One day at tea, the countess said, “We have a local Jewish healer right here in Mezhibuzh, a righteous man whose medical expertise is indisputable.”
The doctor hid his sneer behind his handkerchief. “Oh, I’d love to meet him.” So, the countess sent for the Baal Shem Tov right away.
When he arrived the doctor grilled him. “Where did you study medicine? Who were your professors? What papers have you published?”
The Baal Shem Tov humbly shook his head and said, “God revealed to me various powerful cures and the local peasants showed me where the herbs grow.”
The doctor sniffed. “Well, I’m an expert in surgery as well as a world-famous diagnostician. I can diagnose even the rarest disease by taking the pulse.”
“Can you? Why not take my pulse and diagnose me, and then I can return the favor?” suggested the holy Baal Shem Tov.
The doctor took the Baal Shem Tov’s pulse. Suddenly he dropped the Tzaddik’s wrist. “This can’t be,” he muttered. “Why, your pulse is very faint and very fast. And you are a very sick man,” he declared.
“Yes, I am sick. I’m love sick for God,” said the Tzaddik. “But never mind me, let me take your pulse now.”
Within moments of taking the famous man’s wrist, the Baal Shem Tov turned to the countess. “Honorable countess, have you been missing any valuables?” he asked.
“Why yes,” said the countess. “Several silver spoons and a necklace.”
“I know where they are,” he announced. “Go to the doctor’s room and there you will find them. You see, this doctor has the pulse of a thief.”
The doctor turned pale and nearly fainted. One of the servants held the doctor by the arm while another searched his quarters, and there, hidden in a sack beneath the bed were the valuables. The doctor was driven out of town in disgrace, his reputation ruined.
Your Beating Heart
The pulse (found in the wrist or the neck) is the rhythmic throbbing of the blood vessels as blood is propelled through them by the pumping action of the heart. The pulse is also the heart rate. The pumping of the heart is evidence of the life force. A person can be “brain dead” but if their heart is still beating, they are alive.
The pulse reveals some clues about the state of physical health, especially heart health. We also know it can indicate some emotional states, such as fear. But the Baal Shem Tov’s story shows us that the pulse can even reveal the deeper feelings and beliefs of a person, one’s character, and even actions. To a healer of the Baal Shem Tov’s caliber, the pulse reveals the inner spiritual workings of the heart. He was able to “read” his patient’s spiritual status and determine the level of faith and understanding.
The binah, often translated as understanding, is a sefira associated with the heart. Binah as a process occurs when factual wisdom (especially the wisdom of the Torah) is analyzed and interpreted, and when relationships between facts are discovered. Binah is a type of intelligence or intellectual ability, and is often referred to as feminine”, and indeed, “women’s intuition” is one possible description of binah. The ability to determine the truth of a person or situation is another way in which binah expresses. Often, this is done unconsciously.
The arrogant doctor, like most narcissists, believed himself to be above the law (the basic laws of God) and therefore had no problem indulging his base desire, greed, to determine his actions. True understanding eluded him which is why he believed that God’s moral guidelines didn’t apply to him. In the end, his sense of entitlement didn’t pay off.
The Baal Shem Tov was the opposite. Due to his profound love for God, his main desire was to align himself with God’s Will. His binah was sound, and he was permeated by a yearning to fulfill the Torah and actualize all the sefirot, the spiritual attributes.
*The sefirot (sefira, singular) are mystical forces/energies through which God manifests aspects of Himself. They also contain therefore define these attributes, make them able to be understood, in a rudimentary way. The system of the sefirot help us gain psycho-spiritual, personal insights into ourselves. The most accessible yet comprehensive book on the subject is Hidden Treasures, by Chaim Kramer.
This post is L’iluy Nishmas Malka bas Tziporah, sponsored by her granddaughter. It’s based on a talk given at the Manhattan JCC, co-sponsored by the Carlebach Shul, Part One is here.