28 Av 5781 / Friday, August 06, 2021 | Torah Reading: Re'eh
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HomeTorah PortionStories from the Baal Shem TovVa'etchanan: The Book of Adam
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Va'etchanan: The Book of Adam    

Va'etchanan: The Book of Adam

“My beloved friend, no matter how high a man climbs, it is still nothing. We are limited by our finite minds. The purpose of our lives, is to strive, not to know...


Parshat Va'etchanan
“Enough! Do not speak to Me any more about this!” (Devarim 3:26).
At the age of fourteen, Yisrael ben Eliezer, who would later be revealed as the Baal Shem Tov, left the town of Horodenka.
There, the kind and generous community had cared for the young, orphaned Yisrael after the death of his parents, Rabbi Eliezer and Rebbetzin Sarah. The lad decided that it was time to leave his familiar surroundings and embark on his journeys throughout the Jewish towns and hamlets of Poland and Russia. His first destination was Okup, the town where he was born. There, amid the small community of simple Jews, he became the shamash (caretaker) of the local synagogue.
Young Yisrael, in his humility, hid his passion for Torah study, studying only late at night when the study house was empty. By day, he slept on the benches, and all the people thought that he was a simple peasant. But after the last man closed his book and left the synagogue, Yisrael sat and poured over the books of the holy Torah by candlelight.
In a nearby city, there lived a holy man named Rabbi Adam the Tzaddik. Throughout his life, he devoted himself to the study of Torah and its inner meanings as revealed through Kabbalah. He was a true master of Torah, yet he was not satisfied. He yearned for the Almighty to reveal to him the sublime meaning of the innermost chambers of Torah.
One night Rabbi Adam had a dream. He stood in the Cave of Machpelah, the holy burial site of Adam and Chava (Eve), Avraham (Abraham) and Sarah, Yitzchak (Isaac) and Rivka (Rebecca), and Yaakov (Jacob) and Leah. There, deep in the cave, a Heavenly voice taught him the mystical secrets that he so desired. He was shown the “Shaim HaMeforash” – The Tetragrammaton - the true name of the Eternal Being, that was only known by six others; Adam, Avraham, Yosef (Joseph), Moshe (Moses), Yehoshua ben Nun (Joshua ben Nun) and Shlomo HaMelech (King Solomon).
Rabbi Adam wrote down all that he was taught into a book that he simply called “The Book.” From that day on, he delved into the secret knowledge. But as he grew old, he began to wonder to whom he would pass these secrets. So he prayed, “Almighty God, please send me a son to carry on this work.” Soon thereafter, he was blessed with a son. As his son grew, he taught him the Torah and the secrets of Kabbalah. His son became accomplished in Talmud, but he could not grasp the hidden secrets beyond. Unfortunately, he did not merit receiving the knowledge of The Book.
Rabbi Adam grew old and waited for the last of his days in this world to come to an end. Not knowing to whom to pass his Book, Rabbi Adam prayed that the secrets he had the merit of knowing be given to another.
One night the answer came to him in a dream: "Give The Book to Yisrael, son of Eliezer, who lives in Okup." So Rabbi Adam called his son and said, "Here is the one Book that I've not learned with you."
"But father, why am I not worthy to receive it?" cried his son.
Rabbi Adam answered, "My beloved son, it is not your lack of faith or desire. Rather the level of your soul does not allow you to reach higher. Take this Book to Yisrael, son of Eliezer, who lives in Okup – it now belongs to him. Perhaps he will accept you as a student and teach you these great secrets.” Then Rabbi Adam drank a glass of water, lay down, and passed from this world to the World of Truth.
Rabbi Adam’s son went to Okup. The local townspeople were puzzled by the presence of a Torah scholar in their small town. However, he explained that his holy father, Rabbi Adam the Tzaddik, had instructed him to find a wife and settle Okup, and they were thrilled to have such an individual in their midst.
Many marriageable girls were suggested, and he soon married a rich man's daughter and began studying Torah in the synagogue’s study hall. All the while, Rabbi Adam’s son wished to fulfill his father’s request, and he sought the great sage Yisrael ben Eliezer without success.
One night, he looked up from his books and noticed the young shamash Yisrael, who took care of the synagogue. He hadn’t taken note of him previously. He seemed a simple, unlearned, but kind individual.
On this night, Rabbi Adam’s son fell asleep over his books. Waking in the middle of the night, he saw the shamash Yisrael sitting over a holy book and studying by candlelight with great intent. Above Yisrael’s head, a crown of fire burned brightly. Early the next morning, as the boy lay sleeping on his corner bench, Rabbi Adam’s son took one page from his father’s Book and carefully placed it on Yisrael’s chest. The boy stirred and woke. He picked up the page and as he began to read it, his face turned a flaming red and his eyes shone like bright stars.
Rabbi Adam's son realized that he had found the Tzaddik for whom his father had sent him to search. He approached Yisrael and said, "My father, Rabbi Adam the Tzaddik, entrusted me with his holy writings to give to you. Here is the Book filled with the deep teachings of the Torah. I beg you, please take me as your student and teach me The Book.”
Yisrael agreed and they began to study together.
Rabbi Adam's son asked his father-in-law to hire Yisrael as a helper and to build him a small house outside of the village so that he could study without distraction. His father-in-law agreed and there the two began studying The Book. Soon, they soared through the hidden worlds exploring the most mystical realms of the Torah.
As time passed, Yisrael began to notice that Rabbi Adam's son began to get thinner and weaker. Yisrael understood that Rabbi Adam's son might have fallen into a state of “yiush” – spiritual despair at not grasping all that he was studying. When he inquired of Rabbi Adam’s son, the latter answered, “Yisrael, I am anxious to know the secrets that were revealed to my holy father, but the more I study, the greater the emptiness I feel.”
Yisrael replied, “My beloved friend, no matter how high a man climbs, it is still nothing. We are limited by our finite minds. The purpose of our “avodah”, the purpose of our lives, is to strive, not to know. The more we accomplish, the more we realize how truly little we know.”
So Rabbi Adam's son no longer said anything further on the matter, but he continued to become weaker each day. So Yisrael decided to try and help his friend accomplish his dream before his soul would simply leave his body.
They prepared themselves by fasting each day, and on Shabbat eve they immersed themselves in the mikvah, reciting mystical words to purify themselves. As Shabbat entered - a most auspicious time for this physical world - they meditated on mystical combinations of letters until they entered a trance, and Yisrael prayed, “Almighty Creator, we beg you to reveal to us your Ineffable Name.” Suddenly, Yisrael fell back into consciousness. He then realized that their stream of meditation and concentration was incomplete, and the Heavenly angel who guards the celestial secrets had descended upon them.
“We only have one hope,” he said to his companion, “we must stay awake all night and study the holy Book without letting our eyes close for even a moment."
And so Yisrael and Rabbi Adam’s son sat side-by-side studying the holy Book of Adam. But just before dawn, Rabbi Adam’s son could no longer keep his eyes open, and he fell into a deep sleep from which he never awoke.
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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