The Golden Mountain, by Meyer Levin, , at sacred-texts.com
Once when he was riding on a journey, Rabbi Israel passed a certain tavern. Although the sun was still strong in the sky, the Baal Shem Tov said, "We will stop at this place tonight."
The horses were turned around, the wagon drove into the spacious yard, the Master descended and went straight into the house.
It looked to be a prosperous inn serving the village of a generous paritz whose lands were fat and whose peasants drank well.
"Let us enter," said Rabbi Israel, and his students followed him.
In the first room they saw a long table on which there stood a great many bottles of fine wine. No one was in the room.
"It smells of a feast," said Reb Wolf.
"We are just in time to celebrate a circumcision," said the Master.
They went into the next room. There they saw another table, covered by a fine white cloth, and on this table were plates of roasted chicken, cakes, and all sorts of delicacies. On a wide chair behind the table lay an embroidered coverlet, and linen ready for the circumcision. And there was no one in this room.
In the third room they found the inn-keeper, sitting beside a small coffin.
The inn-keeper sat with his head bowed in his great thick hands. He stared into the tiny coffin. The coffin was empty.
The Baal Shem Tov said, "It seems you are preparing a feast for tonight, my friend."
The inn-keeper sighed.
"Is the child your son?" said the Baal Shem Tov. The inn-keeper heavily nodded his head.
"Your only son?"
"My third son, and yet my only son," said the innkeeper. "And with this one it will be as with the others."
"But this is a feast-day for you!" said the Baal Shem Tov. "You should be merry! Let me help at the circumcision, let me be the one to hold the child on my arms while it is offered for the rite."
"Willingly, master!" said the inn-keeper, for he saw that he spoke to a holy man. "It will be a great honour," he said. But his voice was without joy.
He looked into the coffin, and said, "Twice before, I have had a son born to me. And each time, on the night of the circumcision, we found the child dead. With this one it will be as with the others."
"Have you any enemies?" asked the Master.
"They are all good people about here," said the inn-keeper.
"Do you owe your paritz money?"
"The paritz is a fine nobleman, and very generous. Each time I have a briss, he sends me bottles of rare wine out of his own cellars, and he himself comes to the feast and watches the circumcision. See, today he has already sent many bottles of excellent wine. No, I
have no enemies. If only I could have a son who would live, I would be very happy."
"Do not hold the circumcision tonight," said the Baal Shem Tov, "but tomorrow night. Now take me to see your son."
The landlord led the Master up a stairway and through a hall until they came before a heavily bolted door. The inn-keeper unfastened the three great locks that were on the door, and opened the portal. The room was dark. In the centre of the darkness they saw the shape of a little old grandmother sitting rocking a wooden cradle. When she heard the people coming into the room she spread her arms frightened over the cradle.
"I have brought a holy man," said the inn-keeper. At this the grandmother arose, allowing them to approach the child.
The face of the child was covered with a prayer-shawl.
"Why is the face of the child hidden?" said the Baal Shem Tov.
"That no evil eye may fall upon it," said the inn-, keeper. Then he lifted away the talith, and in the light that streamed through the cracks of the wall they saw the face of a beautiful child.
"He will be a learned rabbi," said the Master.
The hands of the inn-keeper trembled, and he said, "May God grant that it be so."
Then Rabbi Israel said to him, "I will tell you what to do, and you must do everything exactly as I say. Take the talith from the face of the child, though you may leave it over his breast. Take away the darkness. Put candles in the room, and keep them lighted.
[paragraph continues] Then call two young students of the Torah, and set them to watch here by your son throughout the entire night. They must watch that the candles are not extinguished. Let the students take a sack, and hang the sack with its mouth open behind the head of the child. If anything falls into the sack, they must close and bind it quickly. One of them will watch the sack, and the other will run and call me."
As the Master ordered, so everything was done. The circumcision was put off until the next day. Soon night came, and all those in the tavern went to sleep. Only, in the room where the child slept many candles burned, and two scholars sat by the cradle, studying the Torah.
Many hours passed. It was deep in the night.
Then a wind seemed to come from all around them creeping through the crevices in the walls. It made no sound, but it came into the room from all sides, chill as a moonlit stone, and the room became cold and clammy as the inside of a cave. The lights sank fainting, the flames fell and struggled to rise, and fell, and grew ghostly pale. The two students leaped up and hovered over the cradle. With their hands they shielded the two candles that burned by the head of the child. And the face of the infant boy shone steadily with beauty and with wisdom.
The students, bent anxiously over the cradle of the child, did not notice that a cat had come into the room. Silent, smooth as the wind it glided about the wall. Its eyes were white, glassy, chill as ice, yet as smoke rises from ice, so lines of blue fire flowed from the eyes of the cat.
