, he permitted himself to eat from the kneidlach. After he ate and regained his strength, he again lay down on the stove to rest.
Meanwhile, R. Hersh told the Jews that the Baal Shem Tov is on a ship, and must be ransomed.
Jews eagerly brought bags of money, to perform the mitzvah of pidyon shevuyim, ransoming the imprisoned. But when they came to the seashore, there was no ship to be seen.
They were very sad. They did not know, what had happened to the Baal Shem Tov.
Meanwhile, the people who lived in the house where the Baal Shem Tov was sleeping came home, and found the Baal Shem Tov lying on the stove. They ran out to tell the other Jews that the Baal Shem Tov was in their house, and the entire town was filled with joy.
From that time onward, R. Israel Baal Shem Tov introduced the custom that on the last day of Passover he made a special meal to recall the miracle that happened to him, and at that meal, he would eat kneidlech.
The Baal Shem Tov did not make this meal on the seventh of Passover, the day that the miracle had occurred, for on the seventh of Passover Hasidim do not eat kneidlech (since kneidlech are gebrokhts)..v Every year, when the Baal Shem Tov sat at this feast and told the story of the miracle that had taken place and mentioned the captain, his scribe, R. Hersh, told him, "Rebbe, why must you call him ‘captain'? Why don't you call him by his name? We all know that this was Eliyahu Hanavi!"
From then onwards, the rebbes who descend from the Baal Shem Tov's family had the custom of making a "the Baal Shem Tov's feast" on the last day of Passover. They would eat "the Baal Shem Tov's kneidlach" and tell about the miracle that had occurred to the Baal Shem Tov and of the captain who had saved him.
R. Yisroel Baal Shem Tov
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