Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Tikkun

When the fame of the Baal Shem Tov spread far and wide, one man who had heard of his greatness was determined to see this phenomenon for himself. He made his way to Medzibozh where the Besht resided, and was warmly received.

"And how can I be of help to you?" the Baal Shem Tov asked him.

"I have no need of help" the man replied. "Thank G-d, I and my family are well. I have a thriving business and all my needs are met. I did not come to ask for anything, just to have the opportunity to meet you."

"Well, if you feel you have no needs" the Besht said, "perhaps you will listen to a story I have for you. But you must listen attentively."

The Besht continued: "There were once two young boys who grew up together and became close friends. They attended the same cheder and always played together. Baruch and Chaim were inseparable, and everyone knew that wherever Baruch was, there you would find Chaim as well. Their friendship continued through their adolescence and well into their early adulthood.

"Chaim married a young woman from a distant town to the east, and Baruch married a woman from a distant town to the west. As was the custom, they moved to live with the wife's family, and for the first time in their lives, they were separated. They pledged to remain in close contact and continue their friendship unto eternity. Initially, they exchanged letters frequently, but as time passed and their families grew and there were so many distractions, the communication began to wane until it ultimately stopped completely.

"Chaim and Baruch each went into business and prospered, but life is often a cycle, and as the wheel turns, what was once at the top is later at the bottom, and this is what happened to Baruch. His business failed and he was penniless. Remembering that he had a devoted childhood friend, he felt that perhaps Chaim would come to his aid. He borrowed money for the trip and travelled to Chaim's town. Upon seeing Baruch, Chaim embraced him with tears of love, and the two sat and reminisced for hours. Baruch finally told Chaim of the misfortune that had befallen him, whereupon Chaim called in his bookkeeper and asked him to calculate the value of all his assets. Once he received the figure, he promptly wrote out a cheque, giving half of everything he owned to Baruch, who thanked him profusely and returned home.

"With the capital to invest, Baruch started a new business and prospered. But lo and behold, Baruch's mazal ascended....but Chaim's mazel descended, so that now Baruch was wealthy and Chaim was impoverished.

Remembering their devotion to one another, Chaim came to Baruch for help. How utterly disappointed he was when Baruch said "Chaim, I would love to help you, but the pattern is clear: it is not destined for both of us to prosper at one time. If one of us succeeds, the other will fail. If I put you back into business and you prosper, I know that I will lose everything. I realize that out of our deep friendship I should make this sacrifice, but while I may waive my own welfare, I do not have the right to sacrifice the welfare of my large family, my children and grandchildren who are dependent on me for their livelihood." Chaim returned home empty-handed and broken hearted.

"Years passed by, and both Baruch and Chaim went to the eternal world. When they appeared before the Heavenly Tribunal, Chaim was awarded Paradise for his loyalty and generosity to Baruch, whereas Baruch was condemned to Gehinnom for turning his back on his friend in his time of need. Chaim then said "How can I enjoy Gan Eden when I know that the friend of my youth is suffering the torments of Gehinnom? True, Baruch was unable to withstand the test to which he was put, and he put his self-interest first, but that is no reason to condemn him to Gehinnom. I will not enter Gan Eden unless Chaim can accompany me."

"The Heavenly Tribunal said that this was out of the question, that behaviour as outrageous as Baruch's rejection of Chaim's plea for help could not go unpunished, but Chaim was adamant. He would not enter Gan Eden if Baruch was doomed to Gehinnom."

At this point the Baal Shem Tov said to the man "Now listen carefully and look me in the eye."

The Besht continued: "The Heavenly Tribunal debated over the situation and came up with a solution for this dilemma. Both Chaim and Baruch would be sent down to Earth for another life span. Baruch will be wealthy and Chaim will be poor. If Baruch will help Chaim in this renewed existence, Baruch will have rectified his wrongdoing and redeemed himself, and will be permitted to join Chaim in Gan Eden.

"And so it came to be", the Besht continued. "The souls of the two came down to Earth again, and the person having Baruch's soul became wealthy, while the person bearing Chaim's soul was poor, a beggar who survived on alms. The beggar would keep only pennies for himself and gave everything he collected to his wife and small children.

"One day the beggar, making his rounds from village to village, came to the town where the wealthy man lived. He was tired and hungry, and did not feel that he had the strength to continue. Perhaps someone would be generous enough to give him an adequate sum. so that he could rest a bit and restore his failing strength. Winter was approaching, the children would need shoes and warm clothes, and they would need firewood to keep their house warm and dry. If he could only speak to a wealthy man in person and explain his plight, perhaps he could prevail upon him for a sum which would meet his family's many needs.

"The beggar knocked on the door of the wealthy man, and was met by the butler, who gave him the usual dole of a few pennies. "Please let me talk for just a few moments with your master" he said. The butler explained that this was impossible, since his master was occupied with important business dealings. The beggar began to cry "Ask your master to have mercy and spare me just a few minutes of his time to listen to me."

"The wealthy man, hearing the commotion, asked the butler what the problem was, and he explained that there was a stubborn beggar who would not accept the alms he gave him and was insisting on meeting with the master personally. The wealthy man became angry. "These beggars are a thankless lot! The audacity they have. If he refuses to leave, throw him out!" The butler did as he was told, and threw the beggar down the stairs. Exhausted, hungry and depressed, the beggar breathed his last and expired."

As the Baal Shem Tov said these last words, the visitor took hold of his head with his hands and exclaimed "Ribbono Shel Olam! This is what happened to me! Just last week a pesky beggar refused to take what my butler gave him and I had him thrown out, and he died right in front of my house! But how was I to know that I was being put to the test? It is common for many beggars to be dissatisfied with what they receive and they ask for more. I did not mean to be the cause of his death! What can I do to redeem myself now?"

The Besht said: "The Divine system of justice is perfect. You were given the opportunity to rectify what you had done wrong in a previous existence. Had your riches not hardened your heart, you would have listened to the beggar, and perhaps the relationship of your two souls would have resulted in him impressing you with his needs, and you would have responded appropriately, thus correcting the previous mistake.

"Now, you still have an opportunity to redeem yourself. You must leave for yourself only enough to meet the necessities of life for yourself and your family, and you must take all the rest of your wealth and give it to the widow and orphans of the beggar. I know that this is a major sacrifice, but this is the only way you will know peace both in this world and in the World to Come."

Today we do not have a Baal Shem Tov who can see both the past and into the future, but we must know that the Divine system of justice prevails and that nothing happens by chance. If we will live our lives as the Torah requires of us and trust in G-d, we will achieve that which is true and just.

Source: "Not Just Stories" - Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski MD

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