Rabbi Gershon’s Letter
“My family and I are coming to see you,” Rabbi Gershon Kitover wrote to his brother-in-law, our Heilege Yid, the Baal Shem Tov. “We will visit you on our way to Eretz Ha’Koidish, the Holy Land.”
Why did Rabbi Gershon desire to emigrate to Yisroel? Loi kashya, it’s no difficulty to answer this. Every frummer Yid, pious Jew, desires to live there! Emigrating to Eretz Ha’Koidish was like getting a new soul!
It was unusual for Rabbi Gershon to seek a brocho from his brother-in-law! And not so easy to get there – completely in the opposite direction from Eretz Ha’Koidish, for one thing, and for another it added almost 600 kilometres to the trip.
Rabbi Gerson was unprepared for what he found. The Besht had an entire apartment ready for his in-laws. Rabbi Gershon rested, learned Toira, and awaited a message from the Baal Shem Tov.
No message came, so he went to the bes medrish and learned, both by himself and in chevrusa. One day became another, Rabbi Gershon spent his days this way, his days became weeks. A message finally arrived: the Besht was ready to meet him.
Rabbi Gershon Teaches
The Besht’s enkele, his grandson and Rabbi Gershon’s nephew, was sitting with our Heilege Yid when Rabbi Gershon arrived. Rabbi Gershon was uncertain about this, it seemed strange to him that a child would be present when the Besht gave a brocho. The Besht made introductions. “Tan ir vessn mein enkele,” the Best asked, “do you know my grandson?”
“Ich hav im,” Rabbi Gershon replied with a smile, “I knew him.” He meant that the Besht’s enkele had grown.
“I ask that you teach him,” the Besht smiled. This shocked Rabbi Gershon. “Is he to come with us to the Holy Land?” he asked.
“No,” said the Besht. “Will you teach him here?”
“I will,” Rabbi Gershon answered, knowing there was no way out if it. And it was, after all, a great honour. So it began that the next morning Rabbi Gershon’s time in the bes medrish was less for himself and mostly for his nephew. Rabbi Gershon was a devoted teacher, yet each day was filled with the hope that the Besht would give him a brocho to begin his nesiya, his journey, to Yisroel. Time passed.
A Customary Celebration
It was Rabbi Gershon’s habit to study an amud, a single page, of Talmud Brochos every day, a cycle it took him about four months to complete. It seemed prudent to schedule the siyum, the celebration customary on completing a mesechta, a tractate of Talmud, even though he had not quite completed the cycle. The siyum was also an opportunity, he hoped, to receive the long-awaited brocho. One thing he knew now that he hadn’t known when he arrived: he was spiritually fit in a way he had never been before.
So he set the date. He had not quite finished the final amud, however, the night before the siyum, and at Shachris he was simply too tired. A meditation found him.
It was dark on the outskirts of Medzhibozh, a city he knew only somewhat, and he found himself lost. He spent the night in the forest. Upon awakening he wondered as he wandered. There was no road, he seemed to be alone, and the day passed wondering and wandering down the road he made for himself. He spent another night in the woods, and upon awakening he saw none of the landmarks he trailed the day before. He wondered, he wandered, the forest thickened, he had to get back to Medzhibozh! What of the siyum? The Besht was waiting.
Someone In The Distance
Dusk approached as he glimpsed someone in the distance. A man?
“Reb Yid,” Rabbi Gershon called, and he was answered. Each ran to the other. “Ich bin tzoifridn,” he panted, “what a relief to see you. I have been lost for three nights now. Do you know where Medzhibozh is? The Heilige Yid, the Baal Shem Tov, awaits me.”
“Ir trachtn ir habn tzuris,” the man replied, “you think you have troubles? What about me? I care for three children of a wealthy man in Broidy. I am supposed to be their teacher. How can I teach lost in these woods? Do you know where Broidy is? I must find my way back there.”
Where Is Broidy?
