Shivchei HaBaal Shem Tov #67
[The compiler of Shivchei HaBaal Shem Tov writes] I heard this from Reb Gedaliah of Linitz.
There was a somewhat wealthy Jew who lived in Mezritch. As he reached late middle-age he thought to himself, “What have I done with my life? What’s going to happen to me for having spent my life on worthless, transient trivialities, instead of on Torah and good deeds?” At first he didn’t know what to do, but after thinking a bit, it occurred to him to give charity—secretly.
So, everyday he began to place a thaler* in the tefillin bag of a certain Reb Yitzchok. After a few days Reb Yitzchok began to wonder, “Who’s putting money in my tefillin bag?” He asked the shamash (synagogue caretaker) to watch and see if anybody was hovering near his tefillin bag during davening (the prayers). “But don’t tell anyone who it is, except me!”
The shamash did as requested and after a few days “caught” the older man in the act. After davening, he told Reb Yitzchok who it was. Reb Yitzchok started to befriend the man and began learning Mishnah with him. They would learn a chapter and review it a few times until the man was conversant in it. Then they would go on to another chapter and another. Eventually they completed all six orders of Mishnah.
After the man completed all of the Mishnah, Reb Yitzchok learned with him Zohar, Ayn Yaakov** and a number of musar (ethical instruction) works. The man joined the local Mishnah-study group and learned Torah every day till he died.
When the man took sick, shortly before his death, Reb Yitzchok came to visit. Reb Yitzchok asked the man to come back regularly to visit him. The man was hesitant, but Reb Yitzchok pressed him and they finally shook on it. The local Mishnah-study group came to the man’s house and learned Mishnah there until he passed away. They continued to learn Mishnah to benefit his neshamah (soul) and completed all six orders within the thirty-day mourning period.
At the end of the thirty days, the man came to visit Reb Yitzchok. “Where is your resting place?” asked Reb Yitzchok. “I’m with the tzaddikim in the Garden of Eden. Except for one thing, I corrected (tikkun) everything while I was still alive. Through their study, the Mishnah-study group corrected that.”
The man visited Reb Yitzchok regularly, and when the latter had a question in Zohar, the man would explain it the way it was learned in the Garden of Eden. Once Reb Yitzchok shared one of these explanations with someone else. The man from Mezritch missed his regular appointment and didn’t come for a while. When he finally returned—because of their agreement—Reb Yitzchok asked why he hadn’t come. When he heard it was because he had shared the explanation of the Zohar, Reb Yitzchok promised that he would never do it again. “But please don’t miss any more appointments!”
The man did come regularly as before, but after awhile he stopped showing up and was absent for a long time. When he finally returned, Reb Yitzchok asked, “What’s the matter now? Since that one time, I haven’t told anybody anything?”
The man replied, “I’ll tell you. They’ve promoted me to very spiritually-advanced worlds. It’s quite a bitter experience for me to descend from them to come to this world. That’s why I haven’t come. I only came because of our agreement. Please! Release me from the deal!”
And Reb Yitzchok did.
© Copyright 2011 O. Bergman
*A silver coin that weighed approximately 30 grams (one ounce). (The word “dollar” comes from the word thaler.) Your average Mezritchian Jew could live nicely on a thaler a day.
**Ayn Yaakov is a compilation of the Aggadic (non-legal) parts of the Talmud.