Rebbe Nachman’s daughter, Sarah, suffered from ailments that caused her great pain. On one occasion, her agony was so great that she was left bedridden. When Rebbe Nachman came to visit and when saw the depths of her distress, he felt awash in sadness for her. As he listened to her speak of her troubles, he suddenly fell into a deep, trance-like sleep. In his dream, his great-grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov, appeared before him.
“Why are you so upset?” asked the Baal Shem Tov, with great kindness.
“It’s because of my daughter,” answered Rebbe Nachman.
The Baal Shem Tov nodded his head and said, “We find in the Book of Psalms the phrase ‘He magnifies salvations for His king, and does kindness for His anointed one, for David and his seed, forever’ (Psalms 18:51). This means that God magnifies the interventions that He does for His ‘king’—His righteous ones—since the Talmud teaches us that the sages are called kings. And He performs kindnesses for those who ‘speak about’ His righteous ones. That’s because the word for ‘anointed one’ (mashiach) is written exactly the same in Hebrew as the word for making conversation (meisiach). God does this for ‘David and his seed, forever’—and that means that He will do it for you and your children, since you descend from the House of David.”
The Baal Shem Tov meant to teach Rebbe Nachman that he could alleviate his daughter Sarah’s suffering by sharing stories about the Tzaddikim with her.
At that moment, Rebbe Nachman awoke and approached the bed where his daughter lay in pain. He began to tell her a wondrous story about the Maharsha, Rabbi Shmuel Eliezer Halevi Eidels, author of the great commentary on the Talmud. Rebbe Nachman had traveled far and sacrificed much just to have the chance to see the original record of the tale in the communal archives of Ostrov.
Rebbe Nachman began his tale…
There is a certain spot among the fields in the city of Ostrov about which the locals only whisper mysteries. Down through the generations, people have passed the story of a supernatural event that took place there.
During the tenure of the Maharsha as chief rabbi of that city in the early seventeenth century, Ostrov was home to a massive church that abutted the Jewish cemetery. It was impossible to get to the cemetery without passing by the church, and a thick miasma of impurity surrounded the place. Whenever the Jewish community had to conduct a funeral, it was in great danger. Just as the funeral procession would pass the church, the priests would ring the bells and begin to sing stirring songs that could literally pull those who were weak into the arms of the church.
The Maharsha knew of the evil effects that the church had had on some members of the Jewish community. Before his passing, he devised a plan to remove the source of danger altogether. In his will, the Maharsha instructed the burial society to make sure to carry his bier past the church, and to lay a copy of his magnum opus, Chiddushei Aggadot, on top of his body for his final journey.
At his funeral, the entire community gathered to pay their last respects. They accompanied the bier out to the cemetery, and just as the Maharsha’s body passed the church, he sat up and began to rifle through the pages of his Chiddushei Aggadot. As if struck by thunder, the entire procession stopped … and saw the church slowly but inexorably sink into the ground. The entire building, with everyone inside, sank lower and lower until the earth closed over it. The only sign in the now-empty field was a depression marking where the church had once stood…
After Rebbe Nachman finished his wondrous tale, his daughter Sarah stood up from her sickbed, whole and healthy.
In later years, Sarah had the custom of telling this story to the ill as a means of bringing them healing, and Reb Nachman Tulchin, the student of Reb Noson, would do the same.
Based on Or HaOrot I, pp. 197-200