Last week's Table Talk generated a huge amount of positive feedback. If you missed it, it is archived here.
This week's story is for anyone who is feeling down.
Or knows someone feeling down.
Or might feel down one day and find it helpful to have a story like this on file to pull out and re-read at the time.
The protagonist is of the most famous rabbis of all time.
I don't know if it's true or not.
But they don't tell stories like this about you and me.
He's known as the Baal Shem Tov.
If you want to remind yourself who he was and what he did, click here.
Here's the story.....
For those who "do" Shabbat, even a little bit, Saturday night can be a mystical time.
The more you do Shabbat, the more mystical Saturday night can become.
Saturday night is when a person can savor the Shabbat that one just experienced. Bask in the glow. The greater the experience, the greater the glow.
Something like enjoying a drink or cup of coffee or tea after an excellent meal.
The long Saturday nights in winter, all the more so.
One such Saturday night, while all were basking in that glow, the Baal Shem Tov told his driver to prepare the wagon and they set out with several of his students.
When they reached the open road outside of town, he told the driver, "Get the horses into a gallup and then let go of the reins."
This driver knew better than question or doubt anything that the great tzaddik said.
The horses were allowed to run freely, to follow their instinct.......
They ran and ran, on-road, off-road, on paths seldom traveled.
Finally, after an hour or so, they slowed and stopped.
They had come to a stop before a small cottage on the outskirts of a small town in the forest.
The residents must have heard the noise outside because almost instantly a man came rushing out, a Jewish man.
"My friends," he called to them, hurrying to the road. "My friends, my friends, welcome! Please, come inside for a warm drink, for a bit of food. We seldom see travelers here, please do me the honor of welcoming guests into our home!"
The Baal Shem Tov, his students and driver all followed the man inside.
When the man heard that they were from Medzibozh, his face lit up even more. "Do you know the Baal Shem Tov?"
Before anyone else could answer, the rabbi said, "If you please, we are indeed hungry and thirsty, may we speak later?"
The man served them a hot meal. They sang songs together.
When the hour got late, he invited them to stay the night and they accepted.
In fact, they stayed not one night, not two nights, but five nights with this Jewish family, until they had consumed all of their food.
When they departed on the sixth morning, the many thanked them profusely and asked, "If you see the Baal Shem Tov, would you please ask him for a bracha for me, that I should raise my children to be good Jews?"
Finally, the rabbi told him. "I am the rabbi you are asking about. God sent me to you for a reason, and soon you will know why."
They departed before their stunned host could gather his thoughts and reply.
As he re-entered his house, still in a daze from what had just happened, he encountered his wife.
She was not happy.
To say the least.
"You fed those strangers every moursel of food in our house! We have nothing left! And the children are hungry! They're crying! What are you going to do?!!"
In despair, the man closed his eyes, and uttered a simple prayer.
"Master of the universe, what did these children do to deserve to suffer? Please send us help!"
He continued for a few minutes, thinking about his wife and children, what they needed and asking for help.
While lost in this meditation, there was a knock on the door.
It was a non-Jewish neighbor named Ivan.
Ivan often came by for a visit and a shot of vodka.
This time, Ivan had other business.
"My friend, I've known you a long time, and you know that I live with my daughter and son-in-law, and that they make me miserable. I can't stand it anymore. Let me come stay with you."
Before the Jewish man could tell Ivan he had no food in the house, Ivan continued.
"I won't bother you. In fact, it will be very good for you. You see, long ago I made a fortune and I buried it in the forest in a secret location. I don't want my daughter and son-in-law to get it. I will give it to you. All of it. Just help me get out of the misery."
Seeing that the man was incredulous, he added, "Come, come with me, we'll get some of the treasure right now."
Into the forest they went, shovel in hand, and sure enough, Ivan dug up a sack full of gold coins.
So Ivan gave the man the treasure in exchange for his hospitality.
Not only did the man's family have enough to eat, they became great givers of tzedaka.
A few years later, the man traveled to Medzibozh to visit the Baal Shem Tov.
When the Baal Shem Tov saw him, he spent an unusual amount of private time with him.
Seeing this, his students asked, "Why did Rebbe spend so much time with this particular man?"
"You don't remember him. He is the Jew we visited Saturday night a few years ago. The Holy One brought us to him. There was a decree in Heaven that he should be blessed with great weath. The problem was that this simple Jew was so satisfied with what he had, that he never asked for anything more. There was a chance that the blessing would never reach him. We were sent to him to consume all of his food so that he would ask for help."
Question for your table: What is the moral of this story? Can you think of two or three?
PS - Thank you to all those who responded to last week's PS.... As I wrote then, if you're read this far, chances are you enjoyed this message. Tomorrow night at 11:59 pm is your last chance to make tax-deductible contributions for 2011. How many appeals have you received this year? But you read this email, so you got something out of it. Maybe you have enjoyed this Table Talk throughout the year. Please support the organization that makes this and many ambitious educational programs possible. Here's the link: http://jsli.org/donate/ No contribution is too small or too large.
PPS - Robert Zimmerman:
PPS - Another selection from the Amazing Jewish Fact-a-Day Calendar
++++++ Sunday’s Amazing Jewish Fact ++++++
6 Tevet 5772
1 January 2012
At the age of 40, Akiva (ca. 60 CE) was an illiterate shepherd.
At his wife's insistence, he went to learn, but was embarrassed to be sitting in school with kindergarteners. Yet he couldn't go home, because his wife told him not to return until he was a scholar.
Feeling sorry for himself. Akiva sat down by a stream and stared at the water.
As he watched the dripping water slowly wearing away a rock, he had a flash of inspiration:
"If water, which is so soft, can wear away a hard rock, surely a little Torah can get into my hardened heart!"
So inspired, he returned to kindergarten.
By the age of 64 he had become Rabbi Akiva, the greatest scholar in Israel, with 24,000 students.
Talmud Nedarim 50a, Ketubot 62b-63a
Wikipedia on Rabbi Akiva
A book about Rabbi Akiva
An amazing class by R. Akiva Tatz on the meaning of life
From the Amazing Jewish Fact-a-Day Calendar:
http://tinyurl.com/amazingcalendarlink (iphone/ipad version)
http://tinyurl.com/amazingandroidcalendar (android version)