“The Baal Shem Tov – Early Years”, Part 12
In the last episode, night after night, Yisraelic and the Reb Moshe sat in the little synagogue by candlelight, studying the holy names and ways of the angels in heaven.
Finally, Reb Moshe decided it was time to try and bring down the angel called the Prince of the Torah to explain some teachings that were too hard to understand.
"Well," said Reb Moshe, "here is what we will do. First we will fast forty days, just as our great teacher Moses went forty days without food when he went up on Mount Sinai to be among the angels and to get the Torah. Then with our holy words of prayer we will make the Angel of the Torah come down and explain it all to us."
"Splendid!" said Yisrael. "That is a wonderful idea." But then a worried look came into his face. "But what if we make even the slightest mistake in concentrating on one word in our prayer. Then another angel will come down – the wrong angel – and he can destroy the world!"
Reb Moshe had no fears, however, and he argued until he convinced Yisraelic to join him in the plan. They began their fasting, day after day, taking food only on the Sabbath. Every day they went several times to the mikvah, the body of water that cleanses the spirit when a person puts his whole body into it. Daily they said their prayers, concentrating with the proper thoughts over each word – till at last they brought down an angel from heaven.
When Yisrael saw who it was, however, he immediately realized that they made a serious mistake. Woe is us, " he cried out. "We've made a terrible mistake. We've brought down the angel of fire on us. He will burn up the whole village! Go fast and tell the villagers. They know who you are, whose son you are, So they will believe you. Go tell the people to take everything from their houses, because the whole village is about to be burned down!"
Reb Moshe ran as quickly as possible to sound the alarm. Soon, the cry could be heard through Okup. "Fire, fire, fire!"
There was just enough time for the people to get their families and belongings out of their homes. And then every house went up in flames. The people were grateful to Reb Moshe for warning them in time before the angel of fire struck his blazing blow.
Reb Moshe and Yisrael went back to their study without the help of angels. The months passed and turned into years, and the two studied on, night after night until the time came when Reb Moshe wanted to try again to bring down the angel of the Torah.
Israel was eighteen now. At fourteen, when he first began studying with Reb Moshe, he trusted him and followed whatever he said. Now, however, he knew enough to realize that Reb Moshe was too eager and enthusiastic about bringing down the Angel of the Torah and didn't pay attention to the great danger involved in bringing down this angel.
"Look," said Yisrael. "The last time we tried it, the angel of fire came down instead. When you ran to warn everyone in the village, I tried with all my power to bring down the angel of rain to put out the fire. But I could not do it alone because it is very hard to fight off the angel of fire.
When Jacob remained alone at night and had to fight with an angel, he was only wounded but not defeated. Because that angel was a mixture of the forces of fire and water. The angel of pure fire is much worse and he is the one we may bring down again. Think carefully before you decide."
Usually, Reb Moshe was congenial and easy going and he yielded when Yisraelic insisted on something. But this time he was possessed by a powerful desire to bring down the Angel of the Torah, at all costs. Yisrael felt he had no choice but to join him and go again through the forty days of fasting and intense prayer while they meditated on holy names to compel the Angel of Torah to come to them and explain all the difficult points in the sacred writings they had already studied with eagerness and enthusiasm.
Reb Moshe decided on something else: When the Angel of the Torah appeared, they would force him to bring an end to all the pain and suffering of the Jewish people in exile. This exile had been going on too long. The Jewish people could not bear it any longer. Jews were always being punished and tortured and killed. It was time to make the Messiah appear, so that all the suffering should end. He decided that he and his young friend Yisrael would make this happen now.
Well, when word got back to the Heavenly court of justice, the Almighty considered what was to be done about the two friends in Okup who were working to bring the Messiah, whether the Almighty agreed or not. The Heavenly court decided that the two friends must be called before the court to stand trial. This meant that their life on earth had to end.
It has been told that the soul spirit of Yisrael was able to sense and know what was happening in the Heavenly court. He sensed that good angels came to the Heavenly court of the Almighty to pray and plead for the two, that they should not be given such a harsh sentence. At last, as Yisrael concentrated, he understood that the angels who sat in judgment there in the court became kinder.
The Heavenly court decided that if the two could stay awake this whole night, not sleeping for even a moment but learning Torah the whole time, they could remain alive and the judgment against them would not be carried out.
"Listen, my dear friend," said Yisrael to Reb Moshe desperately, almost shouting, "we have to try very very hard to stay awake this entire night and not doze off for even a moment. That is what the Heavenly court decided – that if we stand guard this whole night and do not dose off for even a second, we will stay alive. Otherwise our life on earth will end."
Reb Moshe used every effort to keep awake. The entire night he learned Torah and prayed, with every last bit of strength. But alas, after all those days of fasting, his energy gave out. Toward dawn his eyes closed, and for an instant he dosed. His body fell to the floor, and his life on earth was over.
Yisrael held out, however. Difficult and painful as it was, he kept awake till morning, and his life was saved. He stood the test.
As soon as he saw his dear friend fallen, he ran to call people from the village, thinking that Moshe had only fainted. But the son of Rabbi Adam Baal Shem could not be brought back to life.
Every Jew in Okup came to pay their last honor on earth to this young man whose life had ended. With bitter tears they wept for him, and spoke about what a fine and wonderful man he had been. Lamenting and weeping, they walked in the funeral procession, as the Reb Moshe's body was taken to be buried. Then, amid all the weeping and crying, His dear friend Yisrael looked up and saw the holy spirit of Moshe leave his lifeless body and go soaring upward, higher and higher, to the realm of heaven.
He remembered what the orphan boy Jesse had told the two sages in the Zohar: that there are angels ready to make the name of G-d holy every day in the world. For this purpose each of them gets six wings every day and goes flying and soaring through the world to carry out the Almighty's Will – each in his own way. It was the very first thing his dear friend Moshe had taught him, before they sat down to begin learning the mystic writings of Moshe's father.
Now Yisrael was sure that his friend's spirit would also go soaring through the world every day, to make G- d's name holy. After all, his friend had died only because he wanted to make the exile and suffering of the Jewish people end right then and there.
And he knew that all his life he would remember the sight that he alone saw at the funeral: the spirit of his dear friend leaving the body to go soaring higher and higher into heaven to join the angels.
To be continued next week, G-d willing…
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.