The Cherem


By the time Rabbi Ze'ev Wolf reached the inn near Brod, he already knew why the Baal Shem Tov had sent him to that city. The Baal Shem Tov had not revealed the purpose of his trip but R' Wolf learned that it had something to do with the cherem (excommunication) that the townspeople of Brod intended to place upon the Baal Shem Tov and his followers, having judged him and found him wanting. The Baal Shem Tov did not follow the code of Jewish Law, they argued; his ways were very strange and new and often contradicted their own customs. He was, in effect, a dangerous threat to Judaism.


The scholars of Brod knew that without the consent of the rabbi of Lvov they could do nothing. Brod was a city under the jurisdiction of the "Four Countries" union and therefore, under the guidance of the rabbi of Lvov. They decided therefore to invite the rabbi to their city and get him to cooperate with their plan.


The rabbi of Lvov agreed to come. As circumstances had it, he chose to stay at the inn near Brod on the very night that R' Wolf was stopping over for the night. R' Wolf decided to remain incognito and assumed the role of a poor beggar. He huddled up unassumingly by the stove to await the development of events. Throughout his journey, the rabbi of Lvov had enjoyed much publicity and honor. When he arrived at the inn, a festive meal had been prepared for him with many of Brod's notables. It was late by the time they had finished. Meanwhile R' Wolf arose from his corner by the stove to say the tikun chatzot . As was his custom, he prayed fervently, shedding copious tears. The guest was impressed and when R' Wolf had finished, engaged him in conversation. The poor man's manner, his knowledge and character impressed the rabbi even further.


"Where are you headed?" the rabbi wanted to know. "For Brod," was the reply.


On the following day the two men went their separate ways to Brod. The rabbi of Lvov went directly to the meal tendered in his honor. At first he was honored with the customary speeches of welcome. During the main part, the crucial topic was presented to him, written out and organized in a report enumerating the reasons they felt why the Baal Shem Tov should be placed under cherem.


"One must not approach the concept of cherem lightly," the rabbi said in shock. "For a cherem one needs to include a large group of wise Torah scholars." He then went on to tell of the scholarly beggar he had met the night before.


"This man must be in Brod by now. I want you to search for him and bring him here. I would like his opinion on the matter at hand."


After finding him, R' Wolf was brought before the rabbi of Lvov. The sheaf of papers was placed before him and he was asked to express his opinion.


"What?!" Reb Wolf exclaimed in horror and pain. "You wish to put my beloved rebbe and master into cherem? What a crime! What an injustice! You claim that he does not keep the code of Jewish Law? He does not depart from it by one iota!" R' Wolf launched into a full justification of the Baal Shem Tov, rebutting every point that his rebbe had been accused of. When he stopped to catch his breath, the rabbi of Lvov turned to his audience.


"If the Baal Shem Tov has such devoted and worthy followers as this man, we cannot lift a finger against him."


The proposed cherem was abandoned and the two guests returned to their homes, the rabbi to Lvov and Reb Wolf to Mezibuz, glad to have accomplished his mission in Brod.


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