The Golden Mountain, by Meyer Levin, , at sacred-texts.com
In old Constantine there lived a cousin of the Baal Shem Tov whose name was Reb Shmerl. And Reb Shmerl was a sinner. He committed one sin after another. "What does it matter if I sin twice or sin twenty times?" he said. "At the end of the year I take all my sins and drag them down to the edge of the water. I throw them into the lake, and that is the end of them. And for the new year, I am a clean man."
So Reb Shmerl lived from year to year. And each year the sea became a little blacker, because of the sins he threw into it, and each year the bundle of sins that he brought down to the edge of the water was greater than that of the year before.
"The lake is close to my house!" he laughed. "I have not far to carry my sins! Let there be a few more in the bundle!"
But his wife said, "It is because of your sinning that God does not send us a son." His wife was a holy woman, a Tsadeket.
Reb Shmerl said, "Do you really think that is so?"
And she said, "Yes."
Then he said, "Well, perhaps it is really so." And he thought no more about it.
And that same year, he committed a sin that was uglier than all the sins he had ever made. This sin was huge and shapeless, it was like a great sponge oozing and dripping with mud. He could hardly find
a place to hide it until the end of the year, when he would throw it into the lake. He put it into the basement of his house. But there, the sin seemed to grow larger, to expand, until the basement was not high enough to hold it, and the mud of the sin began to squeeze itself through all the cracks and to ooze into the rooms of the house, and to fill every corner of the house with its damp crawly smell. At last, New Year's day came. Reb Shmerl took hold of the sin in both his arms, and by pulling with all his might managed to squeeze it through the door of the house. He got it out of the house, then he pushed and rolled it down to the lake.
"There!" he said as it sank into the water. "I'm rid of that!"
The sea was angrier than ever. It hissed and shook itself and heaved itself upward trying to hurl the sin back to the shore. Yet all of its rebellion was of no use, for it had been ordained when the waters were created that on New Year's they had to receive into themselves all of the sins of men, and cleanse them. So at last the lake became quiet, and set to work to cleanse the sin. But the deed of Reb Shmerl was not forgotten; the waters waited for vengeance.
Reb Shmerl saw that his hair was becoming grey, and his wife had passed her best years, and still they had no children. At last he said:
"I will go to my cousin Rabbi Israel. They say he performs wonders for every stranger that comes to his door. As for me, I am a member of his family!"
He came to the Baal Shem Tov in Medzibuz and he said, "Cousin, I am growing old, and I would like to have a son to live after me."
Rabbi Israel talked with him for a while, and remembered Shmerl's wife, the holy Tsadeket. At last the Master said, "Go home. I can only promise you that you will have a son."
"But what more did I ask!" said Reb Shmerl; and he began to dance with delight, but the Baal Shem shook his head.
The Baal Shem Tov's promise was fulfilled. Before the year was over, Shmerl's wife gave birth to a strong and beautiful boy. The father was so proud that he said, "I will go at once on another journey to Rabbi Israel, and thank him for what he has done for us."
Then he came again to Medzibuz, and entered the cottage where the Master sat studying. The Master looked up at him, and the Master's eyes were filled with deep compassionate sorrow. When Reb Shmerl looked into the eyes of Rabbi Israel, all his joyous words faded from his lips. He did not know why, but he wanted to weep. Suddenly he was crying like a child.
Then the Baal Shem Tov said to him, "Your son will grow into a strong and happy boy. But on his thirteenth birthday he will go into the water and drown."
Reb Shmerl cried like a woman. He fell on his knees to Rabbi Israel and begged, "Help me."
Everyone knows that the Baal Shem Tov was not fond of weeping. But he remembered that the man's wife was a Tsadeket. Now he lifted up his cousin and said, "The sea is angry with you because of that terrible black sin that you threw into it. There is only one way to save your son. On his thirteenth birthday, he must be kept away from the water."
Reb Shmerl thanked him with all his heart. Reb
[paragraph continues] Shmerl was filled with joy, his tears were forgotten. "That is not difficult at all!" he said. "On his thirteenth birthday, I will keep him away from the water!"
And he was ready to run off on his way back home.
But Rabbi Israel called to him and said, "Do not think it is so easy to remember. You will surely forget the danger that awaits your only son!"
Reb Shmerl said, "How could I forget!"
But the Baal Shem Tov, who saw even then how it would be with Reb Shmerl, said, "Before you go, I will give you a sign that will help you to remember the day. When you awaken on that day, you'll begin to dress yourself, and you'll draw two stockings onto the left foot, and then hunt everywhere for the stocking for your right foot. Warn your household that on the day you cannot find your stocking, something terrible will happen."
