The maggid continued his stories. In a village not far from Mezhibuzh, there lived three brothers who were all great Torah scholars, and quite wealthy. Two of the brothers were disciples and chassidim of the Baal Shem Tov, while the third was an opponent of the Baal Shem Tov, a misnaged.

Once while the three brothers sat studying in the beis hamedrash, one of them posed a question that had arisen during his studying. The one who posed the question was the misnaged, and the one who attempted to answer it was one of the chassidim. The answer pleased them all, and they were very satisfied with it.

On that same day, the Baal Shem Tov arrived in town. As was customary, the two chassidic brothers and the other local chassidim went to the home where the Baal Shem Tov was staying. There they all heard the Baal Shem Tov deliver a teaching.

Among chassidim it was an accepted practice for each chossid to visit the Baal Shem Tov at regular intervals. He would unburden himself of all the problems he was experiencing in serving the Creator, ask about any difficulties in his Torah study, and request a blessing. The chassidic brother who had answered the misnaged brother’s question went to the Baal Shem Tov to request a program of avodah through which he could serve the Creator.

The Baal Shem Tov replied that he — the chossid — had committed the sin of teaching a false interpretation of the Torah, having studied a Gemara and Tosafos incorrectly. When the chossid heard the Baal Shem Tov say that he had taught a false interpretation he became very sad, and told the Baal Shem Tov that he could not think of the occasion on which he had made the error. He begged his Rebbe, the Baal Shem Tov, to tell him exactly what the error was, and to teach him the true interpretation.

The Baal Shem Tov repeated to him the Gemara, along with Rashi and Tosafos; he told him the question his brother had asked, demonstrated why the answer was incorrect, and gave him the correct answer. Since the topic under discussion was extremely complex, the Baal Shem Tov repeated it all several times so that [the chossid] would remember.

After the Baal Shem Tov left town, the brother studied the topic over again in greater detail: the question his brother had posed to him, and the answer he had given his brother. He then rehearsed the arguments the Baal Shem Tov had used to demonstrate that his answer was wrong, and repeated to himself everything the Baal Shem Tov had said.

After he had worked it all through and assimilated it, he approached his brothers — the chossid and the misnaged — and told them that he had again been thinking about the topic on which his brother had posed the question that he had answered. Having thought it over, he was now unhappy with his answer, for it contained many difficulties. However, he now had a better approach to the topic, that avoided all the difficulties. He therefore suggested that the brothers study the topic again, after which he would tell them his new interpretation.

The brothers were delighted with this proposal, and during the next few days they studied the topic thoroughly. They went over the question the misnaged brother had asked, and the answer the chassidic brother had given; still, they remained satisfied with both the question and the answer.

When the brother was informed that his other two brothers had reviewed the topic, he began to demonstrate how profound the misnaged brother’s question really was. He then showed how wrong his answer had been, explaining the error in such detail that his two brothers were highly impressed. They were both aware that their brother was a fine scholar, but they had never suspected he was such a gaon, or that he possessed such broad knowledge.

Now that the difficulties in the answer had been demonstrated by the brother who had heard the topic discussed by the Baal Shem Tov, that solution was disposed of; therefore, they were stuck with the original question posed by the first brother. But the question had now been shown to be even stronger.

The brother who had heard the Baal Shem Tov’s answer absolutely refused to supply the solution, for he argued that Torah can only be learned through one’s own toil and exertion. The misnaged brother had several comrades who were great scholars and young geniuses, and he discussed the whole matter with them during the next few days. They argued out all aspects of the complex problem, but were unable to solve the difficulty, and the brother who did know the correct solution remained unwilling to reveal it.

The other chossid, who also could not think of an answer, became angry with his brother who knew the solution, and admonished him strongly for his refusal to share it with them. He pointed out that such behavior went against the teachings of the Rebbe the Baal Shem Tov, and reminded his brother of the teaching they had heard from the Rebbe concerning the Mishnah,1 “If you have studied much Torah, do not keep a good thing for yourself.”

At last, the one who had heard the topic discussed by the Baal Shem Tov told his brother the whole story: that when the Rebbe the Baal Shem Tov had visited their town a few weeks earlier, he had gone to the Baal Shem Tov to obtain a program of avodah through which he could serve the Creator, but the Baal Shem Tov had charged him with teaching a false interpretation of the Torah. He then revealed to his brother all that the Baal Shem Tov had said, except the answer itself.

