A Matter of Mesirus Nefesh

The son of the Rizhner Rebbe, R' Avraham Yaacov of Sadigora once told this story. One Erev Shabbos the Baal Shem Tov appeared in a town unexpectedly. Declining invitations from all the locals, he elected to remain alone in the Shul after Shabbos evening davening. The wonder of the residents turned to alarm when they saw his fervent Tefilla and Tehillim continue the whole night long. Something was surely the matter. But in the morning the Baal Shem Tov was relaxed and joyful, and he accepted the invitation of one of the locals for the morning Shabbos meal.

Naturally, all of the townspeople crowded into the house of the host to see the Holy Baal Shem Tov. As they were sitting at the table, a local peasant came around looking for a drink of vodka. They were about to drive him away when the Baal Shem Tov called out that he should be brought in, and provided with a generous glass of vodka. He asked him to tell what he had seen in the mansion of the Poritz (wealthy Polish estate owner) the previous night. The peasant's tongue, loosened by the vodka, related that the Poritz, believing that he had been cheated in a business deal by a Jewish merchant, assembled his peasants and armed them with knives and hatchets telling them to be on the ready to avenge themselves on the Jews at his command. They would then all be able to liberate their stolen riches from the Jews.

"The whole night we waited for the command, he continued, "But the Poritz had closeted himself in his office with an unexpected visitor, an old friend that he hadn't seen for 40 years! Finally, he emerged and told us all to go home, that the Jews were upright and honest people and nobody should dare lay a hand on them. We all went home and that's the whole story!"

"This old friend", explained the Sadigorer Rebbe, "Had been dead for decades. The Baal Shem Tov had dragged him from the grave to influence his friend the Poritz."

"But I always wondered," queried the Rebbe, "Why did the Baal Shem Tov have to travel all the way to that town for Shabbos to avert the decree? Couldn't he just as well have remained in his hometown of Medzibuz?"

"But I understand now. The Baal Shem Tov said to himself, if I can succeed in saving the town, fine...but if not, then I will perish together with them!"