middot humility stories humility as revelation

humility as revelation

Written by  rebbetzin malkah

art-shoulderThe Baal Shem Tov once traveled with a group of his disciples to a distant village where there lived a certain parush (ascetic) who was constantly engaged in Torah study, prayer, and other divine service, to the exclusion of everything else. He was totally indifferent to worldly affairs. Whenever he uttered any words of Torah, he added, "So I received it from Elijah the Prophet." He was also an exceptional teacher who possessed a remarkable ability to clarify a complex Torah topic for anyone to whom he spoke, even the simplest person. Who could be more exalted?

In the same village, there dwelt a simple, uneducated laborer, who skinned carcasses for a living, which is the smelliest and dirtiest occupation there is. Who could be more lowly? Yet, this man was sincerely pious and constantly recited psalms, ceasing only when he was working and his hands were unclean (it being forbidden to utter holy words amidst uncleanness).

The Baal Shem Tov took his disciples to visit the one-room home of this simple Jew. It was so small, it was really just a hut. When they entered, he told them to close their eyes and for each one to place his hand on his friend's shoulder, forming a circle. Then, the Besht began to sing a niggun. The disciples were transported into another world by the haunting melody, and a heavenly vision appeared before their eyes: The little hut was filled with divine light, and they were amazed that such a huge crowd of angels could fit into such a tiny room!

Then, the Besht took them to the home of the parush, and again asked them to shut their eyes and place a hand on a comrade's shoulder. Once again, he began to sing a niggun, but this time his disciples saw a hellish vision of countless snakes and scorpions. After they had left, the Baal Shem Tov explained to them what they had seen. "Although it’s written in the holy books that anyone-- even a servant or a maid-- who performs forty consecutive day-time fasts and totally separates himself from worldly affairs, will attain a revelation of Elijah, the sad truth is that someone can have a revelation of Elijah without having a revelation of his own soul. The snakes and scorpions you saw in the ascetic's home were the demonic forces created by his arrogance; they were sparks from the primordial Snake. Having heavenly visions, even of Elijah, is a lower spiritual level than having a revelation of your own soul, meaning that you are totally authentic and live from your deepest self, your divine soul. What could be more contrary to that, and more false, than pride?"

Later, when the Besht and his disciples returned to the home of the skinner and he served them a meal, the Besht told his disciples to listen carefully when their host made a blessing over the food, because his words, uttered with simple faith, split the firmaments and ascended straight to heaven.

After some time had passed and the simple man died, the Besht returned to that village with ten disciples to honor him by taking part in his burial.  -- exerpted from The Light and Fire of The Baal Shem Tov: The Parush and the Skinner by Yitzchak Buxbaum  

This story is quick to show the humility of the skinner and the illusion of humility of the parush. Many times we would like to think that those who are in denial of the world and constantly in prayer are the elite that Hashem regards highly.  Indeed, their prayers and deeds do bear merit.  However, there are many who reach high places and find Hashem and do not serve Hashem in this manner.  In fact, it is quite different. A person who is connected intimately through the land and its produce has a different prayer that rises up to the Creator - it is in the subsistence and abundance of the land that he finds the Divine.

The skinner was able to go about his day, giving psalms to Hashem in all moments possible.  While not formally seated at a table studying or praying, he was in the depths of holy living - infusing Hashem into every corner of his day through speech and deed.  And he did this without fasts and the revelation of Elijah.  His soul, in its glorious humility, sought to find his Creator, exalt him in his living, and passed from this world a tzaddik in his own right.

For us, this story speaks volumes.  While some of us might wish we had all day to study, speak, and rise to great heights, the truth of the matter is that we can all take the example of the skinner and run home with it.  We are sometimes given jobs which are not fantastic or include being immersed in the study of Torah on a daily basis - maybe we even struggle to get in the davenning time that we must as it is.  This story gives us hope because it is not in what we aren't but what we are that is our greatest attribute.  When we come to terms of our place in this world, relish in every moment given to us as an abundant and available moment to reach the Heavens, then we are truly fulfilling our potential  - no matter what our occupation.

Rise above what you aren't and be what you are.  Seek Hashem for the revelation of your own soul and be.

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