Rabbi Steinsaltz: “What others know from within themselves, the tzaddik has to be taught.”


Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz writes:

Rabbi Yechiel Michal from Zlotchov, one of the disciples of the Baal Shem Tov, was known as a complete tzaddik who possessed ruach hakodesh (“the holy spirit,” a level of divine perception akin to prophecy), which reputedly had been in his family for ten generations.

A wagon driver in his town once committed a violation of the Shabbat, regretted his sin, and approached the local rabbi to see what amends he could make.

The rabbi saw that the man’s penitence was sincere and told him that he should donate a pound of candles to the synagogue and his sin would be forgiven.

When Rabbi Michal heard of this, he did not approve: How could a pound of candles compensate for a breach of the Shabbat?

That Friday afternoon, when the wagon driver came and placed his candles in the appropriate place, a big dog came into the synagogue, snatched the candles, and ate them before they could be used.

Seeing what had happened, the wagon driver was brokenhearted.

He went back to the rabbi and told him that God has not accepted his atonement.

The rabbi assured that it was just an unfortunate coincidence; if he would again bring candles to the synagogue the following week, his sin would be forgiven.

On the following week, another mishap occurred, and again the week following, until the rabbi, too, conceded that something was amiss.

He sent the penitent to the Baal Shem Tov, who realized that Rabbi Michal had a hand in it, and sent for him.

The Baal Shem Tov’s home in Medzibezh was only a few hours’ journey away, but the horses pulling Reb Michal’s wagon turned off the road and got lost in the forest; then an axle broke.

And one trouble followed another, so that when Rabbi Michal entered Medzibezh, it was late Friday afternoon, and the sun was setting, and the tzaddik feared that he had violated the Shabbat by traveling on the holy day.

When he came to the Baal Shem Tov, crushed and broken in spirit and beside himself, his rebbe called to him, “Come here, sinner! Until now you did not know how a Jew who has sinned feels, how brokenhearted he is. Now, you will realize that a pound of candles is sufficient!”

Rabbi Michal, who had ascended all the rungs in the ladder of holiness, could not comprehend how anyone could sin, how one could possibly rebel against God.

What others know from within themselves, the tzaddik has to be taught.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz in Opening the Tanya

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