Having heard everything the Rebbe had said, the first brother became very angry: why hadn’t the second brother told everyone the whole story exactly as it happened, so that all might know that it was the Baal Shem Tov’s teaching he had repeated?

The second brother replied that he first wished to force the third brother (the misnaged) and all his friends (the renowned geniuses) to exert themselves thoroughly. Only after they exerted themselves and were still unable to supply an answer, would he tell them the solution. And only after they understood the answer thoroughly would he tell them the whole story. Then, the third brother and all his comrades would know just who the Rebbe the Baal Shem Tov was, and what he was capable of.

Hearing this, the first brother was well satisfied; however, he suggested that they ought to visit their uncle (their father’s brother), who lived in the country a few miles away from their town. This uncle was a great gaon whose mouth never ceased to utter words of Torah, but he was a misnaged fiercely opposed to the Baal Shem Tov; they would hear what he had to say about the question.

At first, the second brother — the one who knew the answer — would not hear of this idea. Since their uncle had demeaned the name of the Rebbe the Baal Shem Tov, he refused to set foot in the uncle’s house. Soon, however, he realized that his brother was right.

The misnaged brother persisted in begging the brother who knew the answer to tell him the true interpretation. To this, the second brother replied that they should approach their uncle in the country and ask him; perhaps he could supply a good answer to the question. The misnaged brother liked the idea very much, and he mentioned it to his friends. The next morning after the sunrise minyan, the misnaged brother and his scholarly companions went to visit the uncle in the country. The two chassidic brothers were still davening at the time, following the custom of the Baal Shem Tov and his disciples who daven slowly and at great length.

When the brothers finished davening, they too went to visit their uncle, arriving at his home in the country about an hour past noon. There, they found their uncle in the middle of a complex discussion with their brother and his friends. At first the uncle thought he had an answer, and he began to praise himself greatly for the sound logic that he had used in his study. His Torah possessed (so he claimed) the depth for which the Rambam was famous, as well as the penetrating insight for which the Maharam Schiff was known. However, he soon changed his mind about the solution he had proposed.

When he caught sight of his two chassidic nephews, he became furious and cried out, “You’re nothing but a pair of slugs! You’ve been angry with me for belittling your spiritual advisor, so why have you come here now?”

“We’ve come to hear whether you are able to solve the difficulty in our Torah topic,” replied the chassidic nephews. “The Gemara2 tells us that Rabbi Akiva and Ben Azzai went to ‘who knows where’ in order to study Torah.”

“If you wish to study Torah, you can go to your own spiritual mentor. Let him provide you with a solution to the perplexing difficulty that he (here the uncle pointed to the misnaged brother) discovered.” Having said this, the uncle burst out laughing.

“Uncle, if it turns out that you don’t know the answer, we will indeed do just that,” said the chassidic nephews.

Here, their brother’s friends began to shout, “Where’s your respect for the Torah? This man is a gaon and a porush who has been studying Torah for forty years!”

“You’re mistaken!” exclaimed the old uncle. “It’s more than forty-three years and seven months that I’ve been careful to eat only last year’s grain, and I avoid eating peas and beans altogether. And don’t forget that I recite Chatzos; I also practice self-mortification, rolling myself in the snow. Now, you young Kedushah jumpers (that was what the original misnagdim used to call the Baal Shem Tov’s chassidim3) come here to mock the leading gaon of this generation! For this you deserve to be excommunicated,” the old uncle concluded.

The Chassidic brothers made no reply, but the one who had heard the answer from the Baal Shem Tov began to rephrase the question the way the Baal Shem Tov had asked it, which was far more profound than the way the [misnaged] brother had asked it. When the old uncle heard the question as his chassidic nephew now presented it, he was highly impressed. Shrugging his shoulders in amazement, he declared that this showed a truly outstanding intellect.

“It has a completely different flavor to it!” the old uncle kept repeating. “The way in which you asked the question was also ingenious, and I have no answer for it,” he said to his misnaged nephew. “But the way that he [the chassidic nephew] poses the question is truly awesome!

“I have a parable to show you young fellows exactly what I mean. Suppose you take a piece of intestine and fry it (after all, even a plain piece of intestine has a bit of fat on it); once it has been fried, it is very tasty. But if you take the same intestine and fill it with a mixture of flour, fat, onion, and pepper — well, now the taste is something else entirely! It’s still the same piece of intestine, but the flavor is different. In our case too, it’s still the same question, but salt and pepper have been added to improve the taste. Nu, perhaps you know an answer as well?”

