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The Kosher Chicken, a Baal Shem Tov Story  


A teaching from Isaac – more than just a wild story. 😉

The Baal Shem Tov was a holy and mystical rabbi, the founder of joyful Hasidism. Born Israel ben Eliezer, he lived in the 1700s in the Kingdom of Poland, now Western Ukraine. People called him “Master of the Good Name” – the Baal Shem Tov, or the “Besht,” an acronym of that name. Miracles always surrounded him.

One evening at the end of Shabbat, the Baal Shem Tov said to his students, “Saddle up the wagon and off we go!” It was his custom to go where he was guided on the spur of the moment, to just go. The students didn’t know where they would be going. He possibly knew, but they didn’t know, and off they went on the wagon, traveling a good distance.

It’s Saturday night, it’s late, it’s dark, and they come to a place where there’s an inn and the innkeeper is a religious Jewish man. The Baal Shem Tov says, “Stop the wagon here.” They get down from the wagon and enter into this place.

The innkeeper greets them warmly and offers to cook dinner. The Baal Shem Tov asks, “Do you keep geese?” He says, “I do,” and they go out back to the paddock to see the geese. The Besht looks them over. He points and says, “That one. Would you please prepare that goose for Melava Malka.”

If you’re not familiar, Melava Malka is the name for the fourth meal of the Sabbath, after sundown Saturday night. It doesn’t happen on the day itself but afterward. With this meal you escort the holy day out and bring the holiness of that day into the rest of the week. Melava Malka means to escort the queen, the holiest day.

So he asks the innkeeper to please prepare this goose with the understanding that it will be done in a perfect kosher way for the group.

All the travelers wait at the table while the innkeeper prepares the animal for dinner. Finally it is cooked and brought to the table on a nice platter in honor of the very great guest tonight. They place the tray with the goose in front of the Baal Shem Tov.

Now the Baal Shem Tov goes into meditation and closes his eyes. He is not moving for quite a long time. Everyone is forced to wait, sitting around the table, waiting for the rebbe to do whatever he does.

Nothing is happening until somebody at the table calls out, “Is there a question about this goose?” What they mean is a question about whether the meal is kosher or not. They’re asking if somebody noticed something or is aware of anything that was done in the preparation of the goose.

As soon as the Baal Shem Tov hears that, he opens his eyes and says, “There’s a question on this goose? If so, then ask him!” He points to a young man who is lying on a cot in the corner of this large room.

This was the innkeeper’s son, only eighteen years old, but he was born paralyzed. He has not moved a limb his whole life. He has not been able to speak. He has never said a word. All the eighteen years he’s been alive, he has just been resting in this area where they can care for him.

The Baal Shem Tov is pointing to him, saying, “If there is a question on this goose, ask him!”

The innkeeper is amazed. “Rabbi, please! My son has not ever said one word, let alone answered a question about the nature of kosher.” He goes on to say the boy was born paralyzed.

As soon as he explains that his son is incapacitated, the son stands up. For the first time ever he stands up, he gets off the cot. He walks over to the table and looks carefully at the goose. He says: “This goose is kosher.”

And then he dies. He falls to the floor.

Of course they comfort the innkeeper, they sit him down and surround him care and concern.

Then the Baal Shem Tov says, please listen to the following.

A number of years ago in the city not far from here lived a certain rabbi. Something happened just before the most holy day of the year, the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. It was getting late in the day. It was time for the rabbi to leave his home to go to the synagogue and conduct services. He was running a little late.

Just as he stepped out his door ready to leave, a lady appeared holding a chicken. She said, “Rabbi, I’m preparing a meal for after the fast of the Day of Atonement and I don’t know if this chicken is kosher or not. Could you look at it and make a decision for me?”

He was in such a hurry. He said, “Look, I’m sorry, I have no time for this.” But to be nice, to be fair, he gave her a little money, an equivalent value to the chicken, and said, “Go buy another chicken.”

He sent her on her way and then threw the chicken in the garbage. He didn’t even look at it to see if it was kosher or not kosher. He didn’t have time.

When this rabbi died, in the world beyond, a panel reviewed his life with him. They saw he was really quite a good man. They didn’t find much wrong in the course of his life.

However, now the chicken showed up. The chicken said, “I was a kosher chicken. He didn’t even look at me. He threw me away! I wasn’t able to complete my journey there to be eaten at a meal that follows the holiest day of the year.”

The court considered the chicken’s claim. They said, “The chicken is correct. We’re sending the rabbi back again. But this time to protect him from doing anything wrong, he’ll be paralyzed and he won’t be able to speak. The only thing he needs to accomplish will be to make that chicken kosher.”

The Baal Shem Tov said, “That was this goose tonight. Once he did it, he was on his way. Now you should know,” he said to the innkeeper, “that this rabbi was your grandfather.”

The innkeeper remembered that his grandfather was the rabbi of that city.

Such a story.

(Is it true? Perhaps. You could take it as a “mashal” – an allegory or parable – not necessarily meant to be literal. A mashal speaks to a part of the soul that is not quite conscious until it hears the story. Although this story may in fact be literal, far beyond the density of our unreal physical world. It’s likely that a student of the Baal Shem Tov wrote this story down. Isaac recounted it to us as above.)

Isaac said, We could explore so much in this story. One thing that struck me was, why did the young man have to wait so many years before he received his release? Eighteen years on a cot.

I want to look at that. You know, it’s not punishment. It’s learning.
What was he learning those eighteen years?
At the simplest level, let’s call it patience.
If you think patience is a little issue, then you don’t understand patience.

(This teaching on patience is continued in chapter 15 of Volume 4.)

These are Isaac’s words from Chapter 14 of Volume 4, Walking The Bridge: With Courage And Trust.

Free chicken image, public domain animal CC0 photo.

(Thanks to Rawpixel for this image.) Free chicken image, public domain animal CC0 photo.

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