Sunday, July 24, 2005

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A Baal Shem Tov Story - Hassidic Joy

It's a custom to tell stories of tzaddikim (the righteous sages) during melava malka (the post-Shabbos meal). The custom among hassidim is to tell Baal Shem Tov stories, or stories of other rebbaim (grand rabbi's).

So, here is a Baal Shem Tov story. Many miraculous stories are told about the saintly Baal Shem Tov (literally the Master of the Good Name), who brought the path of hassidus, great insights into kabbalah, and hope to a generation of embattled Jews (teaching that every soul has a immeasurable and special value and every person should be treasured). Are all the miraculous stories the literal truth? Of course not. But could they be, with such a saintly man, literally yes...

The fervent singing and dancing of the Baal Shem Tov's disciples was frowned on by the drier, more conventional Torah scholars, who criticized what they perceived as his and his disciples' improper conduct. These critics once asked him why his disciples and followers were so excessively joyful and danced so frequently, seemingly at every opportunity. The Baal Shem Tov answered them with a parable, saying:

"Once, a skilled and talented fiddler stood in the street playing in an ecstasy of passion and feeling. A crowd gathered around him to listen, and they were so charmed by the beauty and sweetness of his music that they began to dance, lost to the world.

A deaf man happened to pass by, and unable to hear the ravishing music, he was utterly astonished by the bizarre scene before his eyes. Since he could not fathom why the people were dancing, he was certain that they were actually madmen!"

"That is the way it is with my disciples and followers," said the Baal Shem Tov. "They hear and see the song that emanates from each and every thing that G-d, blessed be He, has created. If so, how can they keep from dancing?"

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