“Yes,” replied the chassidic nephew, “I do have an answer for our question.”

“What is the source of your new-found brilliance?” asked the uncle. “When I last saw you about six months ago, your intellectual abilities were not so great.”

“First, listen to the answer,” said the nephew, “and afterwards, I will reveal the name of the gaon from whom I heard it.”

The chassidic brother now began to give the answer; after speaking for several hours, he was not even close to being half way done. At that point even the old uncle, who was a profound gaon, had to take a break and give his mind a rest before he could listen to any more.

After this recess, the brother spoke several hours more before he was finished reviewing the whole topic and supplying the answer, upon which all who were present became very excited. The old uncle declared that he had never before heard such genius; he was eager to visit the great gaon who had thought of this answer, and — old as he was — he was ready to travel for miles on foot if necessary.

“That’s nothing but talk!” said the chassidic nephew. “When it comes to action, our uncle will manage to find some ingenious scholarly argument to prove that his vow was made in the heat of excitement and was not meant seriously.”

“No,” declared the old man, “if you tell me who this gaon is, and where he lives, I will surely go to visit him; it is worth every sacrifice to hear such genius.”

The misnaged brother and his friends were even more excited. They pleaded with the brother who had taught them the subject, the way one would beg for something he needed to save his life. They truly wished to know the gaon’s identity, so that they could go to visit him and receive his teachings.

The brother who had taught the subject was convinced that they were all serious about their desire to know his identity. After a brief pause he said, “The gaon who taught me the correct approach to this topic, and gave me the answer to the question, is none other than our own spiritual mentor, the Rebbe the Baal Shem Tov.”

He then related how he had approached the Rebbe to request a program of avodah to worship the Creator, and that the Rebbe had charged him with teaching a false interpretation of the Torah. “The answer you gave to your brother is no answer at all!” the Baal Shem Tov had said. Then he had proceeded to demonstrate the proper way of posing the question, and had supplied the answer that the chossid had now repeated.

The old uncle, the misnaged brother, and his genius friends, upon hearing that this truly astute and penetratingly ingenious analysis had come from the Baal Shem Tov, were left dumbfounded and in shock.

“I will not go to bed tonight,” said the old uncle. “I will remain awake until after Chatzos; after davening I will immediately go to beg [the Baal Shem Tov’s] pardon as required by law. I will accept any penance he imposes upon me, and will become his disciple.”

The two chassidic brothers were delighted with this, but the third brother — the misnaged — was altogether confounded (he was under the influence of the devil, G‑d preserve us), and continued to disparage the Baal Shem Tov. His old uncle and his friends were furious with him, but to no avail. The old man ordered that the guests be served a proper supper, during which they reviewed the whole topic once more, and engaged in complex discussions that put everyone in a happy mood.

Now that the misnaged brother had discovered that the answer had come from the Baal Shem Tov he was completely lost, and kept right on speaking against him. When he heard his old uncle’s decision to visit the Baal Shem Tov, beg his pardon, and accept a penance, and that his friends would also be traveling to the Baal Shem Tov, he was unable to bear it. Ignoring the fact that night was already falling (it was summertime, but they were in the country, far from town), he departed all alone and returned to the city.

The old uncle and his nephew’s genius friends became disciples of the Baal Shem Tov, while the third brother remained a misnaged. It was no use talking to him, for the mere mention of the Baal Shem Tov’s name would drive him mad. Whenever the Baal Shem Tov came to town, he would not cease speaking against him.

After his uncle and his former friends actually became chassidim of the Baal Shem Tov, this third brother bore them all a grudge and began to daven and study in a different beis hamedrash. The three brothers all lived in the same courtyard, each in his own house. But the hatred he bore his brothers was so great that he fenced off the area around his own house to avoid any possibility of meeting them in the common courtyard.

During the days of Selichos, the Baal Shem Tov suddenly arrived in town. This created quite a stir, and happy anticipation. After the old uncle and the young geniuses became the Baal Shem Tov’s chassidim, nearly everyone in town — and in the rural villages near the old uncle’s country home — had also become disciples and chassidim of the Baal Shem Tov. Therefore the Baal Shem Tov’s sudden arrival was big news in town, and messengers were sent to the rural settlements to inform everyone that the Baal Shem Tov would be spending several days in the vicinity.

