To Break Open the Gates: A Tale of Healing

By Reb Daniel Lev

You know… there are at least two kinds of holy people. Although they both live a holy life, the first one looks down on people they consider “not holy” and the second one values everyone they meet. This story discusses both:
There was once a poor woman who was abandoned by her husband after she gave birth to their son. Filled with the strength of her love for her child, she found a way to raise him and keep him safe and fed. Unfortunately, a terrible flu invaded her little Polish village and soon her son was stricken with it. The town doctor took one look at the boy and shook his head, telling her to “make him comfortable so that his end will harbor no trauma.” A woman of deep faith, this mother sent for the holy Ba’al Shem Tov, the great healer and founder of the Jewish heart path called Chassidism. The BESHT, as he was also known, came quickly and, seeing that the child was rapidly drawing near to death, sent his accompanying students to seek out and return with ten local thieves and burglars.

The town’s rabbi – a stickler for observing laws and morals – walked into the poor woman’s home just as the student arrived with their crew of Jewish criminals. The rabbi was aghast but held his tongue as these men joined the BESHT in praying for the recovery of the small boy who laid before them. From time to time the house shook with their voices pleading for the life of this little one. When it was over, and the thieves left to do their business, the doctor was called and upon examination of the child he declared in a voice of shock and joy that “the boy will live!” The mother wept on the BESHT’s shoulder in thankfulness and he left her with a small amulet to keep in her house for ongoing healing.

As the BESHT and his students were leaving, the rabbi, puffed up with righteous indignation, demanded of the healer an explanation. “Why?” boomed the rabbi, “did you not make a prayer minyan with upstanding members of the community instead of the evil rabble you brought here?!”

Calmly the Baal Shem Tov responded, “The boy was extremely ill, and the Angel of Death was approaching rapidly. I had to work fast to get the most powerful Jews to break open the Gates of Heaven – and who is better than a minyan of holy Jewish thieves and burglars to open the gates and bring the light of healing into this house?”