14 Av 5780 / Tuesday, August 04, 2020 | Torah Reading: Eikev
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HomeTorah PortionStories from the Baal Shem TovThe Magical Sheepskin - Toldot
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The Magical Sheepskin - Toldot    

The Magical Sheepskin - Toldot

On his way to see the Baal Shem Tov, Moshe thought, “What in the world am I going to do with a sheepskin?"


Parshat Toldot
"There was a famine in the land... [God told Isaac] Remain an immigrant in this land. I will be with you and bless you" (Bereishit 26:1, 26:3).
* * *
In the days of the Baal Shem Tov, there was a man, Reb Moshe, who made his living as a tavern keeper. When times were good, the local peasants would visit the tavern regularly and spend their money on drink. But then, for a few years in a row, there was a severe drought. There was barely anything to harvest and no one had money to spend at the tavern. Whatever little money Reb Moshe managed to save, he had to spend on food for his family.
Usually, when Moshe had a bad year, the landlord, Count Pototzky, would let him owe the money for his rent until the next year. But this drought was so severe that he wasn’t able to pay the rent for two years in a row. The Count warned Reb Moshe that if he didn’t pay all the money due by the next year, he and his family would be thrown into the
Count’s prison until the full debt was paid.
Reb Moshe hoped that the next year would be better but it was not. He struggled to hold onto every ruble he earned but found it an impossible task. When he went to the Count to beg for an extension, the Count said, “Moshke, I’ll give you exactly one week to pay me the full amount or else!”
Reb Moshe returned home and told the terrifying news to his family.
Several days later, Moshe’s wife called him and said, “I’ve heard that there is a miracle worker named the Baal Shem Tov who lives in Medzibush. People say that he often helps people that are in trouble. I want you to go and see him and ask what we should do.”
Reb Moshe answered, "I don’t believe that anybody can help us now and I’m certainly not going to see some Rabbi and ask him to make some miracle for us.”
But Moshe’s wife didn’t give up. Every day she spoke to him and finally he said, “Okay already, if it will make you happy, I’ll go and speak with the Rabbi.”
When Moshe arrived in Medzibush, he immediately went to see the Baal Shem Tov. As he began to tell his story, he started crying.
"Don’t worry, Reb Moshe,” replied the Baal Shem Tov in a comforting voice, “You have absolutely nothing to worry about.”
Then the Baal Shem Tov handed Reb Moshe a coin.
“Just take this coin to the market and buy the very first thing that you are offered. Then bring the thing you purchase back to me and I will tell you what to do next."
Moshe left the Baal Shem Tov feeling relieved. But by the time he reached his home, he was upset again.
His wife greeted him, “So what did the Rabbi tell you?” Moshe told her about the meeting with the Baal Shem Tov, how the Rabbi had given him a coin, and his instructions to go to the marketplace and purchase the very first thing offered to him.
Then Moshe continued, “This is really a lot of craziness! And we only have a few days left before the Count is going to throw us into his prison."
"Don’t worry,” his wife retorted. “Everything will work out. Just do what the Rabbi said.”
So the next morning, Moshe went to the marketplace with the Baal Shem Tov’s coin in his pocket. As soon as he reached the market, he was approached by a peasant selling sheepskins.
"How much for one of those?" Moshe asked.
The peasant answered with an amount exactly equal to the value of the coin given to him by the Baal Shem Tov. So, following the Baal Shem Tov’s instructions, Moshe took out the coin and bought the sheepskin.
On his way to see the Baal Shem Tov, Moshe thought, “What in the world am I going to do with a sheepskin?"
When Moshe arrived in Medzibusch, he immediately went to see the Baal Shem Tov and showed him the sheepskin. The latter said, “Wonderful! Reb Moshe, you made an excellent purchase with the coin I gave you."
The Baal Shem Tov took the sheepskin and began rubbing the wool. "This skin is really beautiful, a perfect birthday gift to bring Count Pototzky. Tomorrow he will be having a large party for all his noblemen friends and each will be bringing him an unusual gift. I want you to take this sheepskin and give it to him. After all, you are his tenant and it is only fitting that you give him something too."
Moshe was very worried about going to see the Count with this “gift” but he was too afraid to speak up. “Is he crazy,” Moshe thought to himself?
Moshe came home, threw down the sheepskin and put his head down onto the table.
His wife asked, “Moshe, what’s wrong?”
“What’s wrong?” answered Moshe. “Nothing, except the Baal Shem Tov told me to take this smelly sheepskin to the Count’s birthday party and present it to him as a birthday gift. That’s all. And we have one more day to go until we’re sitting in his prison. Is that enough?” Moshe put his head back down on the table.
"Listen Moshe..." said his wife, "Go do what the Baal Shem Tov said. After all, he is known as a miracle worker. Anyway, it can't hurt to try."
"Sure, it can't hurt to try?" said Reb Moshe as he left to the Count’s castle carrying the sheepskin.
As he got closer, he could hear the music and party noise. “What am I doing?” he wondered. He started to have second thoughts when one of the drunken guests saw him.
"Hey you, come here. Count, look it’s Moshke and he has a birthday gift for you.”
The sheepskin was grabbed from Moshke and given to the Count. The Count looked at it and threw it down in disgust. “Moshke, you have your nerve.” The guests crowded around to see what was going on. The Count, being a little drunk, really started to get angry and finally yelled to his servants, “Throw this Jew into my prison.”
So the servants grabbed Moshe and dragged him to the Count’s dungeon, threw him in and locked the door.
"Why did I ever listen to that Rabbi?” Moshe asked himself.
A little while later, the Count started to wonder, “I wonder why Moshke brought me that ridiculous gift?” So he took the lambskin to his room and stared at it. Suddenly he saw his name, his family name and the day and year he was born naturally formed in the wool. He could barely believe what he saw.
He blurted out, "This is a most magical sheepskin!"
Then the Count ran back to the ballroom and showed all the guests. “Do you see what I see?” he asked everyone. They all looked in amazement and started to point towards the sheepskin in amazement.
“Quick, get Moshke!” the Count yelled to his servants.
When the servants opened the dungeon door to get Moshe, he thought they were going to kill him. By the time his eyes adjusted to the light, he was in the ballroom surrounded by the guests.
Moshe fell down onto the floor before the Count. "Please, your highness, have mercy on me.”
The Count put his hand out to Moshe, “Please Moshke, don't be afraid. I want to apologize for being so mean to you. Your gift is really marvelous. In fact, it is almost magical. Look how my name, family name and date of birth are naturally formed in the wool. It is an unbelievable work of art. It is simply magnificent."
Moshe looked around in surprise.
"In fact, I’m so appreciative that I am forgiving you two years of the rent you owe me."
"That's not enough," one of the guests yelled out.
“Okay,” the Count agreed, “I’ll wipe off his total debt and not require him to pay for the next three years.”
All the guests clapped in appreciation.
Just then, one of the guests threw a coin to Moshe. The next minute, it was raining coins and gems. Moshe picked it all up and was taken home by the Count’s carriage.
His wife heard the noise and came outside to see who it was. She could hardly believe her eyes when she saw Moshe step down from the carriage. Then Moshe told his wife the whole story about what happened. He finished with, “And to think, all this because of the Baal Shem Tov. And I didn’t even believe in him!”
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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