The Alter Rebbe, author of the Tanya, while still a student of the Maggid of Mezritch, heard his master relate a tale of his master, the holy Baal Shem Tov. Before the Baal Shem Tov became famous it was his custom to wander from town to town and village to village dressed as a simple villager.
The Baal Shem Tov would approach men and women, old and young, and ask them how things were going? He would inquire after their health and their children’s health; and whether they were making an adequate living?
The Baal Shem Tov was most gratified to hear the loving phrases with which the men, women and children would respond to his queries. They would respond with various expressions of praise for G-d.
One would answer, “Boruch Hashem – Blessed be His Name”; another would respond, “Praise the L-rd”; still another would say, “the loving G-d does not forsake”. “May the loving Creator continue His benevolence”; “The sweet Father sustains us, praised is His Holy Name”; Blessed be He and His Holy Name”; “He is the true healer of the ill”, these and similar expressions of praise for G-d would be on the lips of the townsfolk. Men and women would respond, each in their own fashion, praising G-d for health and sustenance; and the children would praise G-d for giving them parents who provide for all their needs and teach them Torah!
In the various cities, towns, villages and hamlet that the Baal Shem Tov would visit during the course of his travels, he would meet the people in their synagogues, in the streets, in their homes and stores and in the marketplace.
It once happened that the Baal Shem Tov visited a certain town and as was his custom he conducted himself in the above manner of sacred Divine service. He wished to make the Jewish people meritorious by their responses to his questions with the praise of G-d!
In that town there lived a very old and very great Jewish scholar who for the past fifty years had been a porush, a recluse. During these years he constantly studied Torah day and night in abstinence and holiness. All his years he would sit garbed in his tallit and tefillin until the very late afternoon, fasting until after the evening prayer and then breaking his fast with a crust of bread and some water.
When the Rebbe, the Baal Shem Tov entered this great scholar’s seclusion chamber which was in a corner of the synagogue, he inquired after the man’s health and as to whether his needs were being met. The recluse, seeing that the Baal Shem Tov was dressed as a simple villager, ignored him. The Baal Shem Tov repeated his questions a number of times. Finally the great scholar became angry and motioned with his hand to the door, indicating that the Baal Shem Tov should leave.
The Baal Shem Tov turned again to the scholar and said: “Rebbe, why don’t you provide G-d with His sustenance? You will, G-d forbid, make Him hunger and He wil0l depart from the world.”
Upon hearing these words, the scholar became perplexed and bewildered. Here he saw in front of him a Jew, a villager who looked like a simple person; yet speaking of such matters about seeing to G-d’s needs so that He not become starved and depart from the world! What was going on here?!
The Baal Shem Tov read the man’s thoughts and said to him: “Jews exist by virtue of G-d’s sustenance. What sustains Him? This is answered by Dovid haMelech in Tehillim where he says: ‘ veata Kodosh, Yoshev tehillot Yisroel’ – ‘And You Holy One,’ what is Your sustenance? ‘He sits,’ meaning He is sustained, ‘by the praises of Israel’, by the words of praise that Jews praise Him for their health and sustenance.” (Chapter 22 verse 4) For these words of praise, G-d repays us with children, health and ample livelihood.”
May the New Year bring forth blessing and G-d’s ample sustenance to all begur, in all matters physical and spiritual and in revealed good! Shnat brocho vehatzlocho bakol mikol kol!
Chatima u’gmar chatima tova, l’shana tova umetuka!
Adapted from Chassidic Discourses vol II pgs 257-263 based on talks of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn zt’l translated by Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg