22. The Gilgul (IFA 2634)
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22 The Gilgul* R E C A L L E D B Y R E ’ U V E N N A ‘A N A H In the town of Raishe,** in Galicia, there lived a fabulously wealthy man, a renowned scholar, crowned with glory and honors and descended from one of the best families in the country. Even though the man had heard much about the powers and wonders of the Ba‘al Shem Tov, he was always preoccupied with his own affairs and with learning Torah. It never occurred to him to visit the rabbi and see his miracles with his own eyes. One day, though, the idea came to him that perhaps it would be worthwhile to visit the holy tzaddik§ and find out what he was like, even though he had no intention of becoming one of his disciples. He ordered his servant to harness the carriage and traveled straight to the holy rabbi, in the town of Medzhibozh. As he crossed the threshold of the [rabbi’s] house, he inquired about the rabbi’s health. After they had exchanged a few words, the rich man gave him a generous donation. “What do you lack?” asked the rabbi. “Thank God, I am extremely rich and want nothing,” answered the rich man. “The Holy One, Blessed Be He, has blessed me with sons, all of whom are the sons-in-law of rabbis and sages, and all my household and family are content. I have no need to appeal to the king.”§§ The rabbi would not relent. “So why have you come here?” “I came here just to behold your holy countenance.” “You mean you came here only to meet me? You traveled this long journey only for my sake? That being the case, sit down and study my face carefully while I tell you a story.” The Ba‘al Shem Tov began this tale: 156 * This kabbalistic concept—transmigration of the soul—holds that the soul can be purified through gigul and can be reborn. ** Called “Raishe” inYiddish and “Rzeszow” in Polish.§ A righteous and saintly person.§§ An echo of the story of Elisha and the matron of Shunem (2 Kings 4:8–16). “In a certain city there lived two rich men, and each had a son. The sons were the same age and alike in their virtues. In their childhood, when they were close neighbors and in the prime of their youth, a deep love grew up between them. They studied with the same teacher and out of the same book, and loved each other with an intense affection. “When they grew to manhood, however, they married and left their native town, each for a different city. Their love survived this separation, and they wrote each other every week. As time went on, though, their correspondence dwindled to once a month. When they became preoccupied with their increasing affairs, their letters were exchanged only once in six months. And, finally, they stopped corresponding altogether. The friendship was forgotten, while both prospered steadily and became very rich. “After many years, one of them ran out of luck. He lost all his wealth and property and became dreadfully poor. In his distress, he remembered his friend, who was still immensely rich. He said to himself, ‘I will go ask him for help. Surely he will be happy to see me and will assist me.’ “From his neighbors he borrowed clothes and some money for the expenses of the trip. After many adventures en route he reached his destination . The friend of his youth rushed to greet him when they met. He brought him home, made him a royal feast, and rejoiced with his old comrade . “During the meal, while all the members of the household were busy eating and drinking, the host quietly asked his guest about his station and condition. ‘Even these clothes are not mine,’ came the soft reply. ‘From head to toe I acquired them all through the generosity of friends.’ “When the host heard this he ordered his faithful clerk to calculate what he was worth. After he received a full and accurate reckoning he called his friend into his private cabinet. ‘This is the sum total of the wealth with which the Holy One, Blessed Be He, has blessed me in His beneficence. Take half of it and fret no more.’ He gave him a share of all his goods, endowing him generously with everything, as fast friends do, and wished him...