Tetzaveh: Eating for Atonement

The women rushed to prepare the meat broth while the men stood around the sick man’s bed saying Tehillim (Psalms). Almost everyone, except for the doctor, felt relieved because...

3 min

Rabbi Tzvi Meir Cohn

Posted on 05.02.22

Parshat Tetzaveh
"They will gain atonement by eating…" (Shemot 29:33)
* * *
During the time of the Baal Shem Tov a man who lived in the holy community of Medzibush was very, very sick. His family, not being strong believers in the Baal Shem Tov, brought in a famous Jewish physician to tend to the man. Unfortunately, the doctors were unable to heal the man. Finally, the man was so ill that the physician gave up all hope. “I’m sorry but there is just nothing else to do,” he told the family, after leaving the sick man's bedside.
Just then, the Baal Shem came into the house to make a bikur cholim call (visiting the sick). He walked in to find the man’s friends and family crying and the man stretched out on his bed, white and barely breathing.
The Baal Shem Tov stared at the man in a meditative silence for a few minutes. Then, he ordered, “Quick, prepare a meat broth and feed it to him by the spoonful. As soon as he sits up, make him comfortable and he’ll soon fully recover.”
The women rushed to prepare the meat broth while the men stood around the sick man’s bed saying Tehillim (Psalms). Almost everyone, except for the doctor, felt relieved because they believed the Baal Shem Tov's words that the man would soon fully recover. The doctor, who also heard the same words of the Baal Shem Tov, did not believe for a moment that the sick man would recover.
As soon as the meat broth was prepared, the sick man’s wife fed him spoonful after spoonful. At first his lips were sealed shut. But little by little, his lips relaxed and he started to swallow more and more of the broth.
Almost as a miracle, color started to return to the man’s face. In a few minutes he was sitting up, feeding himself the soup, and telling jokes to his friends and family. Everyone was amazed at the turn of events, except for the Baal Shem Tov.
The doctor spoke up, “Rabbi, I can’t believe what I just saw. One minute my patient is on his death bed and the next minute he’s sitting up, eating and joking with his friends and family as if nothing had happened. How did you do it?”
The Baal Shem Tov explained, “My dear doctor, you think of healing as a physical phenomena, while I consider healing a spiritual phenomena. It’s true that the man was physically beyond help, but spiritually he was still capable of being healed. A person’s body has 248 organs and 365 vessels which together correspond to the 613 mitzvot of the Torah. When a person transgresses a particular mitzvah, the portion of his body corresponding to that mitzvah is afflicted and clogged so as to prevent the spiritual light of the soul to flow through that particular part of the body. Eventually, after enough of the body parts are afflicted and clogged, the person’s body breaks down and refuses to function. He is then in mortal danger. I didn’t heal this man’s body. I just spoke to his soul asking if it was willing to repent and reach a state of atonement for its transgressions of the Torah. Once the soul accepted upon itself teshuvah (return to its connection to God), the physical body was easily healed and the man returned to his former health, as you just witnessed."
And so it was.
Tzvi Meir Cohn attended Yeshiva Hadar Hatorah in Crown Heights, Brooklyn after completing his university studies in Engineering and Law. While studying at the Yeshiva, he discovered a deep connection to the stories and teachings of the Baal Shem Tov. His many books about the Baal Shem Tov can be found in the Breslev Store. He can be contacted at howard@cohnpatents.com.

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