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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Idan Scher

Seeing The Hero In Ourselves

There was a Hassid, a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov (the founder of the hassidic movement), who wanted to see the Prophet Elijah. Meeting Elijah is considered the greatest of spiritual privileges, only experienced by the most righteous of mystics. This Hassid, let’s call him Mendel, asked the Baal Shem Tov which spiritual exercises he needed to undertake in order to merit this profound experience.

The Baal Shem Tov discouraged him, but Mendel persisted. For months he implored the Baal Shem Tov, yet the great hassidic master kept turning him down.

Finally, a few days before Sukkot, the Baal Shem Tov acquiesced. He told Mendel that he would help him meet Elijah, but on one condition – he’d have to carry out his instructions exactly as conveyed, down to the last detail. Of course, Mendel readily agreed.

The Baal Shem Tov instructed him to fill up nine boxes with large quantities of food: fish, meat, wine, and challah, and travel to the neighboring town with all of the purchased food. At the outskirts of the town, at the edge of the forest he would find a dilapidated house. Shortly before the holiday begins, he should knock on the door and ask if the residents of the home would put him up for the holiday.

Mendel followed the instructions of the Baal Shem Tov. He purchased the food and drink and traveled to the impoverished home. He knocked on the door. The woman of the house opened it, and he asked her if he could stay with them for the holiday.

The woman explained that she would have loved to host him but that she didn’t even have food for her family, to which Mendel responded that he had enough food for everyone.

The woman could not believe her ears and welcomed him in; she introduced him to her husband and children and gave him a bed to sleep in.

Seeing the entire family overjoyed, the smiles on the children’s faces, Mendel realized how impoverished they truly were. These poor kids had never seen so much food in their life. And the parents were so happy, feeling that they could finally celebrate the festival properly, with abundant food and wine.

Mendel spent the first two days of Sukkot with them eagerly waiting to see Elijah. But Elijah never showed up. He was frustrated and disappointed and immediately after the holiday was over he went back to the Baal Shem Tov to ask him why he hadn’t seen Elijah. After confirming that Mendel had done every single thing that he had told him to do the Baal Shem Tov gave him new instruction. He told Mendel that he should go back to the house for the last days of the holiday, but this time, when he arrives, he should remain outside and just stand near the window, listening.

Mendel wondered about the meaning of this strange instruction. But he followed orders. He went back to the house, stood near the window and heard a conversation taking place between the husband and wife. The husband was so concerned as to where they would find food to feed their family for the second days of Sukkot; the holidays of Shemini Atzeret and Simhat Torah. To which his wife responded: “Why are you worried? Didn’t you see how God sent Elijah to for the first days of Sukkot with all that delicious food? Surely God will send Elijah again for the last days of the holiday!”

Now Mendel understood exactly what the Baal Shem Tov was trying to telling him.

You want to see Elijah, the miracle worker? Fill up boxes with food and feed the hungry, then take a look in the mirror. You will see Elijah in yourself. You will see the extraordinary in you.

I recently saw a quote, “The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.”

This is true of anything and everything we hold dear. “The greatest threat to _______(insert the things we hold so dear), is the belief that someone else will save it.”

We must stop waiting around looking for that “hero” for that Elijah the Prophet. We have all seen that hero and it is every single one of us.


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