It was Tisha b’Av night and the congregation was waiting for their rabbi who had left a couple of weeks prior and told them he would be back for Tisha b’Av. But he was nowhere to be seen.
Rabbi Baruch would go forth to experience the exile of the Shechina – the Divine Presence. Each year he would leave before Tisha b’Av and travel to different locales so he would not be recognized. This year he decided to become a wagon driver. A few days before Tisha b’Av, a Gentile nobleman approached the wagon driver and asked if he would take him back to his home. Rabbi Baruch made a quick calculation and decided that he had enough time with a day to spare for any unforeseen circumstances. He could take the nobleman home which was in the opposite direction and then return to Mezhibuz in time for Tisha b’Av.
In the beginning the trip was uneventful. However, the night before getting to his hometown, the nobleman got drunk in the inn where he was staying. When Rabbi Baruch awoke, he donned his Tefillin and did his morning prayers. He then went to call on the nobleman, who was still fast asleep in his drunken state. He was forced to dress him and carry him to the wagon. From the inn they needed to drive through a forest to reach the city on the other side. Suddenly, Rabbi Baruch was stunned. He did not know what happened to him. Someone had thrown a sack over his head dragging him away from the wagon. He blacked out. When he came to, he realized that he had been tied to a tree and opposite him the nobleman was tied to another tree. The nobleman was still without recognition and only the ropes were keeping him upright. The horse and wagon were nowhere to be found. Rabbi Baruch looked around him and saw that on the grass not far from him was his small trusty siddur and his Tefillin. It seems these items were of no use to the thieves who had pounced on them. Rabbi Baruch was filled with joy and gratitude to G-d for His kindness. He thanked Hashem for sparing their lives. But his troubles were just beginning.
Rabbi Baruch began to move his body until he was able to extricate himself from the ropes which tied him to the tree. He picked up his Tefillin and siddur and kissed them lovingly. He then went over to the nobleman and worked hard to undo his ropes and free him from and his shackles. Even this did not wake the drunken nobleman. He slid to the floor in a stupor. Rabbi Baruch would not think of leaving the man and going away himself, even though it was still dangerous for them to be in the forest where the thieves could still be present. He walked around to see if he could find some water. After a while he came upon a brook of water and managed to bring some back to the sleeping nobleman. He washed his face and gave him some to drink.
When the nobleman opened his eyes, he asked, “Where am I? What happened? Why am I sitting here on the ground instead of being in the wagon??” Rabbi Baruch explained to him in as gentle a voice as he could muster, what had happened. When the nobleman realized that they had been robbed, he cried out, “My money, my money! Where are the thousands of rubles I had in my pocket?”
He cried and carried on and Rabbi Baruch was afraid he would go mad with sorrow and anxiety. Rabbi Baruch tried to calm him down. At this point the nobleman looked at Rabbi Baruch suspiciously. Rabbi Baruch was engrossed in prayer and did not notice what was in the heart of the nobleman. When he finished his prayers he turned to the nobleman and asked, “Do you feel strong enough to walk with me? It seems to me that we are not far from the inn and we can return there by foot, or at least reach the road or get to another town close by.
”Slowly they began walking. Soon, however, they heard the voices of hunters. The nobleman was delighted to see that among the hunters were some of his friends. He told them what happened and added that he suspects that the wagon driver collaborated with the thieves. “Probably he told them that I had a large sum of money with me,” he added, “since he would be the only one who would know this.”
“Let’s shoot him right now,” one of the hunters suggested. But the head of the group, and older nobleman did not agree. He suggested that they tie the wagon driver to a tree. “If he is one of the thieves, then surely, they will come to save him; and if not, may G-d help him!” he announced.
“Yes, Hashem will help me,” thought Rabbi Baruch in his heart when the hunters left him to the mercy of the forest.
Night approached. In the forest there was no other human being visible. The moon was shining brightly over the thick trees, directly above his head. “It seems that now is midnight,” thought Rabbi Baruch. With tears streaming down his cheeks, Rabbi Baruch began to recite the Midnight prayer – TikunChatzot – in remembrance of the destruction of the Beit Hamikdosh, as he would do every night. However, never in his life did he feel the deep pain of the exile, as at this moment of his own travail. It seemed as if the whole forest was lamenting with him. As Rabbi Baruch began reciting the verses of Tehillim from the depth of his soul, with each word, new hope and strength filled his heart. It felt as if all the trees in the forest were mekonenim together with him for the destruction of the Beit Hamikdosh ; and as if the moon and stars above were trying to hint to him that very soon salvation would come!
“Hey, are you still here? Wait a moment, I’m coming to help you!” a low voice interrupted Rabbi Baruch’s prayers. Out of the bushes, appeared the old nobleman, head of the hunting group, the one who advised not to kill him. As he came closer to him, Rabbi Baruch could see, that with him was a group of people.
“I wanted to see what happened to you,” he said. “I did not believe that you were the one who stole the money from our foolish friend. In the meantime, they looked for the thieves in the inn where he had spent the previous night. The people there told us that our friend told them about the large amount of money he was carrying when he was drunk. This is why I returned here to help you.”
Rabbi Baruch thanked Hashem from the depth of his heart for the salvation which came so speedily. The old nobleman gave him a horse and with the help of one of his servants, sent him on his way.
It was late at night when Rabbi Baruch arrived and found his Chassidim sitting and waiting for him. They had almost decided that their Rebbe was not coming tonight when they heard the sound of horses’ hooves.
That night Rabbi Baruch and his Chassidim said the words of Megillat Eicha and the Kinot of Tisha b’Av with deep intention and feeling, more than ever before.
On the Shabbat following Tisha b’Av, Shabbat Nachamu – the Shabbat of Comfort – Rabbi Baruch sat with his Chassidim at the Shabbat table and said to them:
“Very soon Hashem will send us our Righteous Moshiach who will take us out of this exile. As the darkness of the night increases, so will the light of the dawn be so much brighter.
”The Chassidim nodded their heads as they relived the experience of their Rebbe’s disappearance and miraculous appearance.Indeed, may we merit the revelation of Moshiach NOW!
Translated and adapted from Sipurei Tzadikim # 423
*Rabbi Baruch of Mezhibush was the son of the Baal Shem Tov’s daughter Adel and her husband Rabbi Yechiel Ashkenazi. He was born in 1753 in Mezhibuz, the town from which his illustrious grandfather led the Chassidic Movement. He was one of the pre-eminent Rebbes – Chassidic masters – in the third generation of Chassidism and had thousands of disciples and followers. He passed away on the 18th of Kislev, 1811. He was a contemporary of the Alter Rebbe.
The Alter Rebbe considered himself the grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, as he was mentored by the Mezritcher Maggid, a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov. The Tanya, the seminal book of Chabad Chassidism, is based on the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov. From www.chabad.org