Once, during his travels, the Baal Shem Tov* stayed at the inn of one of his followers in a village near the city of Brody. The innkeeper, wishing to honor his distinguished guest and those accompanying him, prepared a huge feast on their behalf and accorded them all the respect due them. As the Baal Shem Tov took leave of his gracious host he said to him, “Ask of me what you wish.”
“Thank G-d, I lack nothing and have no request to make, other than that my heart be strengthened to continue serving my Maker,” said the righteous innkeeper. “If so, I have a favor to request of you. Please don’t refuse me,” said the Baal Shem Tov.
The good man replied readily, “I am prepared to serve you with all my heart.”
The Baal Shem Tov went over to a desk and sat down to write a letter sealing it with his personal seal and addressing it to two specific people by name whom he referred to as the: “Trustees for the Jewish community of Brody.”
He handed the letter to the innkeeper saying, “Please deliver this letter yourself, not by a messenger. Give this to the people I have addressed it to.”
“I shall do as you have instructed,” said the man, and placed it in the outer pocket of his jacket. As the Baal Shem Tov prepared to leave he asked, “You intend to accompany me part of the way, do you not?”
The innkeeper rushed to the stable and proceeded to take out the harness from its box in order to hitch up the horses. As he bent over to extract it from the chest, the letter fell out of his pocket without his noticing it. He hurriedly harnessed his horses to the wagon and went to accompany his distinguished guest. When he returned, he had already forgotten all about the letter. Even when he later visited the Baal Shem Tov, he did not remember nor did the Baal Shem Tov inquire whether he had delivered it.
Years passed. In 1760, the Baal Shem Tov ascended to his Heavenly abode. Sometime later, the wheel of fortune turned against the innkeeper, to the extent that he was eventually forced to sell all he owned to provide for his family. Seventeen years had passed since the Baal Shem Tov had visited him.
One day, the innkeeper went to look for something in the chest where he kept his harnesses. All of a sudden, he noticed the letter! Picking it up he recognized the Baal Shem Tov’s handwriting upon the envelope and remembered the incident of years bygone.
The innkeeper was very distressed and wept bitterly, blaming his misfortune on his oversight concerning the letter. He dared not open the letter for it was still sealed with the Ball Shem Tov’s seal and the people for whom it was intended might still be alive. He decided that, come what may, he would deliver it to those it was addressed to. He picked himself up and walked to Brody, being too poor even to afford the fare for transportation.
After a taxing journey, he finally reached his destination. Immediately, he began inquiring in the study halls and the synagogues about the trustees for whom the letter was written. To his great consternation he learned from reliable people who had lived it the city for over twenty years that no such trustees had served in Brody. When these men heard the innkeeper’s story, they were surprised, for the Baal Shem Tov had been well known in Brody.
During the course of the conversation one man said in jest, “Are you aware that today elections are being held in the main synagogue for the new trustees. Who knows, maybe those men will be chosen today!?”
No sooner were the words out of his mouth then some young boys rushed into the study hall.
“Mazal Tov! Mazal Tov!” they shouted. “Mr. so and so and Mr. so and so, were just elected the new trustees for the community.”
The innkeeper looked at the envelope in astonishment. Those were the names that appeared on the letter! He rushed to the synagogue to find the two men and tell them his strange story and give them the envelope. When he approached the new young trustees, he greeted them, “Blessed be you unto G-d. I have here a letter addressed to both of you from the Baal Shem Tov.”
They looked at the letter and could not understand how this was possible as the Baal Shem Tov had already passed away many years prior.
An old man standing close by who knew the Baal Shem Tov from his visits to Brody, spoke up. “It is quite possible that the Baal Shem Tov sent this letter to you. His holy vision was capable of spanning time and distance. I am sure it was meant for you!” he said with conviction.
They opened the letter and read the message, “To the new trustees of the city of Brody: You have received this letter from a destitute innkeeper. I beseech you to do what is in your power for his sake. He is a decent man who has been accustomed to wealth all his life until his recent poverty. His strained circumstances are such that he has no means to feed his family. Therefore, please do your utmost to help him. If you doubt that I have sent this letter to you, here is a sign. Both your wives are expecting a baby. Your wife (the name of the husband was mentioned) will give birth to a girl; and your wife (mentioning the other trustee) will give birth to a boy.”
As they were finishing reading the letter, some people came in and announced the births precisely as the letter had predicted. The two young men were positively astonished. As for the innkeeper they helped him get himself back on his feet. He soon became wealthy again.
This story was told by the holy Rebbe of Apta, Reb Avraham Heshel*. He related this wondrous story to a large group of Chassidim in Berditchev. He commented, “Does this story seem strange to you? To me it is not extraordinary at all. The Baal Shem Tov was able to see what would happen in seventeen years because he was endowed with a spiritual vision which transcended past present and future. He was gifted with G-dly vision and wisdom.
“What I do find extraordinary is the deep love for his fellow Jews that constantly burned within him and caused him to penetrate into the person’s future. His deep concern to help and support that unfortunate man even after he himself was gone to the World of Truth. It is this boundless love that I see as the lesson from this story.”
Adapted from stories by Yerachmiel Tilles and based on “Tales of the Baal Shem Tov.”
As seen in Living Jewish newsletter #820
*Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, known as the Baal Shem Tov or as the Besht, was a Jewish mystic and healer from Poland who is the founder of the Chassidic movement. 1698-1760.
*Avraham Yehoshua Heshel of Apt, popularly known as the Apter Rebbe or Apter Rov, was born in Żmigród, Poland in 1748 and died in Mezhbizh, Russian Empire in 1825.