The Golden Mountain, by Meyer Levin, , at sacred-texts.com
Then the Enemy, tormented as he saw Rabbi Israel doing good on earth, schemed to overcome the Master. He called all the angels of darkness into conclave about him and said, "This is my plan:
"I will station dark angels on all the roads that lead to heaven. And whenever and wherever a prayer rises seeking to go upward and enter the Gates of heaven, the dark angels will seize it and throttle it and prevent it from reaching the Gates. Those prayers that have already wandered many years in limbo, they as well as the new prayers shall be prevented from arriving. And thus, no prayers will come before the Throne.
"When many days shall have passed with not a single prayer attaining the Throne, I will go up to God and say to him, 'Look, how your people have deserted you. They no longer send prayers up to you. Even your favourite among the puppets, your devoted Rabbi Israel, has ceased to worship you. Take back your wisdom from Rabbi Israel, and deprive his people of your Torah!'"
This was the plan of Satan.
At once his ministers of evil crept out upon all the roads that led to heaven. No turning-point, no by-path was left unguarded. Silent, and invisible, they lay in wait. Before the Gates of heaven, a great army of them were in ambush. No prayer could pass.
As the prayers came upward, the angels seized them from behind, and leaped upon them, and throttled them. They could not kill the prayers, but flung them sidewards into chaos. All space was filled with the whimpering and moaning of wounded prayers that stumbled in search of their way.
But every Friday, the prayers came forward in such swarms that all the angels of evil were not numerous enough to stop them. Then many prayers escaped along the roads, and made their way to the Gates of heaven. But here, the army that lay in wait before the Gates of heaven stopped them, and did not allow them to enter.
Thus, weeks went by, and no prayers came up to the Throne.
Then Satan went to God and said, "Take away the Torah from the Jews."
God said, "Give them until the Day of Atonement."
But Satan was impatient. "Send out the command at once!" he said. "Though it be not done until the Day of Atonement."
God gave the terrible command.
Then, on earth, the Archbishop issued a proclamation to all his bishops. "In ten days' time," he said, "seize all of the Hebrew books of learning. Go among the Jews and take their Torah out of their synagogues and out of their houses. Heap the books into pyres, and burn them."
The Bishop of Kamenitz-Podolsky was the most zealous to follow the commands of the Archbishop. He sent his servants into all the houses of the Jews. The Bishop of Lemberg was also zealous. And all
of the bishops did as they had been commanded to do.
The tenth day would be the Day of Atonement. And on that day, in a thousand pyres lighted in every corner of the land, the Torah would burn.
When the Torah began to be taken from the Jews, the Baal Shem knew that Satan had done a terrible work. Yet he could not find out what strange evil the Enemy had done, and he did not know how to battle against him.
Each day, the suffering and the horror among the Jews became greater. As the Torah was wrenched from their arms, they wept and beat themselves as mothers whose babes are torn from their breasts. And they said, "On the Day of Atonement we will go into the flames with our Torah!"
Fasting, and sleepless, night and day the Baal Shem strove for his people. Day and night he sent mighty prayers heavenward, they rose colossal on powerful wings and shot upward with incredible speed. But the Enemy was on guard every instant in every crevice of the heavens, the Enemy himself caught the prayers of the Baal Shem, and threw them from their way.
The heart of the Baal Shem was become a gusty cave of grief.
At last came the Day of Atonement.
Rabbi Israel went into the synagogue to hold the prayer service. At his side stood Rabbi Yacob.
And all those who were in the synagogue saw the terrible fever of struggle that lay over the face of the Baal Shem Tov. Hope came into their bleak hearts. "He will save us today," they said.
When the moment came for the utterance of Kol Nidro, Rabbi Israel lifted his voice, his voice sang through the shreds of his torn heart; all who listened were frozen with sorrow.
In the service of the lamentations it was the custom for Rabbi Yacob to read each verse aloud, then Rabbi Israel would repeat the verse after him. And so they began the lamentations.
