daily walk was the highlight of the children’s day. Each morning they
got up and eagerly waited for their beloved assistant teacher to pass
by, pick them up and escort them to school. The usual routine was the
familiar knock at the door and a kiss on the cheek from their mother,
and they were on their way.
children’s mothers stood in their doorways seeing them off lovingly.
They all whispered the same prayer, that Hashem help their children in
their studies so that they would grow up to G-d-fearing Jews. The
children sang “Modeh Ani,” and their song joined the paean of
thanks of the entire world for the new and glorious day.
was all to the credit of the new assistant teacher, said the townspeople
amongst themselves. Since he had come, the children loved going to
school. They were so attached to R’ Yisroel, and he, in his unique
manner, succeeded in instilling within them fine character traits and
fear of Heaven. He did this primarily through song and stories of faith
related to the children as a father. If a child was sick, ch’v,
R’ Yisroel went to his home immediately and fed him. At the same time,
he bolstered the child’s faith and trust in the Healer of the sick,
our Father in Heaven. No wonder the parents relied on him implicitly and
entrusted the spiritual and physical lives of their children in his
nearby forest was one of R’ Yisroel’s favorite places. Every so
often he would take the children there, and, surrounded by nature’s
wonders, he would explain to them the greatness of the Creator. He told
them of Jews who loved the mitzvos, of tzaddikim who gave
their lives al kiddush Hashem, and implanted a deep love for
Hashem and His Torah within their hearts.
Yisroel was a tzaddik nistar; none of the townspeople were aware
of his profound holiness. Even the town know-it-all, Getzel the Milkman,
remained unsuspecting of R’ Yisroel’s secret. But one day, R’
Yisroel, who later came to be known as the Baal Shem Tov, was forced to
reveal a little of his greatness. This is what happened:
the Milkman had the unpleasant task of having to relate the horrifying
news about a band of Cossacks who were approaching the area and were
planning to attack their town. The Jews quickly stockpiled food and
began preparing their hiding places, relying on cellars, attics, and
even holes in the ground as temporary shelters. As far as the loss of
property, they had already made peace with that misfortune. The main
thing now was their lives, for they knew that an encounter with a
Cossack would be fatal, ch’v. Reports they had heard from the
survivors of nearby towns that had already been visited by the Cossacks
hid themselves in the forest and fearfully waited the arrival of the
Cossacks. A group of Jews was in charge of watching over the food supply
and dealing with any problem that might arise.
Yisroel sat in the beis midrash consumed with worry. It wasn’t
that he was afraid, for his father had told him to fear nothing but G-d
Himself. It was simply that his compassionate heart was broken with
worry over the townspeople, especially for the innocent children, his
students, who were lying in trenches and moaning in sorrow. They were so
young, yet they were destined to suffer the lot of their fathers and
grandfathers throughout the generations. R’ Yisroel wailed over the
exile of the Shechina and cried out to Hashem to annul the decree
threatening the town.
day passed and then another. For an entire week, no one heard the sound
of children singing in the morning. The town was deserted, with no signs
of life. Who even remembered that tomorrow would be Lag B’Omer, the hilula
of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai? This was the day that children
traditionally went out to the fields and forests to play with bows and
arrows in memory of the rainbow, which did not appear in the lifetime of
the holy tanna. Only one person remembered the date, and that was
R’ Yisroel. He remembered and resolved that this year would be no
different. But what would the children’s mothers say?
fell and word got around that the Cossacks were camping at the edge of
the forest. R’ Yisroel didn’t sleep that night. He prayed that the
holiness of the day and the merit of the tzaddik would stand by
the townspeople and save them.
broke and R’ Yisroel went to carry out his plan. Laden with bows and
arrows, he visited the various hiding places, and invited his charges
out to the forest to play. The mothers looked at him as though he must
be joking. They couldn’t bear the thought of parting with their little
ones for even a moment, and to the forest of all places!
the children’s ties to their teacher came to the fore. They, who had
imbibed so much from him about emuna and bitachon, begged
their mothers to allow them to accompany him. The mothers were taken
aback by the unnatural behavior of their children, but R’ Yisroel’s
shining face encouraged them to accede to their children’s wishes.
deserted streets were now witness to a most peculiar procession. With
R’ Yisroel in the lead, the children burst into song and sang p’sukim
and mizmorim. They completely forgot the reason they had been
hiding in the first place. The children went out to the field, took the
bows from their teacher and shot the arrows in memory of R’ Shimon.
Cossacks could hear the sounds of rejoicing, which only served to
enflame their anger. Who dared to irritate them this early in the
morning? They guided their horses in the direction of the noise,
resolving to wipe out those insolent Jews. The hoof beats shook the
town, and the children were nearly trampled, when suddenly something
amazing happened. As soon as the Cossacks saw the glowing face of the
children’s leader, fear filled their hearts. They simply turned their
horses around and left, never to return.
was a miracle b’reish galei (an open mircale), b’reish
standing for both R’ Yisroel ben Sara and R’ Shimon bar Yochai. The
merit of the two tzaddikim had brought about the great miracle!
from Kol Sippurei HaBaal Shem Tov)