A Not-By-Chance Chance Meeting

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The Yahrzeit of Rabbi Yaakov Shimshon of Shepetovka (d. 1801) is commemorated on the 3rd of Sivan. The following meise / hasidic tale appeared in Sefer HaHasidut, Meah Tzadikim, Raphael, Yitzchak, 1961, Tel Aviv. (Freely translated by Gabbai Seth Fishman.)

Rabbi Yaakov Shimshon in Eastern Lands

In 1799, when he went up to the Holy Land and saw first-hand the oppression and poverty of the Polish Jews who lived there and saw how nearly famished they were, he took his life in his hands and traveled to far-away countries such as Babylon (Iraq) and Egypt to try to raise funds for their relief.

Along the way, he came to a town in lands which were part of Arabia and he entered into the house of an old man, a sage who lived there.

The old man greeted him and, when he heard that the Rabbi was from Poland, he asked if he could tell him something of Rabbi Baruch of Medzhibozh [grandson of the Baal Shem Tov].

When the holy gaon Reb Shimshon, heard this question, he perceived that he had chanced upon a holy man through some not-by-accident, divinely-inspired, blessed happenstance for he had come to a place and found a person there who was acquainted with our Rabbi, Reb Baruch.

He answered the man and said:

“I do, indeed, know Rabbi Baruch.”

And then the Rabbi bowed to the man with deep respect, as one of his servants.

The old man said:

“Would you relate some teaching in his name?”

All at once, in an instant, Rabbi Shimshon drew a blank; nothing came to him; all he had ever heard from our Rabbi could not be found, (which was all the more remarkable since all his life, Rabbi Shimshon had had perfect recall of whatever he had studied).

This grieved him greatly and, it was also very sad for the old sage, since it looked as though he wouldn’t be able to avail himself of this opportunity to hear, as hoped, some relevant teaching of the Rav Rabbi Baruch.

“Might you, at some later time perhaps, recall even one small thing you could mention?”

Thankfully, with this question, the veil lifted from his memory and, with a great sense of relief, he could tell the old man:

“Guess what! I’ve just remembered a small teaching I heard from him and here it is:

‘In the order of prayers in Birkat Hamazon set down by the men of the Great Assembly is the following:

“We give thanks to you, Hashem Elokeinu“, for this and for that, etc.

‘and then later,

“and for everything, (v’al hakol) Hashem Elokeinu we give our thanks to You.”‘

“And the holy Rabbi Reb Baruch explained the words:

‘We must thank Hashem for this and for that as are enumerated in the prayer.

‘But to everything else (v’al hakol) which means to say, more than all else for which we are thankful, we must also thank You for the fact that You are Hashem our God and give thanks that we have merited to recognize God’s divinity, (His name be blessed), and, that we didn’t go astray, God forbid, onto the path of those who have.'”

When the old man heard this thing he answered in alarm and with caution:

“And is this merely some small teaching? Isn’t it a most powerful injunction?”

And then, he began relating esoteric teachings on this subject.

They stayed together for three days in expanded consciousness connection, and somatic, embodied alignment, and they didn’t eat or drink all those three days until the great, holy gaon Reb Shimshon had reached his limit.

Afterwards, the holy Rabbi Shimshon of Shepetovka had a question for the old sage:

“What tipped you off to ask whether I knew the Rabbi Reb Baruch?”

The sage answered:

“I could see in you that in the paths of this world, the paths of firmament shone.”

(Lamp For The Light of Wholeness, page 29)

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