The Wandering Soul
As Yom Kippur approached, Reb David of Michaelov, one of the Baal Shem Tov's most illustrious Chasidim, would begin his annual journey to the Baal Shem Tov (known also as the Besht) in Medzhibozh. His sojourn with the Besht, which would last from Yom Kippur until the end of Sukot, gave Reb David the spiritual sustenance he needed for the entire year.
One year, Reb David traveled through a small village which had a tiny Jewish community. They begged Reb David to spend Yom Kippur with them so they could have a minyan for the holy day. Reb David was torn. He would have liked to agree to their request, but how could he forgo the exalted experience of Yom Tov with the Besht? No, he simply couldn't remain.
When Reb David finally arrived in Medzhibozh and entered the Besht's shul he immediately felt a distinct lack of warmth from the Besht. Try as he may, Reb David couldn't figure out the reason he was being ignored.
When Sukot drew to a close, the Baal Shem Tov finally explained himself. "Reb David," he began, "by not remaining in the village over Yom Kippur you have caused great damage. In that village there was a soul which had been waiting seventy years for your arrival in order to be redeemed. And not only did that soul suffer, but your own soul suffered as well, for your two souls come from the same root source." The Besht explained that the only way for him to repair the damage would be to go undergo an indefinite period of wandering.
Reb David asked, "How will I know when the period of exile has ended?"
"You will receive a sign, and it will be clear to you," the Besht replied.
Reb David was soon on the road. Although he was a well-known figure, he passed unrecognized through towns and villages. Posing as a "maggid," a simple preacher, he spent a few days in a location, delivered an inspiring sermon and then moved on. After two years, Reb David arrived in the town of Slonim, where he was to deliver his sermon on Shabbat. However, a renowned preacher arrived that same week, and Reb David's sermon was postponed.
Both preachers were lodging in the home of the town elder. When the famous preacher met Reb David, he asked, "And who are you?" to which Reb David replied, "I am a simple traveling preacher. I was to deliver my speech this Shabbat, but in deference to you, I will wait until next week."
"Is that so! Let's hear what you can say right now!" the preacher said condescendingly. The town elder pressured Reb David as well and he had no way out. After Reb David made a few short remarks on the weekly portion, the famous preacher bellowed, "This fellow's an ignoramus!" An embarrased silence ensued after which everyone retired to their rooms for the evening.
The following day, the host was horrified when he realized that all of the family's valuables had been stolen. Suspicion fell on Reb David as he was a total stranger, although in truth, the thief was none other than the "famous" preacher!
That Shabbat, the preacher addressed the crowd with words of rebuke and chastisement which could shrivel the heart of the most hardened criminal. When Shabbat ended, Reb David was brought into the shul and openly accused of the theft. Reb David said nothing to defend himself. Suddenly a voice was heard coming from outside the shul, saying, "Is Reb David Michaelov among you?" People ran outside to see who was speaking, but no one was there. Once more, it was demanded of Reb David that he admit his guilt. Again, a voice asked, "Is Reb David Michaelov there?" Still, there was no one outside. Finally the voice shouted: "Reb David, why don't you answer your accusers?"
At that, Reb David remembered the words of the Baal Shem Tov, and he knew that his penance had been accepted. Now Reb David movingly explained to the spellbound assemblage the events of the past few years. He began with the story of how he had made the mistake of spending Yom Kippur with his Rebbe rather than with the small Jewish community. He continued with an inspiring appeal to seize every opportunity to do a mitzva. He described how the past two years had served as a spiritual cleansing and repaired the damage to his soul and that of the villager.
Soon, the "preacher" confessed. The entire community begged forgiveness of Reb David for wrongly accusing him and he gladly forgave them.