5 Shvat 5778 / Sunday, January 21, 2018 | Torah Reading: Beshalah
 
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The Cave    

The Cave



The Baal Shem Tov found good in everyone, so the robbers were no exception. They decided to reveal to him the secret underground passage to the Land of Israel…

 



"He (G-d) drove away man, and stationed the Cherubim at the east of Eden, along with the revolving sword blade to guard the path of the Tree of Life." (Bereshis 3:24)

Before Rabbi Yisrael Ben Eliezer (later known as the Baal Shem Tov) revealed himself, he spent his time in seclusion, meditating, learning Torah, and studying with his spiritual Master (Achiyah HaShaloni). He lived deep in the Carpathian Mountains with his wife Chana. Rabbi Yisrael frequently took long walks in the mountains.
 
Once, Rabbi Yisrael was walking in mountains at a place where two cliffs were separated by a deep ravine formed with very steep walls. Being that he was in a deep state of meditation, he didn't notice that he was walking near the edge of one of the cliffs.
 
At the same time, a gang of robbers happened to be meeting on the opposite cliff across the ravine. They suddenly noticed the Baal Shem walking towards the edge of the cliff. At first, they thought they should quickly hide. But then they realized he wasn't paying the slightest attention to them. In fact, it looked as if were in a trance. When it appeared that he was going to walk off the edge of the cliff, they all gasped and yelled, "Stop!!"
 
But just as the Baal Shem Tov stepped off the edge, the two cliffs miraculously moved towards each other and joined together. The Holy Baal Shem continued walking as if nothing had happened. Then the cliffs separated as they were before. The robbers were dumbfounded. They didn't say a word to him as he walked past. For the next few hours, the Baal Shem Tov kept walking and crossing the cliffs again and again. Each time, they moved towards each other as he walked across and then returned to their original location. The robbers realized without a doubt that the Baal Shem Tov was a very holy man.
 
Sometime later, the band of robbers went to the Baal Shem Tov and told him what they had seen. They asked him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a holy man. Would you please pray for us and ask (G-d) to make us successful in our chosen line of work?"
 
The Baal Shem Tov answered: "If you swear to me that you will not hurt or rob one of my brethren, I will pray as you ask." Each of the band of robbers swore to him and the bargain was struck. From that day on, the robbers would visit the Baal Shem Tov. Sometimes to settle a dispute that has arisen between them and sometimes just to talk with their new friend.
 
Once during a friendly conversation, the Baal Shem Tov confided to them that his dream in life was to visit the Land of Israel. The robbers became very excited. "Rabbi Yisrael, we know how to reach the Land of Israel through caves and underground passages. We've never traveled the whole distance, but we are told that it is definitely the way. Would you like to go?"
 
 
The Baal Shem Tov didn't hesitate for a second. "Yes, my friends. Let's go!"
So the gang and the Baal Shem Tov gathered a few belongings and some provisions for the way and off they went. After a day of travel, they reached a cave deep in the Carpathian Mountains. They lit a torch, entered the cave and started to travel along an unused path. For days they traveled deeper and deeper into the earth. Finally, they reached a narrow, underground river. The robbers said, "This is as far as we've ever gone."
 
The Baal Shem Tov said in an excited tone, "Let's cross."
 
Using a fallen tree, the robbers created a bridge to ford the river. The Baal Shem Tov said, "I'll go first." So they gave him a pole to balance with and he crossed. Just before he stepped off the tree on the other side of the river, he saw a flaming, revolving sword blade. He stopped suddenly and appeared to stare into empty space. Without explanation, he turned back to the other side of the river and told the gang of robbers, "My friends, the journey has ended here."
 
 
(Rabbi Tzvi Meir Cohn of Cleveland, Ohio is the executive director of the Baal Shem Tov Foundation. He can be contacted at cohn@baalshemtov.com)




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