Reb Shmerl thanked him, and returned to Constantine. And he thought, "What a foolish thing the Rabbi said about the stockings!" So he didn't tell anyone about it.
The boy grew. He was stronger than any of the other boys in old Constantine. He could run faster, and his eyes could see further, and his hands could move more quickly. As for learning, he had only to look upon a page, and he remembered it.
But most of all things, he loved to swim in the water. He would dive to the very bottom of the sea, and there he would swim around, seeking beautiful stones. These he would bring home to his mother.
He learned to stay under the water for many minutes.
[paragraph continues] The fishes would come in and out of his hands, playing with him.
As Reb Shmerl saw his son growing up so strong and big, he forgot all about the gloomy warning of the Baal Shem Tov. By the time thirteen years had passed he did not remember Rabbi Israel's prediction at all. And he prepared to celebrate the Bar Mitzveh of his only son with a great feast.
On the morning of the boy's thirteenth birthday, Reb Shmerl was awakened by the heat of the sun on his face. It was hotter than it had ever been before, he thought. He felt his whole body burning as if it were inside a furnace.
He began to dress himself.
He felt very uncomfortable. He felt he had not slept enough. He was angry because the sun had awakened him. And his head hurt with the heat.
He drew a stocking onto his left foot. And then he stopped to wipe the sweat from his body. And then, without looking what he was doing, he drew his other stocking onto his left foot. Then he looked for the stocking for his right foot, He looked among his clothes, and did not find it. He looked under the bed, and did not find it. He got up, and began to hop around the room, hunting for another stocking. He stumbled into the next room, and blundered all over the house, knocking over chairs, and hurting his knees, and falling, and balancing himself against the wall. And he muttered and cried with anger, because the day was very hot, and he could not find his other stocking.
He shouted and woke his wife.
"What is the matter?" she said.
"Where is my other stocking!" cried Reb Shmerl.
Then his wife arose, to see what was troubling him. He pointed to his leg, and muttered, "Someone has hidden my other stocking! I can't find my other stocking!"
The Tsadeket looked at her husband, and saw that he was wearing two stockings on one foot, for when he went jumping around his stockings had become loosened.
"Look, Shmerl!" she laughed, "you have them both on your left foot!"
He looked, and he saw. Then suddenly he remembered the words of Rabbi Israel. And he began to tremble. And he ran to the room where his son slept. The boy was not in his bed.
Reb Shmerl ran to the door. He looked through the doorway, and saw the boy already on his way to the lake.
Reb Shmerl shouted to his son, "Come back!"
But the boy answered, "It's hot! I want to swim in the water!"
"Come back!" cried the father.
But the boy would not come back.
Then, with one foot covered and the other foot bare, Reb Shmerl began to run after his son. The boy ran swiftly. The father saw him nearing the lake.
"Master, help me!" cried the father. And he named the name of Rabbi Israel.
Then the boy tripped over the root of an old tree. Before he could rise to his feet again, his father was at his side.
"Come home with me," said the father.
He led the boy to the house, and placed him in a room, and locked the door.
It became very hot. The boy cried, and beat on the door. "Let me go to the lake!" he screamed. "I want to go to the lake!"
But they would not open the door.
At last he begged them only to let him out of that room, because it was so very hot in there. But they would not let him out of the room. After that, he begged them to give him a pan of water with which to cool his body, but Reb Shmerl was afraid to give him even a glass of water to drink.
And after several hours the boy became worn out, and weak, and fell to the floor and slept.
Many people went to bathe themselves in the sea that morning. As the sun rose higher, the lake became filled with swimmers. They laughed, and sported in the cool water.
When the sun reached the middle of the sky, and blazed angrily down on the earth, then nearly every soul in old Constantine was bathing in the lake.
At exactly the hottest moment of noon a disturbance began in the water. Ripples grew in circles around a certain spot near the shore, as though a stone had been thrown into the water there. The ripples widened, and became a sworl. And out of the midst of the sworl, a hand appeared, reaching up from the water. Then a second hand appeared. The two hands rose upward, reaching. The full arms appeared, hairy with greenish seaweed. And after the arms came long floating seaweed hair. A head rose from the water, and a neck, and shoulder, and the upper part
of a body, all hairy with greenish seaweed. Then the head turned slowly from one side to another, and the arms reached outward, and the eyes looked into the faces of all the bathers.
The mouth moved. The voice was harsh and deep.
"One is missing!" it shouted angrily.
And the head sank back into the sea.
When the sun had gone down, and night had come, the parents opened the room where the boy lay worn out sleeping. They woke him, and gave him wine to drink and dainty things to eat, and they held the feast of his thirteenth birthday.