The Power of Joy
It was the day before Passover and the Baal Shem Tov (the Besht) was in a happy mood as he and his disciples gathered for the ceremony of preparing the specially watched water for the matzot which are baked right before the onset of the holiday. But soon after the water was prepared, everyone noticed a drastic change in the mood of the Besht, from happiness to deep melancholy and even sadness.
As usual, the Besht himself led the evening prayers, but his devotions were accompanied by terrible groans and cries. His Chasidim were shocked, since he usually prayed with tremendous joy, especially Passover eve.
Later that night, the Besht summoned ten of his disciples. "I want you to gather outside my room, and together, recite the Tikun Chatzot (midnight prayers). Just remember what I am about to tell you. If you see that I faint, do not touch me or do anything at all to revive me. The only action you must take is to recite Psalms until I come back to myself."
The Chasidim followed his orders, assembling outside the Besht's room and saying the midnight prayer. After a short while, the scribe, Reb Tzvi, ran from the Besht's room in a panic, exclaiming, "The Rebbe is lying on the floor in a faint! Who knows if he will regain consciousness!"
The Chasidim began reciting Psalms as they had been told, and continued all through the night, sobbing and imploring G-d to bring their master back to this world in good health.
Finally, after dawn, the Besht awakened, but he was weak and unable to walk. He mustered the energy to ask his disciples to carry him to the mikva.
When the Baal Shem Tov regained his strength, he returned to the study hall to lead the morning prayers. Before beginning, to the surprise of everyone, he instructed those present to concentrate on the holy intentions that accompany the Rosh Hashana prayers.
Throughout the entire service, the Besht wept. Even later in the day, when the time arrived to bake the special matzot, usually a time of great joy, the Besht was still deeply sad. After the afternoon service, the disciples recited the Passover eve prayers, and the Besht cried still more.
Finally, night fell and the Besht sat down together with his disciples at the Seder table. But instead of illuminating the evening with his brilliant exposition of the Hagada, he simply read through the text, making no comments at all. When the first part of the Hagada had been recited, the Besht's mood changed; his gloom lifted, and he suddenly began to laugh. Finally the Besht turned to his disciples and said, "Now, I will explain to you what happened."
"The day before Passover eve, the day of drawing the special water, I saw that a decree was made in Heaven against 400 Jewish families. These families were destined to be taken away, G-d forbid, from this world! I ascended to the supernal worlds and did everything in my power to have this decree annulled, but all of my efforts were to no avail. After all of my spiritual exertion, all that remained for me was simply to put my faith in G-d that all would be well.
"When I awoke the next morning, I saw that the decree was not revoked. In fact, it was even stronger than before. That is why such a sadness overcame me. Then I saw something else: A middle- aged couple sat around a Seder table in a far-away city. This couple had no children, and were sitting alone at their table, reading from their Hagada. When they reached the part which describes Pharaoh's terrible decree to throw all the infant Jewish boys into the Nile, the woman began arguing against the Almighty, screaming, 'No! This cannot be! If I were the mother of children,' she cried, 'would I do such a thing? Would I throw my children into the water? As bad as a child may be, is that how parents behave?' And the good woman did not stop. She continued berating the Creator, saying, 'How long will You keep us in exile? You say you are our Father! How long will You draw out this terrible exile? It's high time You take us out of exile and bring the Redemption!'
"Her husband tried to calm her down. 'Have faith! Surely you know that everything G-d does is for the good and there is no evil in His actions!' But the woman was unmoved by all his arguments. 'A father must have mercy on his children no matter what,' she insisted.
"And then," the Besht continued, "there was a great commotion in Heaven. One group of angels said, 'What chutzpa! How can this woman make demands on G-d?' Then another group of angels began disagreeing, claiming, 'Here is a simple Jewish woman, one who, without being a mother herself, feels to passionately for G-d's children! She is right!'
"I was very fearful," said the Besht, "for I did not know which group would win the argument! And then what happened? The couple drank the four cups of wine, and finished the Seder. Then the woman said to her husband, 'True, it is a bitter exile, but now it is a Yom Tov, a holy day for G-d and the Jews. We should celebrate it with joy.' And the man and his wife danced merrily around the table, their hearts filled with joy for their Creator in the happiness of the holiday.
"All the celestial beings watched them in wonder. They saw the great joy with which this couple could celebrate the holy Yom Tov, even in bitter exile, and how they fulfilled G-d's will, despite the deep darkness of the exile. And when the angels witnessed the unbridled joy this couple took in the Yom Tov, those who were accusers became advocates and the decree was overturned. And that is when I laughed, for I rejoiced in the power of joy which saved the lives of four hundred holy Jewish souls."