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An Open Miracle
By Menachem HaYitzchaki

The daily walk was the highlight of the children’s day. Each morning they got up and eagerly waited for their beloved assistant teacher to pass by, pick them up and escort them to school. The usual routine was the familiar knock at the door and a kiss on the cheek from their mother, and they were on their way.

The children’s mothers stood in their doorways seeing them off lovingly. They all whispered the same prayer, that Hashem help their children in their studies so that they would grow up to G-d-fearing Jews. The children sang “Modeh Ani,” and their song joined the paean of thanks of the entire world for the new and glorious day.

It was all to the credit of the new assistant teacher, said the townspeople amongst themselves. Since he had come, the children loved going to school. They were so attached to R’ Yisroel, and he, in his unique manner, succeeded in instilling within them fine character traits and fear of Heaven. He did this primarily through song and stories of faith in tzaddikim.

He related to the children as a father. If a child was sick, ch’v, R’ Yisroel went to his home immediately and fed him. At the same time, he bolstered the child’s faith and trust in the Healer of the sick, our Father in Heaven. No wonder the parents relied on him implicitly and entrusted the spiritual and physical lives of their children in his hands.

The nearby forest was one of R’ Yisroel’s favorite places. Every so often he would take the children there, and, surrounded by nature’s wonders, he would explain to them the greatness of the Creator. He told them of Jews who loved the mitzvos, of tzaddikim who gave their lives al kiddush Hashem, and implanted a deep love for Hashem and His Torah within their hearts.

R’ Yisroel was a tzaddik nistar; none of the townspeople were aware of his profound holiness. Even the town know-it-all, Getzel the Milkman, remained unsuspecting of R’ Yisroel’s secret. But one day, R’ Yisroel, who later came to be known as the Baal Shem Tov, was forced to reveal a little of his greatness. This is what happened:

Getzel the Milkman had the unpleasant task of having to relate the horrifying news about a band of Cossacks who were approaching the area and were planning to attack their town. The Jews quickly stockpiled food and began preparing their hiding places, relying on cellars, attics, and even holes in the ground as temporary shelters. As far as the loss of property, they had already made peace with that misfortune. The main thing now was their lives, for they knew that an encounter with a Cossack would be fatal, ch’v. Reports they had heard from the survivors of nearby towns that had already been visited by the Cossacks was terrifying.

Jews hid themselves in the forest and fearfully waited the arrival of the Cossacks. A group of Jews was in charge of watching over the food supply and dealing with any problem that might arise.

R’ Yisroel sat in the beis midrash consumed with worry. It wasn’t that he was afraid, for his father had told him to fear nothing but G-d Himself. It was simply that his compassionate heart was broken with worry over the townspeople, especially for the innocent children, his students, who were lying in trenches and moaning in sorrow. They were so young, yet they were destined to suffer the lot of their fathers and grandfathers throughout the generations. R’ Yisroel wailed over the exile of the Shechina and cried out to Hashem to annul the decree threatening the town.

One day passed and then another. For an entire week, no one heard the sound of children singing in the morning. The town was deserted, with no signs of life. Who even remembered that tomorrow would be Lag B’Omer, the hilula of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai? This was the day that children traditionally went out to the fields and forests to play with bows and arrows in memory of the rainbow, which did not appear in the lifetime of the holy tanna. Only one person remembered the date, and that was R’ Yisroel. He remembered and resolved that this year would be no different. But what would the children’s mothers say?

Night fell and word got around that the Cossacks were camping at the edge of the forest. R’ Yisroel didn’t sleep that night. He prayed that the holiness of the day and the merit of the tzaddik would stand by the townspeople and save them.

Day broke and R’ Yisroel went to carry out his plan. Laden with bows and arrows, he visited the various hiding places, and invited his charges out to the forest to play. The mothers looked at him as though he must be joking. They couldn’t bear the thought of parting with their little ones for even a moment, and to the forest of all places!

Now the children’s ties to their teacher came to the fore. They, who had imbibed so much from him about emuna and bitachon, begged their mothers to allow them to accompany him. The mothers were taken aback by the unnatural behavior of their children, but R’ Yisroel’s shining face encouraged them to accede to their children’s wishes.

The deserted streets were now witness to a most peculiar procession. With R’ Yisroel in the lead, the children burst into song and sang p’sukim and mizmorim. They completely forgot the reason they had been hiding in the first place. The children went out to the field, took the bows from their teacher and shot the arrows in memory of R’ Shimon.

The Cossacks could hear the sounds of rejoicing, which only served to enflame their anger. Who dared to irritate them this early in the morning? They guided their horses in the direction of the noise, resolving to wipe out those insolent Jews. The hoof beats shook the town, and the children were nearly trampled, when suddenly something amazing happened. As soon as the Cossacks saw the glowing face of the children’s leader, fear filled their hearts. They simply turned their horses around and left, never to return.

It was a miracle b’reish galei (an open mircale), b’reish standing for both R’ Yisroel ben Sara and R’ Shimon bar Yochai. The merit of the two tzaddikim had brought about the great miracle!

(Adapted from Kol Sippurei HaBaal Shem Tov)



The Baal Shem Tov wailed over the exile of the Shechina and cried out to Hashem to annul the decree threatening the town.


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