(Courtesy: Yisrael Yaacov Klapholz )
Rav Avraham Yehoshua Heshel, the holy rabbi of Apta, once told his wondrous tale to a large assembly of chassidim in Berditchov:
The Baal Shem Tov, during his travels, once happened to stay at the inn of one of his followers in a village near the city Brody.
The innkeeper, wishing to honor his distinguished guest and his following, prepared a huge feast on his behalf and accorded all the respect due them. As the Baal Shem Tov took leave of his gracioushost he said: “Ask me of what you wish.”
“Thank G-d, I lack nothing and have no request to make, other that that my heart be strengthened to continue serving and fearing my Maker,” said the worthy innkeeper.
“If so, than i have one small favor to request of you. Please do not refuse me.” asked the Baal ShemTov.
The good man answered readily, “I am prepared to serve you with my whole body, soul and might.”
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, referring to them as “Trustees of the Congregation of the city Brody”. He handed the letter to innkeeper saying:
“I wish you to deliver this letter yourself not by 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 without glancing at it.
As the Baal Shem Tov prepared to go he asked his host, “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 the equipment 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 departing 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 it, nor did the Baal Shem Tov inquire whether he had delivered it.
The years passed and the Baal Shem Tov expired. The wheel of fortune turned against the innkeeper, who was eventually forced to sell all he owned in order to provide for his family.
It was now seventeen years since the Baal Shem Tov had visited him.
One day the innkeeper went to look for something is the chest where he kept his harness.
Suddenly he spied the letter. Picking it up, he recognized the Baal Shem Tov’s handwriting upon the envelope and remembered the incident of seventeen years before.
The innkeeper was very distressed and wept bitterly, blaming his misfortune on this oversight concerning the letter.
He dared not open the letter for it was sealed with the Baal Shem Tov’s seal and the people for whom it was intended might still be alive. He decided to deliver it to the addressees, convinced that a letter written by the Baal Shem Tov would be dear to its recipient even if it had been written seventeen years ago.
He picked himself up and walked to Brody, being too poor even to afford the fare for transportation.
He finally reached his destination and began inquiring in the Bet Midrash about the trustees named on the letter.
To his great consternation he learned from reliable people who had lived in the city for over twenty years, that no such trustees had ever served in Brody.
During the course of the conversation one man said in jest: “Are you aware that today elections are being held in the synagogue for the new trustees? Who knows? Maybe such men will be chosen yet today!”
No sooner were the words out of his mouth then some young rushed boys rushed into the Beis Midrash.
“Mazal Tov! Mazal Tov!” they shouted. “Rav so and so and Rav so and so were just elected as the new trustees of the community.”
The innkeeper looked at the envelope in his hand astonishment. Why those were the very names that appeared on the letter! He rushed to the synagogue to find these two men and tell them his strange story.
He approached the new parnossim, men in their early thirties, and greeted them: “Blessed be you unto G-d. I have here a letter addressed to you both from the Baal Shem Tov.”
They looked at the letter he handed them and thought it was a joke, for the Baal Shem Tov had passed away many years ago. The innkeeper was accompanied by an old man from the Beit Midrash who had known the Baal Shem Tov in his lifetime. Now he spoke up.
‘It is quite possible that the Baal Shem Tov sent this letter to you for his holy vision was capable of spanning time as well as distance. In fact, I am sure it was intended for you,” he said with conviction.
The opened the letter and read the following message: “To the new parnossim of the city Brody- it read, addressing them by name.”
You have received this letter from a destitute innkeeper. I beg of you. do what is in your power for his sake, for he is a decent man who had been accustomed to wealth all his life until his recent poverty. His straightened circumstances are such that he has no means to feed his family. Therefore, do your best for him, for I, the Baal Shem Tov, ask it of you. If you doubt that I have sent this letter to you, let me give you a sign. Your wives are both pregnant. You will soon be informed that the wife of one (who he named) will give birth to a boy, while the other woman(and he named her as well) will give birth to a girl. Let this, then, be the sign that i have really sent this letter and that I implore you to help the good man before you to the best of your ability.
As they just finished reading the letter, some people came in and announced the births, precisely as the letter had predicted. The two young men told and retold this amazing occurrence to everyone, their astonishment growing all the while. As for the innkeeper, they did their best for him and he soon became wealthy again.
Rav Apta finished his unusual take and said:
“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 be in seventeen years hence, for he saw with a pure unearthly vision. His sight was not limited for it was neither physical nor bound by time.
He was endowed with a spiritual vision which could transcend the past, present and the future, simultaneously. He necessarily had to be infinitely wise to distinguish between them.
“What surprises me is the deep love for his fellow Jew, his Ahavat Yisrael, that burned within that Baal Shem Tov and caused him to penetrate into a persons future, and his deep concern to help and support an unfortunate man even after he himself had gone to the World Beyond. It is this boundless love that I extract as the lesson from this story.”