22 Av 5781 / Saturday, July 31, 2021 | Torah Reading: Eikev
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HomeTorah PortionStories from the Baal Shem TovTazria-Metzora: Naming at the Circumcision
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Tazria-Metzora: Naming at the Circumcision    

Tazria-Metzora: Naming at the Circumcision

"Please do not ask me these questions,” responded the Baal Shem Tov, “for the time for me to be known in this world has not yet come...


Parshat Tazria-Metzora
"On the eight day, the (child) shall be circumcised" (Vayikra 12:3).
* * *
When the Baal Shem Tov was still young and had just married, he earned a meager livelihood by digging lime and taking it with his horse and wagon from town to town to sell. Although his holy wife, Rebbetzin Channah, was bought up in a rich household and was not use to hard labor, she nevertheless helped Yisrael load the wagon and sometimes traveled with him for weeks on end. In the pale of Eastern Europe, they appeared as one of the numerous simple Jews.
After some time, their horse grew so weak that it was barely able to pull the wagon by itself much less when it was loaded with a heavy load. The Baal Shem Tov grew worried: He could not afford a new horse and without one could not earn a living. Once, he discussed his problem with some other poor travelers whom he met on the road. They told him there was a well-known Jewish landowner named Reb Boruch who lived in the community of Uman and was known for his hospitality. He also dealt in horses, so perhaps he could be of assistance to the young couple.
Yisrael and Channah traveled the long and hard journey to see Reb Boruch. Reb Boruch had fled the pogroms in his native Bohemia to Ukraine. He was not a Torah scholar, just a simple Jew. Both he and his wife Rachel were kind, God-fearing people. They had two daughters and without other children decided to devote themselves and their wealth to charitable acts.
They were particularly known for their involvement in the mitzvah of hospitality. They had built a special guesthouse on their estate that had many small rooms, each furnished with two beds and a table. Any needy traveler was welcome to stay for a week. The visitors were given two meals daily and on Shabbos joined all the other guests at Reb Boruch’s table.
When a poor man came together with his wife and children, the family was given a room together. However, if a man and a woman came without children, Reb Boruch would not give them a room together because he was not sure if they were really married. Finally, when the poor guests left, they were sent off with a charitable contribution to help them on their way.
When Yisrael and his wife Channah finally arrived at Reb Boruch’s estate, they were offered a meal and a place to stay. After eating, the Baal Shem Tov told his host about his horse. Reb Boruch immediately instructed his servants to replace it with a young healthy horse. The gift was greatly appreciated and since the Yisrael and Channah were exhausted after their journey, they decided to stay a few days until after Shabbos.
Reb Boruch assigned them separate rooms according to his custom. “I don’t doubt you are married, but my policy is not to give my guests a joint room unless I know for sure that they are a married couple,” he explained. The Baal Shem Tov smiled at his answer.
On Motzei Shabbos, as Reb Boruch sat studying, he looked up and noticed a bright light shining through a window from the guesthouse. He first thought the guesthouse was on fire and ran out to investigate. He quickly realized the light was not a fire, but a bright light coming from the window of The Baal Shem Tov’s room. He quietly approached the door of the room and peeked in through the keyhole. There he saw his unknown guest, sitting on the floor and reciting “Tikun Chatzos” - the midnight prayer lamenting the Destruction of the Holy Temple and the exile of the Divine Presence. The Baal Shem Tov’s face was radiant and tears were pouring from his eyes. Next to him stood a tall man in a long robe with a long white beard and a glowing countenance.
Reb Boruch fell down against the door in a faint. Hearing the commotion, The Baal Shem Tov rushed to the door and helped him into the room. After Reb Boruch composed himself, he fell down at The Baal Shem Tov’s feet. “Please forgive me Rabbi for separating you from your wife.”
The Baal Shem Tov helped Reb Boruch to his feet and answered, “Don’t give it another thought. I can’t thank you enough for your generosity. But I have one request: I ask that you promise me that you will not reveal anything you have seen tonight to anyone.”
“Rebbe, I swear I will never tell anyone what I saw tonight,” said Reb Boruch.
