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And Abraham responded: “Behold, I have presumed to speak to the L-rd, and I am but dust and ashes”

Genesis 18:27

When Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov began gaining adherents to the Chassidic approach to serving G-d (circa 1734), many rabbis and community leaders of “mainstream” Judaism regarded the movement with suspicion and combated it with edicts of excommunication and other forms of persecution. Among the Baal Shem Tov’s opponents was Rabbi Chaim Rappaport, Chief Rabbi of Lemberg.

One day, a stranger entered the Lemberg study hall where Rabbi Chaim would spend the day immersed in learning and prayer. The Rabbi was drawn to the guest, whose luminous face and every movement bespoke a saintly character, and greeted him warmly:

Shalom aleichem! Whom have I the honor to welcome to our humble town?”

The visitor responded by quoting Abraham: “I am but dust and ashes.”

“And with whom have I the honor to speak?” the visitor then inquired.

“I am but dust and ashes,” replied Rabbi Chaim.

“If such is the case,” said the stranger, “how can there be conflict and animosity between us?” With that, he walked out of the study hall, climbed onto his carriage, and departed from Lemberg.

Rabbi Chaim realized that he had just met the founder of Chassidism. From that point on, he ceased his battle against the movement and eventually came to be counted among the Baal Shem Tov’s foremost disciples.

 

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