The Golden Mountain, by Meyer Levin, , at sacred-texts.com
Soon the whole world knew of the wisdom and power of the Baal Shem Tov. From all corners of the Carpathians, followers came to him. Often he went on journeys to far places to which the Will had called him.
Once on a Wednesday night Rabbi Israel arose and said, "I must go away for the Sabbath." He went into the barn and harnessed his horse.
Several of his followers sprang after him and begged that he take them with him. But he allowed only a few of them to come into his wagon.
"Where will we hold Sabbath?" they said.
"In Berlin, in the house of a wealthy Jew."
Though they knew that with swiftest horses it took more than a week to reach Berlin, they did not question the Rabbi, for the Master was not confined in the bonds of time or of space.
The Baal Shem let his little horse walk slowly along a byway all that evening, and at midnight the wagon stopped before a tavern.
"Let us stay here tonight," said Rabbi Israel.
The tavern-keeper welcomed them into his house, for he saw that they were holy men.
"Perhaps you will honour my house, and remain over Sabbath?" he said.
But Rabbi Israel answered, "We must hold Sabbath in Berlin."
The inn-keeper looked at him, and did not understand. The Rabbi said, "On Sabbath eve there is to
be a wedding in the house of a wealthy Jew of Berlin, and I must be at the wedding in order to read the service, and bless the bride."
"You must have a wonderful horse," said the tavern-keeper, smiling.
"My little horse will get me there in time," said Rabbi Israel.
"In time for the Sabbath after this one," answered the inn-keeper, laughing. "Why, Berlin is farther than a hundred miles away. If you were to travel day and night, sparing neither man nor beast, you might arrive in time for the Sabbath after this one."
But his words did not trouble the Baal Shem Tov. Rabbi Israel turned to his followers and said, "You are tired. Let us go to sleep."
The tavern-keeper could not sleep that night. He lay awake wondering how the Rabbi would reach Berlin before the Sabbath fell. "This is Wednesday night," he said. "Tomorrow is a day, and Friday is only part of a day. No, I cannot understand it!" At last he said to himself, "I will tell him I have things to attend to in Berlin, and ask him to take me there."
When the Baal Shem Tov arose in the morning, the tavern-keeper ran to him saying, "Shall I harness the horse, Rabbi?"
"Not yet," said the Baal Shem Tov. "First we will pray. And after that, we will eat our breakfast."
"Rabbi," said the inn-keeper, "I have business to do in Berlin. Take me there with you!"
"When we start, come with us in our wagon," said Rabbi Israel.
The Master and his followers said the morning prayers, and after that they sat down around the table. They ate without haste, and while they ate they discussed the Torah. A problem of judgement arose, and they sat a long time discussing the problem.
Meanwhile the inn-keeper ran and dressed himself for the journey. When he was ready, he looked into the room where the Master sat with his students, and he saw them still absorbed in their discussions.
"Half the day is gone already!" thought the inn-keeper.
He heard Rabbi Israel's words. "Of every good deed we do, a good angel is born. Of every bad deed, a bad angel is born. In all the deeds of our daily life we serve God as directly as though our deeds were prayers. When we eat, when we work, when we sing, when we wash ourselves, we are praying to God.
"Therefore we should live constantly in highest joy, for everything that we do is an offer to God.
"And of those things that we do badly, work that we leave half finished, or thoughts that we leave uncompleted, malformed angels are born. Angels without heads, angels with no eyes, angels without arms, without hair, without feet. Therefore no deed should be left unfinished."
The inn-keeper thought, "If that is the way he travels to Berlin, the angel born of his ride will have perhaps the beginning of a toe, and nothing else."
But the rabbi and his students remained around the table, talking.
"I will tell you the story of a king," said the Baal Shem Tov. "There was a very wise king who had built for himself a strange and wonderful palace. In
the centre of the palace was a room in which stood the throne. Only one door led into this room. All through the palace were passageways and halls and corridors that turned and twisted about and led in every direction, there were endless walls without openings, and there were more corridors and more passageways.
"When the palace stood finished, the King sent an order to all of his lords commanding them to come before him. He sat on his throne and waited.
"The lords came to the outside of the Palace, and stared in wonder at the confusion of corridors. They said, 'There is no way to come to the King!'"
"But the Prince threw open the door saying, 'Here he sits before you! All ways lead to the King!'"
Then Rabbi Israel added, "So we may find God."
In the afternoon, the Baal Shem Tov called the tavern-keeper.
"I will harness the horse at once!" said the tavern-keeper.
"No, not yet. First, we will eat the evening meal." Then the Rabbi and his students sat down again, and ate largely and well.