The eyes shone whiter than the flames of the candles,
but they were not as white as the radiant face of the sleeping infant who was already filled with the light of coming wisdom and holiness.
The cat crept all around the room, turning always nearer to the child in the cradle, and its twisted way was as the path of a wind on sand. Then it came near to the cradle, behind the cradle it stood crouched ready to spring.
Its glossy sides sank and widened with its breathing; otherwise the cat was motionless.
Cold fire came out of its eyes.
The flames of the candles shrank low like backs beaten under whips.
The cat sprang.
But when its eyes encountered the light on the face of the sleeping child, it was as if the cat had been stricken backward in midair, it fell heavily into the open sack.
The students started at the thud. Instantly they remembered the command of the Master. One of them seized the mouth of the sack, twisted it tight and tied it close. The other ran and called the Baal Shem Tov.
The cat rolled and struggled and clawed in the sack. Again and again it leaped upward and fell back. Winds whirled in the room. The candle-lights were whipped high one instant, and shrank quivering the next.
But when the Baal Shem Tov came into the chamber the lights rose and flamed steadily. The cat ceased to jump upward, and lay in a jerking heap at the bottom of the bag.
The Baal Shem Tov felt the sack, and he began to laugh softly. "Bring me a stick," he said.
Click to enlarge
They ran and brought him his heavy stick. Then he took the stick and began to beat the cat in the bag. The cat howled, and the Baal Shem laughed, and danced with the stick, and belaboured the sack with all his might.
The inn-keeper came running.
"Here, dance a little at your son's feast!" said the Baal Shem Tov, and he handed the stick to the innkeeper, and the inn-keeper went at the sack and beat it with all his might.
What was in the sack ceased to jump and to struggle; it lay still.
The Baal Shem Tov said, "Open the window."
Then he unbound the sack, and he went to the window and shook out the sack, and they all heard the cat fall to the ground. It crept away on its belly.
The next day the inn-keeper made a greater feast than he had ever made before. He celebrated the circumcision of his son. Musicians came, and all the Jewish families from miles around came to be joyous over the circumcision, and the peasants came and drank and sang and danced.
The Baal Shem Tov held the child on his arms, and the child was circumcised.
But in the midst of the festival, the inn-keeper said, "It is strange that the paritz has not come to the tavern. Every other time, he came himself to wish the child good luck."
Then Yashka, a peasant who worked in the house of the paritz, said, "The paritz is sick today."
The Baal Shem Tov laughed softly, but the innkeeper did not notice his laughter. The inn-keeper
said to his wife, "We will send a honeycake to the paritz, and tell him of the briss of our son."
So they took a large honeycake and wrapped it in fine white cloth. The Baal Shem Tov said to the innkeeper, "Do me a favour. Let me carry the cake to the paritz."
"With the best of my heart," said the inn-keeper, and he gave the present to the Master.
The Master went with the cake and came to the great dwelling of the paritz. He was led into a spacious hall; raised at one end of the hall was a carven bed, and on the bed lay the paritz. His arms were all covered with bandages, and the flesh of his face was blue.
"I have brought you a honeycake, your excellency," said the Baal Shem Tov, and he came to the side of the bed.
Then they looked into each other's eyes. The eyes of the paritz became white and cold and glinted like pieces of ice. Rabbi Israel laughed a low soft laugh.
Then the paritz said, "Well, you gave me a good beating."
Rabbi Israel became stern, and said, "The innkeeper is an honest man and serves you well. You have no right to persecute him."
"He is a Jew," said the paritz.
"From now on," declared the Baal Shem Tov, "know that he is protected by a power greater than your power!"
"Your magic can never be as potent as my sorcery!" cried the paritz. "Last night you caught me unawares. Come into open strife with me! Come to a test of strength, and I will show you who is more powerful!"
"If I defeat you," said the Baal Shem Tov, "you will put aside your sorcery forever, you will hold no more traffic with demons, you will stay locked in your own place and leave my people in peace."
"If I defeat you," said the paritz, "I will destroy you altogether!"
Then the Baal Shem Tov said, "I shall go now. In a month's time you will be well, then I shall return, and hold a contest with you."
When a month had passed, Rabbi Israel, accompanied by nine of his students, came to the castle of the paritz.
"I am ready," said Rabbi Israel.
Then the paritz ordered that his courtyard be pre pared for the terrible contest. A great platform was built for him, and upon the platform a huge furnace was constructed, and all of his dark engines of destruction were set around the furnace.
"Now make your preparations," said the paritz to Rabbi Israel.
But the Baal Shem Tov needed no engines of destruction. "I will stand on the naked earth," he said. And he chose a spot for himself, facing the platform of the sorcerer. He made a great circle upon the earth. Within that circle he traced a smaller circle. And within the smaller circle he stationed himself, while his students stood around him.
