By Asharon Baltazar – Chabad.org
An unfortunate incident interrupted the fairly predictable lives of a wealthy merchant and his wife: their only daughter was suffering a psychotic episode. Despite the girl’s many fine qualities, living around her became insufferable due to her bizarre and unpredictable behavior.
Around this time, the fame of a new miracle worker—the Baal Shem Tov—spread. Aware that his daughter couldn’t undertake even a short journey in her condition, the merchant harnessed a fine pair of horses to a carriage and set off alone, hoping to bring the Baal Shem Tov back home to Politz with him.
The Baal Shem Tov was spending several days in Tluste, his childhood home, and the townspeople were thrilled at the opportunity to host such an important guest. They also took advantage of the holy man’s presence to request blessings and advice for their sundry woes.
When the merchant arrived in Tluste and requested the Baal Shem Tov return with him to Politz, the townspeople were not pleased. Sympathetic as they were to the man’s plea, they were disturbed by the notion of shuttling the Baal Shem Tov away. Did the need of an individual outweigh the needs of an entire community?
But the Baal Shem Tov comforted the townspeople, assuring them that he was, indeed, leaving for the sake of many. Beyond that cryptic statement, he offered no justification for his sudden departure.
As the journey wore on, the pair stopped at an inn in Pistyn. Judging by the miserable faces of the locals, it was clear something was amiss.
The local duke, who habitually tormented the Jews with unfair taxes and harsh decrees, was responsible. It was his daughter, they were told. She had gone insane, and the duke blamed the Jews and their prayers, threatening to expel them from their homes and confiscate all their possessions if his daughter wasn’t healed within three days.
To the merchant, it became clear that their stopover in Pistyn was the unmistakable result of Hashgacha Protis. He informed the elders of Pistyn that the Baal Shem Tov, famous for his miracles, could definitely help. The Baal Shem Tov agreed, and the elders hurried to inform the duke.
But the duke wasn’t easily swayed. Why should he trust a man who possessed no medical credentials when he had already approached so many qualified doctors? Besides, the others forbade any administration of medicine in her fragile state. The duke wasn’t willing to play games with his daughter’s life.
“Tell the duke that I need only to whisper in her ear without any medication or other procedures,” said the Baal Shem Tov after hearing of the duke’s refusal.
Placated, the duke arranged to meet with the mysterious visitor. Accompanied by the merchant and the elders of Pistyn, the Baal Shem Tov made his way to the estate and requested that the young woman be brought into a room with no crosses and that she be securely tied down.
From under his robe, the Baal Shem Tov produced a Gemara, Mesechta Me’ilah, and began to read from daf 17a about Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai:
Once, the king of Rome decreed that Jews were forbidden from observing any of their commandments, such as Shabbat and circumcision. To abolish the decree, the Sages chose Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, known for his reputation as a miracle worker. As Rabbi Shimon began his journey, G‑d sent an evil spirit by the name of Ben Temalion to enter the body of the Roman king’s daughter. This possession caused the young woman to lose her mind.
She began to howl incessantly, “Send for Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai to heal me!”
When Rabbi Shimon arrived in Rome, the king’s messengers immediately ordered him to the palace, where he was ushered into the daughter’s sickroom.
Rabbi Shimon stood by her bedside and cried, “Ben Temalion, I command you to leave the king’s daughter!”
The spirit listened to Rabbi Shimon and left, and the daughter recovered soon after.
Indebted, the king wanted to reward the venerable rabbi. “Take whatever you desire from my coffers as a reward,” he offered.
Rabbi Shimon searched the coffers until he found what he was looking for. In a swift motion, he tore up the decree imperiling the spiritual fate of the Jewish people.
The Baal Shem Tov fell silent and looked up at the duke.
“If you swear no harm shall befall your Jewish residents ever again, your daughter will recover fully from this illness. Do you agree?”
Nothing mattered to him more than his precious child, so the duke swore upon his and his daughter’s very lives. The Baal Shem Tov leaned close to the girl and whispered, “Just as Rabbi Shimon commanded the spirit to leave the Roman king’s daughter, so too I command the spirit to leave the duke’s daughter. And the One Who healed the Roman king’s daughter, He too shall heal the duke’s daughter.”
The long silence that followed was interrupted by the Baal Shem Tov instructing the castle staff to remove the restraints. The young woman opened her eyes and sat up, openly wondering why the men were regarding her with concerned looks. To her father’s delight, she returned to the daughter she had always been, free from the forces that had gripped her so strongly.
As for the Jews of Pistyn, they marked this miracle on their calendar to celebrate the diversion of a terrible end.
The wealthy merchant couldn’t contain his amazement. He managed, however, to flesh it all out in a letter he sent to the philanthropist of Tluste, Reb Ephraim. Their sudden departure had been, as the Baal Shem Tov had predicted, for the need of many.
The next day the pair left Pistyn escorted by a large crowd. When they arrived in Politz, the Baal Shem Tov prayed for the merchant’s daughter, and she, like the duke’s daughter, recovered completely from her bout of insanity.
Adapted and translated from Sichat Hashavua 1166