But when Rabbi Yacob read out the verse, "Open the Portals of Heaven!" there was no sound from Rabbi Israel. Rabbi Yacob waited. The synagogue quaked in a terrific silence. And Rabbi Israel remained silent. Rabbi Yacob repeated, "Open the Portals of Heaven!" But still the Master did not utter a word.
Then, in that fever of silence, Rabbi Israel threw himself upon the ground, and beat his head against the ground, and out of him there came a cry that was like the roar of a dying lion.
Rabbi Israel remained doubled upon the ground. His body quivered with the might of the struggle. For two hours he remained with his head bent upon the ground.
And those who were in the house of prayer could not take their eyes from him; they did not dare to approach him, but watched him, and were silent.
At last Rabbi Israel raised himself. His face was a face of wonders.
He said, "The Portals of Heaven are open!"
And thus he ended the service.
Long afterward, what he had done during the two hours when he lay with his head to the ground became known.
He had gone up to the Palace of the Eternal. He had gone up to the greatest of Gates, that stands over the road that leads directly to the Throne. There, huddled before the Gate, he had found hundreds and thousands of prayers. Some of them were maimed, some lay gasping as though they had just ended a terrible struggle, some were emaciated and old, some were blind through wandering in darkness.
"What are you waiting for!" asked the Baal Shem. "Why don't you go in, and approach the Throne of the Almighty?"
They said, "Until this moment, the angels of darkness were on guard, and would not let us approach the Gate. But as they saw you coming, they fled. Now we are waiting for your prayer, to take us within the Portals."
"I will take you in," said the Baal Shem Tov.
But just at the moment when he sought to pass through the Gate, the army of Evil ones who had rushed behind the Gate when they saw his approach pushed the Gate forward, and closed it. Then the Enemy himself came out. In his two hands he carried a lock. He hung the lock upon the great Portal.
The Gate is as big as the world. And the lock was as big as a city.
The Baal Shem went up to the lock and walked around it, seeking some crack through which he might enter, and through which he might lead the prayers. But the lock was of solid iron, and there was no crack anywhere.
The road to the throne was closed.
But the Baal Shem did not despair.
It is known that for each of us on earth there lives
a being in heaven. And that being is exactly as we are.
Into that nether region of heaven the way was open. Then Rabbi Israel went in there, and sought out his counterpart, who was the Rabbi Israel of heaven.
And Rabbi Israel of the earth said to him, "What shall I do, to bring the prayers before the Name?"
Rabbi Israel of heaven said, "There is only one thing to do. Let us go to the palace of Messiah."
They came to the palace where Messiah sits awaiting the day when he may go down to earth.
And as soon as the Baal Shem entered, Messiah cried out to him, "Be joyous! I will help you!" And he gave the Baal Shem a token.
The Baal Shem took the token, and went back to the Gate that was locked. Before the token, the lock fell away, and the Portals opened wide as the earth is large, and all the prayers entered and went straight to the Throne of the Name.
Then there was joy all through the heavens, and the good angels sang paeans of joy, while the dark angels crept and slunk away to the farthest corners of chaos.
In that moment, the Bishop of Kamenitz-Podolsky kindled a fire on earth. He stood by the fire that he had kindled. At his side was a great pile of volumes of Hebrew writings, hundreds of tractates of the Talmud were there in that pyramid.
The Bishop of Kamenitz-Podolsky took a tractate of the Talmud, and hurled it into the fire. It began to burn. The Bishop took another book, and hurled it into the flames. They rose higher, they leaped
mightily upward. Again and again the Bishop hurled the Talmud into the flames. But when he had thrown seven tractates into the flames, and was about to throw the eighth, his hand was seized with a trembling, and then his whole body was seized with shaking, and he fell in an epileptic fit.
All the multitude shivered with terror, and ran from the burning-place. The fire died down, and went out.
And the news of this spread swiftly, as a pestilence on the wind. Then all those bishops who had builded pyres of holy books, and prepared to burn them, were frightened, fearing that the curse of the Baal Shem would come upon them, and they would be seized with horrible spasms. They left the books in their market-places, and ran into their towers for safety.
Thus the Talmud was saved for the Jews on the Day of Atonement.