Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Baal Shem Tov and Purpose in Life

The story is told that the Baal Shem was granted the privilege of meeting in this life the person he would live next to in heaven.  He was directed to go into a tavern in a small village not all that far from his home, and saw an enormous glutton there, with copious food and drink before him. The Master of the Good Name watched from the next table, marveling at the amount of food the man swallowed, wondering what this meant. Perhaps it is a lesson from G-d that I should not disdain the pleasures of this world.  This man is clearly extreme in his earthly joy, but if he goes to heaven, G-d must approve. He sat beside him.

"You must be a wealthy man," he observed, "to afford to eat so well."

"I cannot afford what you see here," the glutton contradicted. "I will die in debt to the butcher, the tavern-keeper, and the greengrocer, and my family will be embarrassed by me."

"Your wife does not approve, then?" asked the Baal Shem.

"I have no wife," the fat man growled, barely pausing in his dinner. "I have not the time."

"Then you must greatly enjoy the pleasures of the table." the Besht concluded.

"I hate food," the man replied "and I hate drink as well. Every moment of my life is a weariness to me, always eating rich food and drinking good wine."

Rabbi Yisroel ben Eliezer sat silently for many minutes, observing, thinking. Finally, he gave it up and asked the man "Then I do not understand.  You hate food, yet you eat more than any three men I have known.  You hate drink, yet your glass is immediately empty and you call for more. What is the meaning of all this?"

The man shifted in his chair for a moment, as if to draw breath for another assault on the plates before him.  "There was a pogrom, and my father was brought before the great men of the district and set on fire as a torch to light their banquet. I was there and watched from the shadows."

The Baal Shem bowed his head slightly in sadness and softly said "And so a banquet of your own somehow erases this?"

"Not at all," said the impossibly fat man angrily. "He was a poor, skinny man, a sick chicken, who gave off almost no light, even in death. It was prophesied in a dream that I too would die in the same manner. When they burn me I will give off a light that will go on for days, glorious to behold."


Sam L. said...

Was this the only man in the tavern? Presumably this was the man he was supposed to meet, but this is not a given.

Grim said...

Good story.