One Friday morning the Baal Shem Tov awoke with the deep and urgent knowledge that he had to travel in his carriage to a place he did not know. He quickly gathered his closest hassids, telling them they were on a mission of utmost importance – but he did not know to where. They all hurried into his carriage, and the driver threw the reins to the horses, that they might fly at Heaven’s command.
They traveled for many hours, so many in fact that they all began to worry about finding a place to spend Shabbas – the Sabbath. As they passed nearby town after town they would look nervously at the Baal Shem Tov, but his eyes were closed and he was in a deep meditative state. Yet, unlike any other time they had seen him like this, his face was clouded with darkness, not lit with the light of a soul ascent. This only added to their concern.
Suddenly, the carriage turned away from the villages and headed into a deep forest. The sun was just beginning to dip below the horizon when they crossed a small field and came to an abrupt stop before a shack. They hurried out of the carriage and the Baal Shem Tov made his way quickly to the door; knocking briskly.
Slowly, the door creaked open and a man peered out, his face wrinkled with anger and pain, not age. “Go away!” he barked, quickly sizing up the men. “I know you hassids – we don’t want you here!”
“Please, my dear brother, let us poor yids spend Shabbas with you – look, the sun is nearly set! We will not be a burden, I promise!”
The man was already shutting the door when he heard the words, “I promise.” “You will make an oath? To the Holy One, Blessed Be He, that you will follow our traditions for the Sabbath, and not your own? You will eat what we feed you, sleep where we put you, and not leave this house from the moment you enter until Havdalah?”
There was to be no negotiation – the Baal Shem Tov quickly made his vow, and he and his Hasidim hurried inside. There, a table with the most meager of candles, wine and bread was set; the man fetched clay bowls for the watery soup, and called to his wife, in the other room, to come light the candles.
“Not tonight,” she cackled back. “I will not be seen by these uncouth men.”
So the husband lit the candles, made the brachot over wine and challah, and began to serve the meal. The hassids, attempting to bring some of the sweetness of the Sabbath into the home, began swaying to a wordless melody – a niggun.
“Stop!” the husband bellowed. “No singing, no swaying, no deep discourse or discussion. These are not my custom!”
Appalled, the hassids turned to the Baal Shem Tov, who merely nodded in bereft submission to his oath. And so began the worst Shabbas that any had ever experienced.
To be continued…