In a town in Poland there lived a wealthy hotel keeper who always made a special effort to seek out and invite disciples of the Baal Shem Tov to his inn. Normally he would charge everyone for his services, but when he heard that the man was a chassid of the Baal Shem Tov, he would forego his charges on the condition that the man would relate some wondrous story about the Baal Shem Tov.
One day he heard that Reb Yaakov Yosef, the personal shammas of the Baal Shem Tov was in town, accompanied by many chassidim. He made a special effort to accommodate them and gave them a wonderful meal. Then he asked them to relate some story of the Baal Shem Tov. All the chassidim looked to Reb Yaacov Yosef who never ceased to talk about his great rebbe. Sipping a glass of schnapps, Reb Yaacov began his story:
“I will never forget that Motzaei Shabbos, 15 years ago. It was the end of the month of December and bitter cold and a snow was falling. The Baal Shem Tov was discussing the weekly sedra, Vayishlach (Bereishis 32:25), ‘And Yaakov was left alone, and a man appeared and began to wrestle with him.’ Rashi quotes the Gemara (Chullin 91) that Yaakov forgot small jars and the man who appeared was the guardian angel of Eisav.
“‘Now two questions arise,’ expounded the Baal Shem Tov. ‘Why did Jacob worry about such a small item, such as little jars, when he had sent a very generous gift to his brother Eisav, which proved that he was not stingy? The other question is why did the guardian angel of Esau only choose that moment, when Jacob returned for his little jars, to do battle with him?’
“‘The true meaning is hidden in these few words describing Yaakov’s experience. Yaakov returned for a jar that contained spiritual oil and the Satan is always there to stop him.’
“Suddenly the Baal Shem Tov looked out of the window and exclaimed, ‘We too have a spiritual soul to save! Hurry get the coach and horses ready – we have a journey to make.’
“All the disciples were eager to accompany their master and they all piled into the coach. The coach traveled for many hours and it was almost early morning when they arrived in a small town. The disciples were nearly all asleep when the horses stopped in front of an inn and the Baal Shem Tov called out, ‘Yaakov! Knock on the door of this inn and notify the occupants that we want to come in to warm up and to have breakfast.’
Afraid to Open the Door
“I obeyed my master’s order and knocked but there was no answer.
“‘Knock harder and if there is no answer, break down the door,’ the Baal Shem Tov commanded.
“I knocked so hard that finally one of the windows opened and a frightened woman looked out and seeing the group of chassidim, shouted, ‘Go away! I have no room for anyone. Please be gone before I am caught.’ But the Baal Shem Tov ignored her pleas and told her that unless she would open the door, he would break it down.
“The woman opened the door and began to cry. ‘You are Jews, why don’t you have pity on me? You know that because today is a Gentile holiday all the Jews are forbidden to be on the streets and I was warned to close my inn and not to accept any customers.’ She began to cry bitter tears. ‘Be gone immediately before the church opens. I understand a new priest arrived today and he is a rabid Jew hater. Please have pity on me and my children.’
“While they were talking the church bells began to ring, calling all the worshippers to the services. The Baal Shem Tov turned to his shammas and said, ‘Yaakov, go to the church and see the new priest who will be standing at the pulpit and tell him, ‘Yisrael, the Baal Shem Tov, has arrived in this town and is now stopping at this inn and he demands to see you immediately.’
“I followed my master’s orders and entered the church. The priest was standing at the pulpit, dressed in his priestly vestments. I whispered the Baal Shem Tov’s message in his ear and I saw him become frightened. The priest then replied, ‘Tell your master that I can’t come now, I am too busy.’
Repeats the Message
“When I returned to the inn and repeated the priest’s answer, the Baal Shem Tov became angry and exclaimed, ‘I didn’t tell you to whisper my message! I want you to return to him and announce my request in a loud voice, so everyone can hear it too.’
“I returned to the church and in a loud voice repeated the Baal Shem Tov’s message. The priest turned white. He called over one of his assistants to take his place, and accompanied me to the Baal Shem Tov. They were closeted together for many hours. Then we all left for home.
“And to this very day,” concluded the narrator of the story, Reb Yaakov, “I have never found out who the priest was and what business he had to do with the Baal Shem Tov. Another curious fact is that the priest seems to have disappeared from sight after that incident.”
The audience was so engrossed in the story, everyone listening with mouths agape, that they didn’t notice the innkeeper approach Reb Yaakov and with a cry, embrace and hug him. While everyone looked at him in amazement he cried, “Now I can reveal the truth. It is I who was the priest, whom you described so eloquently!”
While everyone looked on dumbfounded, the hotelkeeper told his story.
“Many years ago, we lived in Nimrav. My parents were killed on Kiddush Hashem by the local Christian zealots and I was turned over to the priests. Many years passed, and I was inculcated to hate all Jews. Sometime later I was ordained to be a priest.
“It was at that time that I began having dreams of my parents coming to me every night, pleading with me to return to my people. Every night they bothered me, and I was beginning to fail in health. One night they told me that if a messenger would summon me to a man called the Baal Shem Tov, I should follow him, otherwise my life would be in grave danger. I awoke frightened and worried and when the messenger did come to me, in the middle of my performing the church services, I had no choice but to follow him. I tried to hold back the first time but eventually I did go to the Baal Shem Tov. I spent many hours with him. He reminded me of how my parents sacrificed their lives for their religion and he told me the stories of all the great martyrs in Israel.
“I can still see the fire in the eyes of the Baal Shem Tov as he related the story of Rabi Akiva, and the thousands of other martyrs who sacrificed their lives for the true G-d of Israel,” continued the hotelkeeper. “When he completed his stories I resolved to return to the religion of my father. I agreed to repent and to leave the town and settle in a distant town and do charity, pray and study the Torah.
“The Baal Shem Tov then gave me a sign to know that Hashem had accepted my repentance. ‘If years later,’ he said, ‘you will hear the story of your life told by one of my chassidim, you will then know that you are forgiven.’
“For many years I have looked everywhere for a chassid who would tell my story. I became wealthy and I gave a lot of charity, always inviting people to my hotel, with the hope that someone would tell my story. Today, thank G-d, you have narrated the story and now I know that G-d has accepted me.”
When Rabbi Yaakov Yosef heard this he said, “Now I know the meaning of the words, ‘Saving the little jar of spiritual oil,’ that the Baal Shem Tov so ably explained.