As evening came, the rabbi himself went to the barn and harnessed the horse to the wagon. "Now we will go," he said.
The inn-keeper got into the wagon with them.
"At last I will see what manner of horse he has here," he thought. And he bound his cloth around his throat, for he thought, "A great wind will come because of our swift riding."
The little horse began to walk. At first, the tavern-keeper
saw, they were going along the same road on which his tavern stood. Every house along the way he knew, and every tree. But as the darkness grew like sleep around his eyes, he was no longer sure where he rode. First, there seemed to be no more houses. Then there seemed to be no more people. And at last, there seemed to be no more trees. He was awake, he listened, and yet he could not distinguish the hoofbeats of the horse. The wagon moved silently through the darkness, smoothly as if floating on a surface of glass. The air was tender about his face, and there was a sweet odour in his nostrils.
He thought to himself, "Perhaps I am not here at all!"
Then he felt the chassid who sat next to him, in order to make sure that this was no vision.
"Where are we going?" he said.
"We are going to Berlin."
"But I do not recognize the road!"
The Baal Shem Tov said, "This is a short way."
All night long they rode, and the tavern-keeper saw no light of habitation, saw nothing but the stars in the velvet sky, and heard nothing but the voices of the chassidim as they talked of things in the Torah.
The Rabbi himself spoke of many wonderful things. He spoke of the prophet Elijah, who wanders about the world, and of how at the time of Redemption he would bring down Messiah, and then at last the Shechina, the Glory of the Living God, will cease her wandering, and unite again with Him.
"No man can hasten the coming of that day," said
the Master of the Word. "Even the mightiest of Words cannot bring down that day, as long as evil is among us."
Towards dawn, the inn-keeper began again to hear the hoofbeats of the horse. Then he felt the wagon jolting on a road. He saw trees, he saw houses. He saw that they were near a great city. And when they rode into the city, he saw that it was Berlin.
The tavern-keeper remembered that the Baal Shem Tov had said he was going to the house of a wealthy Jew to perform a wedding service. But now instead of driving to the street on which stood the houses of the rich, the Rabbi stopped before a humble guesthouse and went in there with his students, and they said their morning prayers, and sat themselves down at the table.
The tavern-keeper wandered out into the streets. He was restless, and filled with the news of the marvellous ride he had taken, and he wanted to find someone to tell of the great wonder.
He came to the street of rich houses. Each house was a veritable palace. And one of these houses, he saw, was festooned as for a great feast. As the tavern-keeper stood before this house, the door opened and a young man came running out of it. Though he ran in great haste, he did not seem to know where to go, but turned first one way and then the other way. His face was terribly wrought in grief.
The tavern-keeper saw that the young man was wearing Sabbath clothes and new shoes. "He is certainly the bridegroom," he thought.
The bridegroom ran up to the tavern-keeper and said, "Where is there a doctor?"
The tavern-keeper seized his arm and cried, "Come, I know of a rabbi who works wonders!"
But the bridegroom stood still, repeating to himself. "Of what use will it be? She is dead."
The tavern-keeper could not contain himself, and cried, "The rabbi can do all things! He came a hundred miles in one night, to perform a wedding in Berlin!"
The bridegroom said, "The bride is dead."
The tavern-keeper said, "His powers are so great, he can surely raise people from the dead! Come, I will take you to him!" The bridegroom put out his hand, and the inn-keeper led him to the Baal Shem Tov.
"Tell me what has happened," said the Master.
"Today, I was to have been married," said the man. "Last night there was a great festival in the house of the bride. All through the feast, she was joyous, she danced, she was the happiest of all the people in the house. We danced together at our wedding feast. Then she went up to her room and slept. And this morning when she awoke and tried to rise, she fell to the ground, dead."
"Take me to the house," said the Baal Shem Tov.
They came to the beautiful house that was festooned for the wedding. They went through the ballroom where the feast had been held, they went up the stairway and came into the maiden's bedroom. There, dressed in a long white robe, lay the body of the bride. Beside her on the bed lay the wedding-dress that she had begun to put upon herself.
The Baal Shem leaned over, and looked into the
face of the girl. Then he said to the women who were in the room, "Dress her in her shroud." And he said to the men, "Dig a grave for her in the cemetery." And he said to the groom, "I will go with you to bury the bride. But you must do everything exactly as I order. Take her wedding-dress and her ornaments and her wedding-shoes, and bring them to the grave."
Then the women dressed the maiden for the grave. And when she was ready to be buried, they put her in a coffin. The bridegroom took her wedding-dress in his hands, and carried it with him as he walked beside the coffin.
