Weekly Chasidic Story #1038 (s5778-07/
10 Cheshvan 5778)
The Baal Shem Tov's Closest Follower
Rabbi Ze'ev-Wolf Kitzis approached the holy Baal Shem Tov as he was immersed
in prayer. He lifted the Besht's tallis to see, took one glance...and fainted.
Connection: Seasonal -- 230th yahrzeit of R. Ze'ev-Wolf Kitzis
The Baal Shem Tov's Closest Follower
In his earlier years, Rabbi Zev-Wolf Kitzis served as the
town Rabbi of Toltzin, and later held the position of Chief Rabbinical Judge
in the town of Medzibuzh.
When he first arrived in Medzibuzh, the town had not yet become the famous founding
center of the Baal Shem Tov's movement. With the arrival of the
Baal Shem Tov in subsequent years, Rabbi Wolf set out to investigate him and
his unusual ways.
His initial reaction was one of great opposition, but after a short while he
became one of his greatest followers. Chassidic lore has it that this turnabout
was the result of a remarkable incident:
On Erev Shabbos the Baal Shem Tov had the custom to begin his Mincha
(Afternoon Prayer) early hours before sunset, and linger over the Amidah
(Standing Prayer) for several hours. Rabbi Wolf, who was constantly dogging
his steps, became angry at this behavior and claimed that it is not possible
to pray for such a long time with the correct level of Kavanah (focused
One day, Rabbi Wolf approached the Baal Shem Tov as he was immersed in prayer,
and lifted the Rebbe's tallit (prayer shawl) so as to see what he was
doing. After one brief glance at the face of the Baal Shem Tov, he fainted.
After he regained consciousness, he became seriously ill and was bedridden
for three months. He explained to those around him the reason why he had fainted
- instead of the radiant, healthy countenance of the Baal Shem Tov that all
knew and recognized, the face that met his gaze when he lifted up the tallit
was pale as death, eyes protruding from their sockets from intense mystical
meditations and streaming with tears. From that moment on Rabbi Wolf humbled
himself before the Baal Shem Tov, and became his devoted student.
After he became a veteran chasid of the Baal Shem Tov, he protected his Rebbe
and the path of Chasidut in many debates that he held with scholars who opposed
the fledgling movement. It is told that the Baal Shem Tov himself once said
to Rabbi Zev-Wolf - 'What stands between me and you is a mere hairsbreadth;
but this hairsbreadth you will never be able to cross.'
Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from //tog.org.il/en/Article.aspx?id=454
Rabbi Ze'ev-Wolf Kitzis [of blessed memory: circa. 5460 - 12 Cheshvan
5548 (1700 - 1787)] is considered to be the closest follower of the Baal
Shem Tov. In his earlier years, he served as the town Rabbi of Toltzin,
and later held the position of Chief Rabbinical Judge in the town of Medzibuzh,
years before the Baal Shem Tov's arrival. He was an outstanding Torah scholar
and equally adept in the mystical teachings, as well as extremely meticulous
in all areas of mitzvah observance. It is told that he would not eat meat that
was not koshered in front of his eyes, even if the Baal Shem Tov would partake
of that meat. He is buried in Medzibuzh next to the Baal Shem Tov.
Rabbi Yisrael ben Eliezer [of blessed memory: 18 Elul 5458 - 6 Sivan
5520 (Aug. 1698 - May 1760 C.E.)], the Baal Shem Tov ["Master
of the Good Name"-often referred to as "the Besht" for short],
a unique and seminal figure in Jewish history, revealed his identity as an exceptionally
holy person, on his 36th birthday (1734 C.E.), and made the until-then underground
Chasidic movement public. He wrote no books, although many works claim to contain
his teachings. One available in English is the excellent annotated translation
of Tzava'at Harivash, published by Kehos.
Connection: Seasonal - this Wednesday is the 230th yahrzeit of Rabbi Ze'ev-Wolf
Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor
of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). He has hundreds of published stories
to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells
them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.
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