יום חמישי, 7 בינואר 2016

The Soul That Flew Awa

 from my book, stories of the baal shem tov according to parashat hashavua:

The young kabbalist Reb Moshe, son of Rebbe Adam Ba’al Shem, had discovered the hidden youth in Okupy – the adolescent Ba’al Shem who was the beit medrash watchman – Yisrael, son of Rabbi Eliezer. Before becoming Reb Moshe’s student, Yisrael set two conditions for his older friend:
1.                     That he would stay his “servant,” and no-one could know that he was also his friend and learned with him.
2.                     That in front of his family and the people of the town, Reb Moshe would always call him by his position – “Servant” – and not his name.
The two young men quickly bonded over their love of learning the Zohar and other hidden writings. Yisrael was hopeful that this new period in his life would bring about the fulfillment of the promise of the Zohar that his Rebbe, Achiya HaShiloni, had taught him: That Hashem bestows a thread of chessed upon one who learns and involves himself in the “Torah’s song” at night, so he can then rise to hover between the upper and lower worlds. He also remembered the last part of the section he had learned, that stated “Yismach Yisrael b’osav.”
The young mekubal held his father’s writings and turned to his teen-age partner. “Come, my friend,” he said. “Let us learn together.” Yisrael was very embarrassed, as he was naturally humble and this was the first time he had ever had a Torah scholar call him ‘friend.’ “Is it really possible that I will be the friend of the son of the famous Ba’al Shem, who is also the son-in-law of one of the richest men in the village?” he thought to himself.
Reb Moshe wanted to put his new learning partner at ease. “Come, I’ll show you an example of this among the group of disciples of the ba’alei haZohar.” Yisrael, so blessed with a poetic soul, was excited and eager to hear a story – as all children are – especially since he loved the fascinating tales in the Zohar. He always found them to be a kind of mirror that reflected things that were actually happening in his own life, as well as giving him hope for the future. Reb Moshe began to read (Shemini p. 39.):
R. Yehuda and R. Yitzchak were walking on the road from the beit medrash in Meron to Tzipori and saw a boy guiding a donkey loaded down with wineskins of mead. R. Yehuda said: Let us say a d’var Torah and go. R. Yitchak began to quote from Shir HaShirim 7: ‘VeChikech k’yain hatov holech ledodi lemeisharim.’ That is, good wine is the wine of Torah, which is good for everything, both olam hazeh and olam haba…

The boy said: If it had been written ‘miyain hatov’ (from the good wine) I would agree, but it says ‘k’yain hatov’ (like the good wine). R. Yehuda said: My son, you have spoken well – say what you have to say! The boy said: I heard that [it refers to] one who concentrates on learning Torah and clings to it, and clearly says out loud his divrei Torah so people can hear, and doesn’t whisper them in secret.
Because with divrei Torah you must raise your voice ‘k’yain hatov,’ which is not quiet and is effervescent.
They kissed him on the head and were happy with him.
They asked: What is your name?And he answered:
Yaisa! They said: You will be R. Yaisa and you will become more famous than our friend R. Yaisa who was taken from us. They asked: Who is your father? He died, answered the boy. He would teach me three things from the Torah every day and three t hings from the wisdom of Agadda every night. I learned what I told you from my father. Now I live with a man who took me from my learning and every day I go to work and every day I review the things I learned with my father.

            Young Yisrael burst out crying. He was also an orphan like Yaisa, the donkey boy who was walking on the road, and he too went over and over the things he had learned from his father, like ’Shiviti Hashem lenegdi tamid.’ And look, these old, venerated rabbis promised that the boy would one day be called not Yaisa, but ‘Rabbi Yaisa!’ How great was the love of the rabbis of the Zohar for the children of Israel, that they would have fun with words and kiss a child’s head and be happy with him – exactly as he had learned: “Yismach Yisrael b’osav.” It was so amazing that they would let a young child speak, and even listen to him – not at all like the rich men of Okupy, who were so sure of themselves and belittled anyone they thought of as a child. Only the great rabbis of the Zohar knew how to appreciate the value of the soul of a boy who learned Torah, and to take his mind into account when talking to him. They were so pure and straight, those rabbis who walked on those paths, who let a child join in their conversations.
            His friend, Reb Moshe, also hugged and kissed him, and wiped the tears from his cheeks. “You see,” he said. “Rabbi Yaisa was also an orphan boy – so what are you crying for?”
            Yisrael then remembered that the story wasn’t finished, and he wanted to learn what happened to this orphaned Yaisa. So he stopped crying and continued reading with his older friend – and he would never again be embarrassed that he had an older friend when he was so young, really, a child.