Two grave-diggers had already made a hole in the earth. They straightened their backs, and prepared to climb out of the hole.
But the Baal Shem Tov called down to them, "Remain there, and do as I say. Let one of you stand at her head, and the other stand at her feet. Do not take your eyes from the face of the girl. And if a change comes over the face of the girl, I will give you a sign. Then lift her, and help her to rise."
They took the maiden as she lay in her shroud, and they put her down into the earth. They drew the cover away from her face, that the living might look the last time upon her. Her face was white as her shroud.
They did not throw earth over her body.
The Baal Shem Tov took his stick and leaned upon it, leaning over the open grave. His eyes looked into the face of the dead maiden. And all those who were there looked first at the face of the corpse, and then
at the living face of the Baal Shem Tov. And as they watched his face, they saw that he had gone into another world. As they looked into his eyes, they could almost see what he saw in the other world. They knew that the Power was come over him, and that he was no longer among them. They saw his mouth move, and heard him speak words made of sounds they had never heard before. And none who were there by the grave could ever remember the Words that he had uttered.
Only the bridegroom kept his eyes upon the face of his beloved.
And after a long while, a shiver coursed through his back. For it seemed to him that he had seen a tinge of colour, delicate as the brush of an eyelid, pass upon her cheek.
In that same moment the Baal Shem Tov trembled with mighty force, as a man trembles who clutches with all his strength to hold back the wheels of a wagon that would break away and rush downhill. Then Rabbi Israel straightened himself, and breathed freely. He made a sign to the two men, and they lifted the girl out of the grave. Her eyes were open. She looked to her bridegroom, and smiled.
"Dress her in her wedding clothes, and take her under the canopy," said the Baal Shem Tov. "All that has happened, forget."
With these words, Rabbi Israel started to walk away. But the groom ran after him and begged him to be the one to say the wedding service.
For the wedding, the feast was prepared, greater than ever before. And the joy in that house was
unbounded, for the bride had returned from the dead.
Only, all day long, when they asked of her, "What happened over there?" she became confused, and answered in a bewildered way, "I do not know. I do not know who he was!"
When the couple stood under the wedding canopy, and the Baal Shem Tov began to read the wedding service, the bride started joyfully and cried out, "It is he!"
Rabbi Israel whispered to her, "Be still!" and he finished the service.
But when the blessing was over the bride could no longer contain her secret. She would not let the Rabbi go away. "It was he who brought me back from over there!" she said. "I know him by his voice!"
Then, as they sat to eat the wedding meal, the bride told of all that had happened.
The groom had been married once before. His first wife had been the aunt of this maiden, who was an orphan. The girl had lived happily in their house.
When the wife became sick, and knew that she was about to die, she called the girl to her bedside and said, "Promise me that you will never marry my husband. Otherwise, I cannot die in peace."
The maiden was afraid to make the promise, for she already felt stirring within her the love for her future groom. But because she could not deny the wish of the dying woman, she gave the promise that was asked of her.
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THE BRIDE IN HER GRAVE
Then the woman called her young husband to her bedside and said, "I cannot die peacefully unless you promise never to marry my niece." In order that she might die peacefully, he gave her his hand and his word.
But after the dead woman was taken from the house, the man and the girl were left there together. Each day, they knew their love to be stronger. At last they could no longer restrain their love, and they agreed to marry each other.
On the morning of the wedding day, as the maiden arose to put on her wedding garments, the angry soul of the dead woman came into the house. She seized the soul of the girl, crying, "You have broken your sacred promise! Come with me!"
And before the Almighty she demanded the death of the bride.
As the bride was placed in her grave, her soul went up for judgement. The souls of the two women stood for judgement together. The soul of the first wife cried, "She has taken my beloved from me!"
And the soul of the maiden cried, "She has taken me from my beloved!"
At that moment, the Baal Shem Tov came up to the court of judgement. He placed himself between the two souls. "The dead have no right on earth!" he declared. "The right is with the living!"
He seized the soul of the girl, and drew it away from the soul of the dead woman. "The bride and groom are not guilty of wrong," he said. "The promise that they made was given against their wills. Their promise was made only to give peace to the soul of the dying woman. And now she must leave them in peace!"
The words of Rabbi Israel were judged to be right. And pronouncement was made, "Let the maiden's soul return to her body."
But the dead woman would not free the soul of the girl. She clung to the girl's soul with all her might.
"Let her go!" cried the Baal Shem Tov. And then he drew all his strength together and wrenched the soul of the maiden from the clutches of the dead woman's soul. "Let her go! Can't you see that the wedding canopy is waiting!"
That was when the bride returned to the living, and was taken out of her grave, and dressed in her wedding garments.