Dear Dr. Yael,
I am sharing with you a moving story that I think will inspire your readers.
It’s well known that the Baal Shem Tov would occupy himself with raising funds for the mitzvah of pidyon shvuyim, the ransoming of incarcerated Jews. In those days, non-Jewish landowners would often incarcerate Jewish innkeepers for not paying their rent on time.
Once, the Baal Shem Tov heard of a Jewish family who had been thrown into a cellar when they could not pay their rent. For weeks, the Baal Shem Tov traveled from village to village collecting money to ransom the poor family.
It was late on a Friday when the Baal Shem Tov had the complete amount due. He ransomed them as the sun was setting, and invited them to join him for Shabbos.
During the Friday night meal, the Baal Shem Tov turned to the innkeeper and said, “So, tell us. What news did you hear today?”
The man surprisingly replied, “What kind of news could I have heard down there in the pit?”
“Okay,” the Baal Shem Tov said, “tell us something from your past.”
The man said he couldn’t think of anything meaningful to say, however he would share a strange occurrence that he experienced while in the cellar.
“Over the last few months a strange thing happened. All week long we would hear bitter sobs and wailing coming from a nook in the other end of the pit. On Friday afternoon, however, it would be replaced with deafening laughter. Needless to say we were all terrified and huddled together in the other end of the pit as far from that nook as possible. However, this past week, the wailing and dreadful sobs were intensified. It was just unbearable. And then today the laughter was louder and more boisterous than ever before.
“This morning, I mustered up the courage and shouted in the direction of the nook, ‘Who are you?’ A voice answered. ‘We are evil spirits,’ it said, ‘who derive our sustenance and energy from the flaws of a certain tzaddik. We weep the whole week because this holy man fasts and prays the entire week, and we are totally overwhelmed by his holiness. However, Friday morning he prepares a mug of milk to drink after the morning prayers and breaks his fast.
“’Every Friday morning,’ the voice continued, ‘we see to it that one of the members of his household accidentally tips over the jug of milk. When that happens he becomes enraged. This is what causes us to laugh as we derive our sustenance from his anger. This past week, the tzaddik made a firm resolution not to succumb to anger, as it negated all the work of self-refining he did all week. So, today, he locked the jug of milk in a closet thus preventing anybody from tipping it over. As he did not become angry, we were sad and dejected. However, we refused to give up so easily. One of us, disguised as a woodchopper, went to his house and offered his wife a bargain price for a bundle of wood. The money was kept in the same closet with the milk, and in her rush to the coins, she accidentally tipped over the jug. When the tzaddik found out, he blew up in a fit of rage. Thus, we had good reason to celebrate today.’”
The students of the Baal Shem Tov were silent as the man ended his tale, until one of the students stood up in shock and then fainted.
It seems he fasted every week.
The Alter Rebbe once said, “Know what is above you. Know that everything ‘above’ in the supernal sefirot and partzufim (divine emanations and configurations), all derives ‘from you’” – it all depends on man’s service.
Smile, it costs you nothing, but, for the one that receives it, it may be priceless!
Dear Mr. Veshedsky:
Thank you for sharing this story with our readers. I think it is most important to remember that our actions affect others. Anger, in particular, causes the people around us great distress. Unfortunately, even the nicest people will generally only display their rage to those closest to them and control themselves in public.
I have found anger to be one of the most destructive forces in all relationships. I hope this story will help people realize how important their actions are in all situations. Hatzlocha!