Why was the Baal Shem Tov acting so calm when there seemed to be little time left?
Reb Berel listened with rapt attention, as Reb Yosef continued the story of the Baal Shem Tov. He could almost hear the rattling of the Baal Shem Tov’s wagon, and the soft snoring of the wagon driver, Alexi, as the story went on. Around them, the forest became darker, as the sun began to make its descent below the treetops.
“The Baal Shem Tov’s wagon continued, seemingly aimlessly through the forest. It was almost Shabbos, and the talmid was beginning to sweat underneath his collar. Would they be forced to spend Shabbos out in the wilderness, at the mercy of the wolves and cold temperatures? Why was the Baal Shem Tov acting so calm when there seemed to be little time left?
The wagon bumped over a ridge and then came to a stop near a river. The Baal Shem Tov retrieved a cup and hurried over to the water, dipping the cup inside the flowing stream and filling it to the brim. He made a brachah slowly, his face lined with concentration, and then he drank from the cup. A slow, powerful borei nefashos, and then they were off again. A wild adventure through the forest, the talmid sitting back in complete shock, wondering what was going on.
“Well, we’ll never make it to Leipzig at this point,” he said. “I suppose if we must spend Shabbos in the forest, Rebbi, then at least we can stop now, and prepare a camp to make ourselves as safe and as comfortable as possible.”
But the next moment, to the talmid’s shock, they were suddenly passing through the gates of a city and the sign clearly said, “Leipzig.”
“’My family lives in Leipzig! We can quickly head over there and spend Shabbos with them. They will be so happy and delighted—”
“We will not be going to your family,” the Baal Shem Tov said softly. “Alexi, go that way.”
The wagon driver followed the command and drove the horses in the opposite direction.
Suddenly, the talmid recognized which section of town they were heading toward. “This is where the taverns are, Rebbi — where the non-Jews come get drunk. Many Jews who enter this part of Leipzig do not always merit to leave it. We should leave immediately before we are spotted. Jews of any type are not tolerated here.”
Sure enough, there were already a few threatening characters at the street corner who had noticed the wagon and its unusual occupants. Their eyes followed the wagon closely as it passed.
Alexi obeyed, pulling at the reigns and stopping the horses in their tracks.
The Baal Shem Tov alighted from the wagon, his talmid following closely behind him.
Several threatening men had appeared. They were holding bottles of alcohol, and most of the bottles were empty already.
“You don’t belong here, Jews! How dare you step onto our streets, sullying our ground with your dirtiness!”
The Baal Shem Tov lifted his hand and knocked on the door of a small home. The door swung open to reveal a small man who looked absolutely petrified.
The Baal Shem Tov and the talmid quickly stepped into the home, and the door slammed behind them.
“You risked your life coming here today. Those men outside would have no qualms about taking your lives. They are from the lowest segments of society. Real criminals. You wouldn’t be the first Jews they laid their hands on. Why in the world would you enter this part of Leipzig? Do you not know better?”
The tailor gestured to the table behind him, filled with needles and other sewing materials. “If I wasn’t their favorite tailor, they would kill me too!”
“You’re right, it was no simple decision for us to enter this area. And there is a lot of explaining we need to do. But first, you must know that it is almost the holy Shabbos. We can’t waste another moment speaking right now. We must hurry and prepare for the Shabbos Queen, so that we can greet her honorably. Later, there will be clarity.”
The door opened behind them, and Alexi dived inside.
“They’re threatening to storm the house, kill us all and burn the entire house to the ground! We must escape now before the crowd gets larger!”
The tailor walked over to the window and pulled back the curtain slightly. His eyes widened in horror, and he gasped.
“Holy Rabbi, now there are even more of them! They’re gathering from all over the place, armed to the teeth. We’re all going to die if you don’t leave here immediately. Why should I perish because you came to my house without any warning? There’s still time for you to make an escape!”
But the Baal Shem Tov did not leave. Instead, he and his talmid prepared quickly for Shabbos and then began praying. The tzaddik’s voice filled every inch of the house, infusing the air with holiness as the sun set and Shabbos fell upon Leipzig.”
In that moment of holiness, the tailor momentarily forgot the angry crowd outside his window that was growing with each passing minute. But then a stone slammed into the door, causing the tailor to snap quickly out of his reverie.
He stared outside, and saw the crowd advancing toward the front door…”
Reb Yosef paused for a moment as dark shadows began to dance around their wagon. Reb Berel listened closely, a shiver running up his spine.
To be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 921)
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