It was revealed to the Baal Shem Tov that if the two great lights of the world were to meet, they together could bring Moshiach and the Final Redemption. From that time, the Baal Shem Tov desired greatly to go to Eretz Yisrael to meet the great Ohr HaChayim HaKodesh [Rabbi Chaim ben Atar].
In the year 5503, the Baal Shem Tov set out to travel to Eretz Yisrael to fulfill his long held desire to be in the Holy Land and to meet the great Ohr HaChayim HaKodesh. By Pesach, he arrived in Istanbul. There he prayed at the gravesite of Rav Naftali, a tzaddik who had attempted the same trip at an earlier time, but had only managed to reach this far.
That night, Rav Naftali appeared to the Baal Shem Tov in a dream. “Reb Yisrael, it has been decreed in Heaven that you are not destined to dwell in Eretz Yisrael. If you are stubborn and attempt to continue your journey, you will die here as I did. Return home.” The Baal Shem Tov accepted the decree and embarked upon a ship and headed homeward.
His ship was captured by pirates, who let him off at the port of Kilya, from where he continued his journey to Medzibush. Three months later, during the Seudah Shishlit meal on the Shabbat of Parshat Pinchas, immediately after washing his hands and eating a bite of challah, the Baal Shem Tov said with a sigh, “The Western Light has been extinguished.”
At the Melave Malkah (meal following the departure of the Shabbat Queen) on that Motzoei Shabbat, the chassidim gathered their courage and asked, “Rebbe, what did you mean when you said that ‘The Western Light has been extinguished?’” The Baal Shem Tov replied, “The Ohr HaChayim HaKodesh has died. He was known in Heavenly realms as the Western Light.” “How does the Rebbe know that?” one chassid boldly asked.
The Baal Shem Tov answered, “There is a particular kavanna (intention) for the recitation of the blessing for washing hands which I have always wanted to know. However, this kavanna was hidden from me since only one person in each generation can know it, and the Ohr HaChayim had preceded me. This afternoon, as I washed my hands for Seudah Shishlit, I suddenly became aware of a new kavanna. I immediately understood that the Ohr HaChayim had passed from this world and now I become the guardian of that kavanna.”
Another time, the Baal Shem Tov told his Chassidim of another incident related to the Ohr HaChayim. On the Shabbat that the great Ohr HaChayim departed from this world, his friend in Tiberias, Reb Chayim Abulafia, mysteriously fainted, and remained unconscious for half an hour. When he finally was revived, he announced to his students "Today the Ohr HaChayim left this world. I accompanied him until the Gates of Gan Eden." “What Reb Chayim of Tiberias did not know,” the Baal Shem Tov told his chassidim, “was that the Ohr HaChayim’s saintly neshamah [soul] remained in Gan Eden only for the duration of Shabbat. The next day it descended once more to this world.
The souls of tzaddikim,” he explained, “receive greater satisfaction from being in this physical world than by being in Gan Eden. Here the soul can serve the Almighty on the lowest physical plane, through performing mitzvot and good deeds which brings far greater benefit to this world, and is far more pleasurable to the soul than being in Gan Eden. When Moshiach arrives, and Godliness will be seen and felt by even the most common man, we will yearn for the days previous when we were able to serve the Almighty on the lowest level of the physical.”
The death of the Ohr HaChayim occurred just two days before Reb Leib Sorahs’ Bar Mitzvah. It was years later however, that the chassidim understood that it was the Ohr HaChayim’s soul that he received at the time of his Bar Mitzvah, from the Rebbe Reb Dov Ber [The Mezritcher Maggid]. And so it was.