I love ‘stories.’ That’s one of the reasons I am blogging. Sometimes I encounter a story that is better just reproducing, rather than attempting to retell it myself. The following is one of those stories. It comes from a book, “The Spirituality of Imperfection,” by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham. Enjoy… and then, ponder.
“On the day the Baal Shem Tov was dying, he called together his disciples and assigned each of them a task to carry on in his name, to continue his work. When he finished, he still had one more task. And so he called the last disciple and gave him this responsibility; to go all over Europe to retell stories about the Master. The disciple was very disappointed. This was hardly a prestigious job. But the Baal Shem Tov told him that he would not have to do this forever; he would receive a sign when he should stop and then he could live out the rest of his life in ease.
So after the Baal Shem Tov died, the disciple set off, and days and months turned into years and years of telling stories, until he felt he told them in every part of the world. Then he heard of a man in Italy, a nobleman in fact, who would pay a gold ducat for each new story told. So the disciple made his way to Italy to the nobleman’s castle. When he arrived, however, he discovered to his absolute horror that he had forgotten all the Baal Shem Tov stories! He couldn’t remember a single one! He wa mortified. But the nobleman was kind and urged him to stay on a few days anyway, in the hope that he would eventually remember something.
But the next day and again the next he remembered nothing. Finally, on the fourth day the disciple protested that he must go, out of sheer embarrassment. As he was about to leave, indeed as he was walking down the path leading front he nobleman’s castle, suddenly he remembered one story. It wasn’t much of a story, but at least it would prove that he wasn’t a charlatan, that he indeed did know the great Baal Shem Tov, for he was the only disciple there when the story took place. Clinging to his memory of the story thread, he made his way back to the castle, and as soon as he was shown into the nobleman’s presence, this is the story the disciple began to pour out.
Once the Baal Shem Tove told him to harness the horses, so that they could take a trip to Turkey, where at the this time of the year, the streets were decorated for the Christians’ Easter festival. The disciple was upset: It was well known that Jews were not safe in that part of Turkey during the Christian Holy Week and Easter. And, in fact, in the very region to which the Baal Shem Tov proposed to go, it was the custom during the Easter festival each year to kill one Jew in reparation.
Still, the Baal Shem Tov insisted and so they went. They went into the city and made their way into the Jewish quarter, where the Jews were all huddled indoors, behind closed shutters, out of fear. Thus secluded, they awaited the end of the festival when they could go out on the streets again in safety. Imagine, then, how startled they were when the Baal Shem Tov, upon being shown into the room where they were gathered, strode over to the shutters, threw them open, and stood there in full view, mast as the procession was entering the town square!
Looking through the window, he saw the bishop leading the procession. The bishop was arrayed like a prince, with gold vestments, silver mitre, and a diamond-studded staff. Turning to the disciple, the Baal Shem Tov said, “Go tell the bishop I want to see him.” Was he out of his mind? Did he want to die? the disciple wondered. But nothing could deter this order, so the disciple went out into the square and making his way through the crowd, came around behind the bishop just as he was about to mount the platform to begin his sermon. More gesturing than speaking the words, the disciple hoarsely whispered to the bishop that the Ball Shem Tov wanted to see him.
The bishop seemed agitated and hesitated for a moment. But after his sermon, he came, and he and the Baal Shem Tov went immediately into a back room, where they were secluded together for three hours. Then the Master came out and, without saying anything else, told his disciple that they were ready to go back home.
As the disciple finished the story, he was about to apologize to the nobleman for its insignificance, for its lack of point, when he suddenly noticed the enormous impact this story had on the nobleman. He had dissolved into tears and, finally, when he could speak, he said, “Oh, disciple, your story has just saved my soul! You see, I was there that day. I was that bishop. I had descended from a long line of distinguished rabbis but one day during a period of great persecution, I had abandoned the faith, and converted to Christianity. The Christians, of course, were so pleased that, in time, they made me a bishop. And I and accepted everything, even went along with the killing of Jews each year until that one year. The night before the festival I had a terrible dream of the Day of Judgement and the danger to my soul. So when you came the very next day with a message from the Baal Shem Tov, I knew I had to go to him.
“For three hours he and I talked. He told me that there was still hope for my should. He told me to sell my goods and retire on what was left and live a life of good deeds and holiness. There might still be hope. And his words to me were, ‘When a man comes to you and tells you your own story, you will know that your sins are forgiven.’
“So I have been asking everyone I knew for stories from the Baal Shem Tov. And I recognized you immediately when you came, and I was happy. But when I saw that all the stories had been taken from you, I recognized God’s judgement. Yet now you have remembered one story, my story, and I know now that the Baal Shem Tov has interceded on my behalf and that god has forgiven me.
When a man comes to you and tells you your own story, you know that your sins are forgiven. And when you are forgiven, you are healed.”