Li'ilui nishmas Dov Ber ben Yitzchak Yaakov a"h
Yahrtzeit: 29 Shvat
We are posting this story because of its connection to parshas Mishpatim, the weekly sedra. It’s a wonderful old Chassidic tale—but there’s just one catch. The Maggid of Mezeritch was an accomplished kabbalist before he ever met the Baal Shem Tov, as all traditions attest (including the earliest collection of Chassidic tales, Shivachey Baal Shem Tov). So how could the Maggid have failed to know that the Zohar on parshas Mishpatim is replete with such mystical readings of these “judgments (mishpatim)”?
One possible answer is that it was not the Maggid who asked this question but a different disciple of the Baal Shem Tov, and somehow their names got mixed-up.
But it is also possible that the Maggid’s question wasn’t a theoretical one at all, but a request for a glimpse of how these concepts are evident in “real life.” And that’s just what the Baal Shem Tov showed him…
The holy Maggid of Mezeritch once asked his master, the Baal Shem Tov, for the kabbalistic meaning of the verse, “And these are the judgments. . .’’ (Exodus 21:1)
“I will demonstrate Heavenly justice to you,” said the Baal Shem Tov. “Go to such‑and‑such a forest on such‑and‑such a day. When you find a tree under which flows a spring, hide yourself nearby and observe what happens.”
The Maggid followed his instructions carefully and concealed himself near the spring. The first person to pass was a rider who stopped to refresh himself by the spring. He ate, drank, and then rode off, leaving his money pouch behind.
Along came another fellow who spied the pouch, picked it up, and went on his way.
Then a third man, a beggar, appeared. He, too, sat down beside the spring, refreshed himself from its cool waters, and lay down to rest. Suddenly, the horseman returned and attacked the beggar, accusing him of stealing his money pouch. Although the beggar protested his innocence, the first man continued beating him until he was covered with blood. Having witnessed all this, the Maggid left his hiding place and returned to ask his rebbe for an explanation.
“Mortal man cannot understand Heaven’s accounts,” the Baal Shem Tov began. “You were surely confused by the seeming injustice of what you saw. But there is truly no injustice on earth. The horseman was a reincarnation of a man who owed the second person money. In a former lifetime, these two had appeared before a judge, who had ruled in favor of the first man without properly investigating the case. In the scene you just witnessed, the first man repaid his debtor what he rightfully owed. The beggar was a reincarnation of the judge, who also received what he deserved: a thorough beating. This is but a small example of Heavenly justice” (Devarim Areivim).