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Anthony de Mello

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Among Jews, the observance of the Sabbath, the day of the Lord, was originally a thing of joy but too many Rabbis kept issuing one injunction after another on how exactly it was to be observed, what sort of activity was allowed, until some people fell they could hardly move during the Sabbath for fear that some regulation or other might be transgressed. The Baal Shem, son of Eliezer, gave much thought to this matter. One night he had a dream. An angel took him up to heaven and showed him two thrones placed far above all others. “For whom are these reserved?” he asked. “For you,” was the answer, “if you make use of your intelligence; and for a man whose name and address is now being written down and given to you.” He was then taken to the deepest spot in hell and shown two vacant seats. “For whom are these prepared?” he asked. “For you,” the answer came, “if you do not make use of your intelligence; and for the man whose name and address are being written down for you.” In his dream Baal Shem visited the man who was to be his companion in paradise. He found him living among Gentiles, quite ignorant of Jewish customs and, on the Sabbath, he would give a banquet at which there was a lot of merrymaking and to which all his Gentile neighbours were invited. When Baal Shem asked him why he held this banquet, the man replied, “I recall that in my childhood my parents taught me that the Sabbath was a day for rest and for rejoicing; so on Saturdays my mother made the most succulent meals at which we sang and danced and made merry. I do the same today.” Baal Shem attempted to instruct the man in the ways of his religion for he had been born a Jew but was evidently quite ignorant of all the rabbinical prescrip- tions. But he was struck dumb when he realised that the man’s joy in the Sabbath would be marred if he was made aware of his short-comings. Baal Shem, still in his dream, then went to the home of his companion in hell. He found the man to be a strict observer of the Law, always apprehensive lest his conduct should not be correct. The poor man spent each Sabbath day in a scrupulous tension as if he were-sitting on hoi coals. When Baal Shem attempted to upbraid him for his slavery to the Law, the power of speech was taken from him as he realised that the man would never understand that he could do wrong by fulfilling religious injunctions. Thanks to this revelation given him in the form of a dream, the Baal Shem Tov evolved a new system of observance whereby God is worshipped in joy that comes from the heart. When people are joyful they are always good; whereas when they are good they are seldom joyful. 🙂
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