If it had been the Shekhinah, they could not have been more amazed. Out walked this young woman, dressed all in white, her face radiating sweet kindness. She motioned to the kitchen, and suddenly the smells of a delicious feast wafted their way to the travelers. Wide-eyed, they looked back to the husband, whose visage was warm and welcoming, and he waved them back to the table. “Please, be our guests for one last meal, and let our story be told.”
Everyone hurried to the table, which was now set with linen and expensive plates and cutlery. The wife took a seat between her husband and the Baal Shem Tov, to whom she turned. “Do you not recognize me?”
“No, I cannot say that I do, much as though I wish I did!”
“Ah, it has been so many years,” she sighed. “I am Miriam, one of many orphans that you and your wife took in. I was only three when I joined your family…”
“Miriam… Miriam? Miriam! But… you left so abruptly! Whatever happened that…”
“Oh, Reb Yisrael, you really never noticed, did you? But now you will know.
“I had been living with you and Rebbitzin Chana for three years when she asked me one Sabbath to help serve the se’udah shlishit – the third meal. She gave me a large tureen filled with soup, a tureen that was just too big for me to manage. Nevertheless, I struggled mightily with it, finally depositing it heavily on the table, so abruptly that some of it spilled onto the tablecloth.
“Rebbitzin Chana was so angry that she slapped me hard across my face. You looked up when you heard my cry, irritated that your teaching was being interrupted. In that moment the Rebbitzin expelled me from your house. You offered no argument, but went back to your studies.”
The Baal Shem Tov’s face fell, and tears began to stream down his face. “Oh Miriam…” But she interrupted to continue.
“Also in that moment, though I did not know it at the time, a Heavenly Decree was issued: that you should give up your portion in the World to Come for allowing these sins to happen, just so you could study. A lesser man might have had a less severe judgment, but for one as holy as you…”
The Hasidim gasped, and the Baal Shem Tov reached out to the young woman. “I…” But again she interrupted.
“Years later I met my bashert, and with the grace of God we were married. After that I learned that he was one of the lamed vavniks, the thirty-six hidden tzaddiks upon whom the world depends. In time he learned my story, and on a soul ascent he learned of the Heavenly Decree against you. The two of us were determined to challenge it.”
At this, Miriam took her husband’s hand, and they gazed for a moment into each other’s eyes. Then she continued.
“We were able to strike an arrangement with the Heavenly Court: If you could be fully deprived of one Shabbas here on earth, then – since the Shabbas is a taste of the World to Come – your portion there could be restored.”
Her eyes sparkling, she turned back to her husband who smiled and nodded in affirmation.”
“And so it has been restored. Come, let us celebrate!”
And they all had a meal that none of them would ever forget, filled with song, and dance, and the joy of the World to Come.
Traditional – retold by Maggid Jim Brulé