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The Werewolf - Vayishlach    

The Werewolf - Vayishlach

Everyone was afraid of the charcoal burner because rumors had spread that he was a sorcerer. In fact, people said, at night, evil spirits would creep into him...


Parshat Vayishlach
"A man [angel] wrestled with him [Yaakov – Jacob] until the break of dawn. When he [the angel] perceived he could not overcome him" (Bereishit 32:25, 26).
* * *
Many years ago, there lived in the small town of Okup, deep in the Ukraine, a man of great spiritual stature, Rabbi Eliezer, and his wife, Rebbetzin Sarah. In their old age, they were blessed with a very special son. He was named Yisrael (Israel) and as a child they called him Srulick. Later as a grown man, Yisrael was revealed as the holy Baal Shem Tov (the Master of the Good Name).
When Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov was still a child of about five years old, his father passed on to his Heavenly abode. Just before he passed on, Rabbi Eliezer called little Srulick and left him with the following instruction. “My sweetest son, I love you with all my heart. I want you to know that before you were born, it was made known to me that Hashem will always be with you because you have one of the Innocent Souls of Heaven. So fear nothing except HaShem because He is always with you.”
Soon thereafter, Rebbetzin Sarah also passed on to the next world and little Srulick was left an orphan. The local community did their best to take care of him, but he was such a free spirit. For the next several years he lived with different families. They would care for him and send him to Cheder. But each time, after a day or two in Cheder, he would sneak away and go into the forest. There, little Srulick felt safe and happy as he communed with God and nature. At first, the school teacher and members of the community would search for him, scold him, and return him to school. But eventually, they realized that they couldn’t control him. They told each other, “After all, he does seem happy and well adjusted, especially for an orphaned child, G-d forbid.”
When he was about ten years old, he came to the village of Horodenka and became a teacher’s helper. His job was to accompanying the young children to and from Cheder each day. At first everything went well. Srulick taught the children songs praising God and sang with them as they walked to and from Cheder. The songs had a powerful effect on the children and they seemed to grow happier each day.
Being that children are so beloved by God, their feelings of joy soon began to spread throughout the little town, which did not go unnoticed in the spiritual worlds. The angels were happy because they thought that this might be the heralding of Moshiach. But Satan was angry because such spiritual uplifting was interfering with his work. So he appeared before God and requested that this spiritual influx cease because it was not really time for Moshiach to come. God reluctantly agreed.
Satan came to the earth near the place where Srulick was living. The Satan approached all manners of nature, from plants and trees to insects and animals, to help him in his task. But none were ready to frighten or attack Srulick. After all, “he loves each and every one of us.”
But there was an old man, a charcoal burner, who lived alone in the forest outside of the village. Everyone was afraid of the charcoal burner because rumors had spread that he was a sorcerer. In fact, people said, at night, evil spirits would creep into him and change him into an animal-like shaped creature (a werewolf). And when the townspeople heard howling coming from the forest, and they thought it was him.
They were right.
Satan didn’t have to do any coaxing to get the charcoal burner to do his bidding. By this time, the charcoal burner was too used to being controlled by the evil spirits. So Satan (the innermost source of darkness) was free to inhabit the werewolf’s heart.
The very next day, when Srulick was walking the children to Cheder, the werewolf ran out of the forest and towards them. He was a foul smelling beast and its fangs were bared. The children screamed in fear and ran in every direction. Just then, the werewolf disappeared back into the forest.
Srulick tried to gather the children but they were so frightened that they had all run home.
When the parents heard the report of the werewolf and saw their children so upset, they decided they would not send them to Cheder again.
The next day Srulick went to each house and told each of the parents, “The wolf ran back into the forest because the children frightened it. Please send your children to Cheder with me. I assure you that nothing will happen to them.” The parents were comforted by his words and agreed to send their children to Cheder the next day.
As always, the children were singing, however, with apprehension, as they walked through the fields to Cheder. Srulick instructed them, “No matter what happens, walk directly behind me and don’t run."
When they came close to the forest, they could hear snorting. Srulick quickly walked towards the forest as the werewolf came running out towards him. The werewolf appeared to grow larger and larger but Srulick was not afraid. The werewolf started snorting and pawing the ground.
Srulick, without hesitation, walked right up to the beast and killed it with a club. Then he reached his hand into its chest and pulled out its heart. The heart was pulsating and squirming around in his hand. Srulick could feel the pain of this heart in his own being. So he took pity on the heart and placed it on the earth. Without warning, the earth opened and swallowed the heart.
When Srulick looked around, he found the children huddled together in a little group. He led them to Cheder.
Later that day, the villagers found the charcoal burner dead in the forest near where Srulick had killed the werewolf. His eyes were closed and he had a peaceful, child-like look on his face.
From then on, the children of Horodenka didn’t sing as they followed Srulick to Cheder. They became like their fathers and their fathers’ fathers, walking and carrying their worries always with them.
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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