They asked R. Yaisa, Does the man you live with also know how to learn Torah? –– No, he’s old and doesn’t even know how to say berachot and pray to Hashem, and he has sons whom he didn’t even send to school. R. Yehuda said: If he hadn’t been like that, I would have gone to the village to praise you, but since he is that sort of person it’s forbidden for us to see him. Send away your donkey and come with us! And then he asked: Who was your father? –– R. Zeira from K’far Ramin.
When R. Yehuda heard this he cried, saying: I was in his house and learned from him three things about reciting berachot over wine, and learned two things from him about Creation. Said R. Yitzchak: What’s so surprising? If we learned from the son, how much more so would we learn from the father. They both took his hands and walked. When they came to a field they sat down and said to the boy: Tell us things that you learned from your father about the Creation. He said: ‘V’et kol ofe kanaf lemineihu’ – those are the holy angels who are ready to sanctify the name of Hashem every single day. Each one has six wings which they use to fly around the world to do the will of their Maker, each one as he is tasked to do…

R. Yehuda and R. Yitzchak stood up and kissed his head, and from that day forth he never left R. Yehuda.
And whenever little Yaisa entered the beit medrash, R. Yehuda would stand in his honor and say: I learned something from him and therefore have to treat him with respect. Years later Yaisa was elevated to the status of rabbi and the group would call him ‘R. Yaisa, the hammer-head that breaks boulders and draws out fire.’ R. Elazar son of the Rashbi said about him the words of Yirmiyahu (1:4): ‘B’terem etzarcha babetten yedaticha.’