It so happened that Rabbi Gershon definitely knew where Broidy was: up the road, half a day’s walk, from Kitov. Broidy, in fact, was much closer to Kitov than to Medzhibozh. “We are both lost,” said Rabbi Gershon Kitover, “we may as well stay together now and tomorrow, and pray to Hashem Yisborekh that one or both of us find our way.” So they wandered off together, though Rabbi Gershon wondered as he wandered.
In the distance stood a building, there was still enough light to see by, and they ran towards it. The building loomed large as they came closer, and soon enough they knew it was a yeshiva, for yeshivas are noisy places, and Rabbi Gershon Kitover was impressed by the noise, which he recognised as an advanced level of study. They entered and listened as the roish yeshiva gave a sicha, a lesson of soid, secrets of the Toirah neither had ever before encountered. They approached together after the sicha concluded.
“We are lost,” the teacher from Broidy said. “We must find our ways back, he to Medzibozh and I to Broidy.”
Learning Jewish Geography
“Medzhibozh? Broidy?” The roish yeshiva looked perplexed. “I am not familiar with these places.” How could this be? The roish yeshiva said, “All I can tell you is that there is no other world but this one. You should stay here.” Neither liked this advice. “What can I do but earnestly suggest you stay?” asked the roish yeshiva. “If you must move on, continue along this road. There’s another yeshiva along the way. Maybe you can find someone here to help you.”
Not along the way was this yeshiva, it was a long way! The two companions approached, footsore and soul-depleted, and though Rabbi Gershon Kitover was pleased with the beautiful noise it was a chore for him to enter. Once inside, though, the beautiful noise was as a song, a melody of soid, sublime secrets of the Toira that Rabbi Gershon Kitover was completely unaware of. “We are lost,” he told the roish yeshiva after his sicha ended. “I must find my way back to Medzhibozh,” he said, “and my companion to Broidy.” But the man from Broidy said nothing.
“Medzhibozh? Broidy?” The roish yeshiva looked perplexed. “I am not familiar with these places.” How could this be?
“All I can tell you is that there is no other world but this one. You should stay here.” Rabbi Gershon did not like this advice. “What can I do but earnestly suggest you stay?” asked the roish yeshiva. “If you must move on, continue along this road. There’s another yeshiva along the way. Maybe you can find someone here to help you.”
I Must Find Medzhibozh!
Rabbi Gershon left the yeshiva the next morning, but the man from Broidy stayed. “Such Toira they teach here,” he said, “I must stay to learn more.” So Rabbi Gershon continued alone on his way to the third yeshiva, a palace he came upon, beautiful noise, and he was almost overcome by the sound, the song, a melody, a harmony, a sacred chord that rose to become the merkava, the divine chariot. The sicha concluded, Rabbi Gershon approached the roish yeshiva.
“I must find Medzhibozh,” he said.
“Medzhibozh?” The roish yeshiva looked perplexed. “I am not familiar with this place.” How could this be? “All I can tell you is that there is no other world but this one. You should stay here.”
“I must find Medzhibozh,” Rabbi Gershon said, “I must! The Baal Shem Tov awaits me.” Rabbi Gershon saw something in the roish yeshiva, who said “Der oilem fun oilemim, maybe I can find it in the map of all the worlds.” The roish yeshiva studied what seemed to be an atlas of sorts. “I see it,” he said, “I see your Medzhibozh, it’s on a small world, I earnestly suggest you stay here.”
“I must find Medzhibozh,” said Rabbi Gershon. “I must! The Baal Shem Tov awaits me.” The roish yeshiva seemed to understand. “Take Rabbi Gershon Kitover,” he asked two of his students. Each on one side, they marched Rabbi Gershon to a door, opened it, and pushed him through. He fell into his makoim. He opened his eyes to the sight of his brother-in-law entering to partake of the siyum.
“I am worried about the man from Broidy,” the Besht said. “What of him?”
“He stayed,” Rabbi Gershon said. “In the second yeshiva.”
A pensive Baal Shem Tov replied “Such a tyer neshoma, a precious soul. Better we should have him.” Rabbi Gershon wondered why only the Besht was present and wandered into silence awhile. “Nu,” he said. “So shall I stay awhile to teach your enkele?”