The Baal Shem Tov then said, “I bless you with a son that will grow up to be a great Tzaddik. Be sure that your wife nurses this child herself instead of using a wet nurse as she had done with your other children.”
After responding, “Amen, may it be His will,” to The Baal Shem Tov’s blessing, Reb Boruch asked, “Rebbe, if I may be so bold as to ask, who was that old man dressed in white standing next to you?”
“Since you merited to see him,” answered The Baal Shem Tov, “I’ll reveal to you that it was the saintly Maharal. His lofty soul needs to return again to this world to accomplish some great tikkun. It is your privilege that this soul will find its abode in the son you will have. To this son you will give the name Leib. After his birth, I will see him and bless him.”
Reb Boruch wept for joy because he had all but given up hope that he would ever have a son. “My holy master, please don’t be angry with me, but may I ask what is your name and where are you from? I wish to help and provide for all your needs so you will never know need again.”
“Please do not ask me these questions,” responded the Baal Shem Tov, “for the time for me to be known in this world has not yet come. Your son likewise will not be known early in life. He will first live a life of poverty. Later, his righteousness will shine forth like the radiance of the sun. More than this I cannot tell you. And again I ask that you not to tell anyone what you have seen and the words we have spoken here tonight. Please do not show me any special honor in anyone’s presence, and treat me exactly as you do all the other guests you generously provide for. Tomorrow I will be on my way.”
The Baal Shem Tov departed in his wagon, which was now harnessed to the new horse. No one knew what had transpired, but Reb Boruch recorded every detail in a diary.
Within a year, The Baal Shem Tov’s blessing was fulfilled and Reb Boruch’s wife gave birth to their first son. Their joy was boundless. Reb Boruch sent word to all the neighboring towns inviting all the poor to attend the brit and celebration. Because, as the Talmud says, “Your friend too has a friend,” the message spread in no time, and groups of beggars started to travel to Uman to celebrate with Reb Boruch.
On the of the bris, hundreds attended the joyful event. But Reb Boruch was anxious. He paced to and fro among the crowd looking for the face of the hidden Tzaddik whose blessing was the source of his son.
Finally, he saw him: with his staff and knapsack in the middle of the crowd. Reb Boruch ran to greet him, but did not manage to utter a word before the Baal Shem Tov motioned him to remain silent, adding: “Please be sure not to speak to me, nor to honor me in any way. Simply treat me like all the other poor people here.”
The brit was held after morning prayers, and the infant was named Aryeh Leib. Reb Boruch very much wanted The Baal Shem Tov to bless his new son, but realized he could not reveal his identity. Finally he thought of an idea – He passed his baby son from hand to hand-asking each person to give a blessing to the infant. Reb Boruch carried the baby all the way through the crowd of poor folk as he wished to have their blessings too. As they approached the Baal Shem Tov, the latter placed his hands on the baby’s head, and said in a loud and happy voice: “I am sorry – I am an ignorant man and don’t know how to give blessings in the Holy Tongue. But I do remember one verse from the Torah that my father taught me: It says: V’Avhram Zakein’ -And Avraham was old.” The word av at the beginning means father. The second word zaken means ‘zeide’ (Yiddish for ‘grandfather’). That is to say, our father Avraham is our grandfather. May this child baby be blessed to grow up to be a grandfather for all Israel, just as Avraham Avinu.”
Some people in the crowd were amused by the words of this simpleton. Some even laughed. Thereafter the joke remained-and the child was referred to as “Zeidelle” — the little grandfather.
Townsfolk would jokingly ask Reb Boruch “How’s your Zeidelle?” Even Reb Boruch and his wife called their son Zeidelle.”
Indeed, the name remained with Reb Boruch throughout his life. Reb Aryeh Leib grew to become a great Tzaddik who helped his Jewish brethren and through acts of kindness in this World and through intercession in the World Above. Not only was he loved in his time, he is remembered to this day as the Shpoler Zeide — may his memory be a blessing.
And so it was.
Tzvi Meir Cohn attended Yeshiva Hadar Hatorah in Crown Heights, Brooklyn after completing his university studies in Engineering and Law. While studying at the Yeshiva, he discovered a deep connection to the stories and teachings of the Baal Shem Tov. His many books about the Baal Shem Tov can be found in the Breslev Store. He can be contacted at howard@cohnpatents.com.

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