The son of Rebbe Adam Ba’al Shem then opened his father’s hidden writings and said again, “Let’s learn together, my friend.” They began with a piece on the subject of Creation. They went through it well, until they got to a part that was difficult to understand. The young kabbalist tried to explain it, unsuccessfully. “What will we do if we don’t understand what it says? Whom will we ask? Who will know what it means?” asked Yisrael, all in a rush.
“It doesn’t matter. We will just learn it again and again, and study the holy names until we’ll know the name of every Heavenly ’minister’ and angel, and can unlock their ‘code’ [to be able to summon them – ed.]. Then we will call down the great mal’ach of the Torah himself to come down to explain to us all the hidden things that we don’t understand.”
“Yes, yes!” enthused the teenager. “We’ll bring the Angel of the Torah to come and learn with us just like Mano’ach davened and the angel came to instruct him what to do with the baby, Shimshon, and what he should do when he grows up. The sar haTorah will also come and be as happy as Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Yitzchak were to learn with an orphan boy.”
So the two young men sat and learned the holy names night and day. They studied each angel’s pronunciation and task. But visitors passing through their village sometimes came into the beit medrash, left their bags there, and went in and out during their stay. This made it hard for the two to learn in such a way that nobody in the village would know what they were doing.
Reb Moshe went to his father-in-law and requested that he rent him a room somewhere away from the village, where nobody would disturb his learning. He agreed, and they learned Heavenly wisdom and Kabbala there for a few years.  In time, the villagers figured out that the young mekubal was learning something or other with his orphaned servant. They appreciated the fact that the village orphan was getting the opportunity to learn some Torah from this great man, attributing this “luck” to zechut avot.
“You know,” they said to each other, “that Yisrael’s father was always inviting guests to his home - his midda of hachnassat orchim was exemplary. So now his son Yisrael is reaping the merit of his father’s great mitzva, as the great son of the famous Ba’al Shem has taken him for his servant and even learns with him.”
The two once studied a very difficult topic and just could not understand it. Reb Moshe told his young friend, “We’ll fast for 40 days, the same number that Moshe Rabbeinu did when he was with the angels, and finally unlock the name of the angel of the Torah to have him come down and explain these mysteries to us.”
“All right,” answered Yisrael hesitantly, “but I’m afraid of doing it, because if we make one tiny mistake in just one kavana, a different angel could descend who could destroy the entire world.”
His teacher begged him to do it, however, so he agreed. They fasted from one Shabbat to the next for 40 days, and immersed themselves in a mikva a few times each day. Finally, they concentrated deeply on all the necessary intentions, and succeeded – or so they thought.
“Oh no!” yelled Yisrael. “We made a mistake! The Heavenly minister of fire is descending instead and he will burn down the entire village! Go,” he instructed his friend. “Everyone knows you are the son of the Ba’al Shem. Tell everyone to take out all their belongings from their homes, because very soon the whole place will go up in flames!”
And so it was. The houses all burned to the ground, but the people and possessions were saved. Everyone thanked Reb Moshe for saving their lives.
Several months passed, and again the son of the Ba’al Shem mentioned the idea of bringing down the minister of the Torah. By now, Yisrael was eighteen, and he opposed the suggestion. He rebuked the mekubal, saying that when Reb Moshe had run to the village to wake the people and warn them of the danger to their lives, he had personally stood and made a great effort with the holy names, in order to bring down the angel that all Jews knew from their annual tefila on Sukkot – the minister of rain called “Af bri” – to come and put out the fire, but he wasn’t successful. It was extremely hard to fight against the mal’ach of fire.
“Remember that Yaakov fought with the angel of mixed fire and water,” he said. “But this is not the case here, and we would be hard-pressed if we knew or even suspected that the angel of fire would come again, G-d forbid.”
But although Reb Moshe was usually easygoing, treating Yisrael with love and respecting his opinion, this time he was very stubborn and wouldn’t change his mind. So his young friend had no choice but to join him in his mortifications and review the yichudim of the holy ones’ names to bring down the real sar shel Torah.
They coerced the angel of the Torah to come explain the mysteries of the Torah. They also wanted to know when the Redemption would come, for it had been such a long time already, and it was so hard to bear all the anguish caused by the murder of countless Jews throughout the Diaspora. But in Heaven, an emergency session of the Heavenly hosts was called, and they convened a hearing on the matter of these two young men from Okupy who wanted to accelerate the arrival of the End of Days. The verdict was that both of them would be called to the Heavenly court, to the World of Truth. Yisrael’s neshama rose first. He saw what was happening in the Upper Spheres, and he heard that there were those who begged for mercy for them, to soften the judgment against them so they wouldn’t die. The Heavenly hosts listened, and decreed that if the two would make a great effort and not doze off for even one second that night, the judgment would be annulled and they could live.
“We must not sleep for even a moment!” Yisrael called to his friend, after hearing the compromise verdict. “Let’s keep watch and daven all night, because otherwise we will die. So it has been decreed!”
Reb Moshe indeed tried to keep awake, but his strength drained away, and towards morning he dozed off, fell to the floor, and died. Yisrael, however, managed to withstand this extremely difficult test, and lived.
When his friend fell, he ran to the village, yelling that Reb Moshe had fainted away, and everyone tried to wake him – but it was all for naught. The community made a huge funeral for their mekubal, with many eulogies praising the son of Rebbe Adam Ba’al Shem. Tears streamed down the mourners’ faces as they bore his body to the cemetery. As he watched the procession, Yisrael saw Reb Moshe’s holy soul hover above the body, then rise higher and higher, from one pure level to the next – his friend, who had wanted so much to hurry the Mashiach to save his people.  He remembered what the young Rabbi Yaisa had said in the chapter of the Zohar that he had learned with his friend, about the holy angels who are always ready to sanctify Hashem’s name every day, flying through the world with their “six wings” to do their Creator’s bidding, each with his own unique task suited to his abilities. This was how his friend’s soul now flew in the world; it had parted from life in order to bring the geula closer. The Baal Shem Tov knew this to be true, and would always remember that wondrous sight of his friend’s soul flying away.