All of the peasants from the countryside, for a distance of many miles, came to see the Jew who would stand against the paritz. The courtyard was filled with peasants, and the roofs of the houses of the village were covered with people.
But the few Jews who lived in that place closed
themselves in their huts, and shrank against the walls, and prayed.
Then the paritz began his terrible works of wonder. He brewed a powerful fire within his furnace. And when the fire flared so hot and fierce that no man could approach within his own length of the furnace, the paritz himself went up and flung open the furnace door.
Out of the flames there charged wild beasts, lions and tigers without number! They leaped from the fire, springing to the very edge of the circle that the Master had made on the ground. And they prowled all around the edge of the circle, snarling, and tearing the earth with their claws.
But the Baal Shem Tov called out a tiny prayer, and the beasts shrank as from the onslaught of slashing swords.
Then the paritz conjured out of the air a second charge of beasts whose bodies were covered with iron scales and whose heads were armed on all sides with tusks of steel. And these beasts flew against the circle made by the Master. The outer circle wavered and bent.
"Quick, repeat the prayer!" said the Baal Shem Tov to his students.
With one voice they repeated the call.
At the same moment, Rabbi Israel made a cabbalistic sign upon the beasts. Then the circles he had made did not break, but became as a pair of immense and powerful jaws that seized the charging beasts and crushed them into nothingness.
But the paritz laughed and said, "I have only begun!"
He called up a third army of beasts more horrible than the second; and he called up a fourth army; wave upon wave his horrors came and charged upon the circle of the Master, they snarled, they roared, they tore the ground until clods flew all about the heads of the Baal Shem Tov and his students, they stamped and bellowed and raged, they vanished and came in renewed numbers, but they did not pierce the circle.
Night came. But the paritz said, "I have not finished."
He called upon the beasts of the night.
Then the forest was pierced with white staring glassy eyes that floated low and high, the forest was filled with chill clammy winds, with shrill long whistling sounds; from under the earth came groanings, and the ground heaved as when innumerable dead strive to break out from their graves; and all the air resounded with the clanking of loose bones.
The Baal Shem Tov called out a Name, and all was still, and day came.
On the second day and the second night the sorcerer continued his battle, but his forces were of no avail, and on the third day he began to feel his weariness; his strength was going from him, while he saw that the Baal Shem Tov and his nine students remained standing sturdy and untouched.
Then the paritz resolved to bring up the most foul and terrible, the last of his powers in an attempt to overcome the Rabbi.
The paritz went up to his furnace, and opened the fiery door. "Bring logs!" he called. And the peasants brought great logs, and filled the furnace to its utmost,
and the blast of its furious heat was so great that the onlookers fled from the courtyard.
And when the fire had reached the topmost pitch of violence, the paritz himself walked into the midst of the flames. There he summoned Satan to him. And the two demons of evil stood in the flames, and laid all their powers together for a supreme assault that would consume the Master.
At last their forces were in readiness. The sorcerer came out of the furnace. He seized a living swine, and opened its belly, and hurled the entrails upon the ground.
Then the earth broke open into a black gap that was filled with crawling things, that was like a festered wound. And out of that hole there heaved a swarm of wild swine. Endless as the waves of the sea they came in numbers spewed upward from that hole, and out of the maw of each boar there hissed a charge of fire.
Enraged they burst against the circle of the Master. They broke the first ring, their fire burned the earth, they swarmed all around the Master and his nine students who clustered within their last retreat. Then the beasts attacked that last circle made by the Master. Their flames ate at its borders, and its borders gaped with holes.
The Master raised high his arms. His students separated from about him, they stood back and looked upon his face, and they saw that his face was charged with the terrible light of heaven. His face was bathed in pure white fire that was stronger and more consuming than all the fire of all the armies of evil.
Then the Master opened his mouth to utter the Holy Name, and as his mouth formed the Word, and
the Word went forth, the evil fire dried in the maws of the beasts, their bodies faded to nothingness, the wound in the earth closed and was healed, and the forest was transformed with peace.
Then the paritz came down from his place. He fell on his knees outside the circle of the Master, and he said, "Your power is greater than mine. Look on me, and annihilate me with a glance of your eye."
But the Baal Shem Tov said, "I will not destroy you." And he commanded, "Stand up."
The paritz arose.
"Lift your eyes," said the Baal Shem Tov.
The paritz lifted his eyes to the sky.
Then all who were assembled there saw two eagles come swiftly flying; the birds swooped downward, they came directly over the head of the sorcerer, then each bird reached with his beak, and so the two eagles took out the two evil eyes of the paritz.