At that very time, the third brother was sick in bed (may we be spared). But sick as he was, as soon as he heard of the joy that the Baal Shem Tov’s arrival had caused in town, he began to prattle his old complaints against the Baal Shem Tov. The Baal Shem Tov delivered several teachings, one of which concerned the verse,4 “You shall not hate your fellowman in your heart.” [The Baal Shem Tov explained]:

If one hates his fellow Jew, even only in his heart, even if it is not expressed by any hateful act (G‑d forbid) or speech but is limited to hateful thoughts, he commits a sin thereby.

What steps can one take to prevent someone from committing the sin of hating his fellow Jew in his heart? The answer is: “You must admonish your fellow Jew” — if you know of a person who hates you, you must confront that person.

The hatred must have a cause, and the cause is most likely a spiritual one: perhaps that person observed your behavior and conduct, and concluded that the Torah forbids such practices. The only solution is, “You must admonish” — approach him and demonstrate to him that your conduct and your practices are proper; thus, you will prevent him from sinning.

If you ask, “Why should I bother doing this?” the answer is that the mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael obligates you to do so. This is the meaning of “Do not commit a sin while so doing” — your ahavas Yisrael must prevent you from allowing him to commit a sin on your account.

When you demonstrate to him that your customs are proper ones, and that your behavior is in accordance with the Torah, you will remove from him the sin of hating his fellow Jew in his heart.

Since you are certain that you are right and the person who hates you is wrong, and you are saving him from the sin of hating his fellow Jew by fulfilling the great mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael, you might think of using harsh language (G‑d forbid) while speaking to him. [To prevent this,] on the words “Do not commit a sin while so doing” Rashi comments: “Do not put him to shame in public.”

Before leaving town, the Baal Shem Tov informed the two brothers that he wished to visit the third brother. They replied that under ordinary circumstances, as soon as he caught sight of the Baal Shem Tov entering his home, their brother would surely run away. Now, however, he was sick in bed (may we be spared) and would be unable to escape.

The Baal Shem Tov went to visit the sick misnaged, accompanied by the two brothers and a few other people. When they entered the house, they found the family weeping and wailing. The patient lay there with his eyes closed and with a high fever. His lips moved as though he were whispering something, but they could not make out the words. He made convulsive movements, indicating that his illness was very serious (may All-Merciful G‑d save us).

When the Baal Shem Tov entered the sick room, he was offered a chair. He sat next to the patient, placed his right hand on the patient’s head, and began to quote and explain a Gemara in the customary melody. [The Gemara says],5 “It has been taught: ‘If a needle is found in the lung ....’ ”6 [The Baal Shem Tov explained]:

“If a sliver of iron is found in the lung” — The numeric equivalent of [the Hebrew word for] “iron” (ברזל) plus one7 is “Amalek” (עמלק), and “Amalek” is the equivalent of “doubt” (ספק), which is 240, the equivalent of “bitter” (מר).

“If a needle is found in the lung” — if Amalek creates doubts in one’s belief in G‑d and in the sanctity of the Torah, so that one interprets the holy Torah exclusively in the literal sense, ignoring the allusions, metaphors, and mysteries hidden therein and priding himself in his knowledge of the literal interpretation; this equals the 240 of Amalek, and the situation is indeed “bitter.”

The cause of this is the “needle” in the “lung,” which refers to “sinful view.” (The Baal Shem Tov translated “needle” as “sin,” and “lung” as “view8“.) If one views another Jew in an evil light and questions his behavior, then he must admonish him rather than continuing to view him in an evil light and remaining angry with him (G‑d forbid). The sin he commits by viewing him badly develops into the sin of Amalek which creates doubt in our belief in G‑d.

[The Gemara continues:]

Rabbi Yochanan, Rabbi Elazar, and Rabbi Chanina declare that it is kosher, while Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish, Rabbi Mani ben Patish, and Rabbi Shimon ben Elyakim declare that it is unkosher.

The Baal Shem Tov explained that the souls of the three sages who declare it kosher derive from the attribute of kindness, while the souls of the three sages who declare it unkosher derive from the attribute of severity.

The source from which their souls are derived is implied in their names. All three sages who declare it kosher have names that imply the attribute of kindness: Yochanan means “G‑d favors us”; Elazar means “G‑d aids us”; Chanina itself means “kindness.”9 On the other hand, the three names that are ...