Master of a Good Name

Rabbi Levi Cunin discusses how nothing happens by coincidence.

During the late 17th century, European Jewry was still reeling from the devastation wrought by the Khmelnitsky pogroms of 1648-1649. The massacres had left tens of thousands of Jews dead, and the grief-stricken survivors struggled to rebuild their broken lives and communities. Against this troubling backdrop, in the small Polish town of Tloste,  Eliezer and his wife Sarah lived a life of simple piety. They had been married for many years but had not been blessed with children.

Eliezer and Sarah were blessed with great wealth. They chose a life of simplicity, only spending money on their basic needs. The bulk of their wealth was used to take care of the guests who would often stop by their village to spend the Sabbath.

Over time, Eliezer and Sarah’s home became famous for their warm and welcoming attitude towards their guests and for many travelers it was the chosen destination for a Sabbath stopover on their way to the larger industrial cities. Each of their guests would receive tremendous honor and love. Most of the guests would arrive on Friday before the Sabbath and Eliezer and Sarah insisted that they remain until Sunday so they would be able to give them ample provisions for their journey.

And so it was week after week, the guests would settle in for the weekend, and by Friday evening, all of the guests would already be on a first name basis with each other.

One Shabbat morning, the guests had just returned from praying, and they were invited to join in the weekly lavish Shabbat lunch spread with all types of delicacies, when a stranger, a  pauper in rags, carrying his possessions in a knapsack, entered the room. The other guests grew suspicious of the new comer and they began to mutter amongst themselves; Who could this be? Doesn’t he know that you are meant to arrive on Friday before the Shabbat to join in? How disrespectful to the generous and gracious hosts not to respect their observance! How come he came today? Why did he not come like the rest of us on Friday?  

Completely oblivious to the other guests' murmurings Eliezer walked over to his new guest and welcomed him with open arms not asking him any questions. All Eliezer wanted to know is whether he already had something to eat and how he could make his guest feel comfortable and at home. After seating his new guest, some of the regular guests asked Eliezer if they could speak with him. “Eliezer” they asked, how could you give such honor to someone who does not honor the way of your household? Poor Eliezer was being beleaguered by his other guests because of his sincere warm and welcoming attitude to the recently arrived stranger!

Eliezer excused himself and went off to a side room where he began to weep; he felt very sad about the reaction of the other guests. Immediately, he reminded himself that in his absence these people may say hurtful words and become difficult to his new guest. He quickly wiped the tears from his face and with a new found inner strength he went out to give even more honor and attention to his new guest.

On Sunday afternoon, Eliezer would walk the guests to the main road where they would continue on their journey. It was then that the mysterious stranger revealed to him that he was none other than the prophet Elijah. He was sent here for the weekend to test the level of his generosity and hospitality; and that Eliezer and his wife had surely passed the test. Because of this great deed of goodness and kindness they would be blessed  with a son in the coming year. Elijah shared with Eliezer a teaching from the Torah that he should impart to his child when he turned two and a half. The message was that he should have no fear of anyone or anything; he should fear only Almighty G-D, Creator of the universe.

A year later the child was born, and he was named Yisroel. He would later become the famous teacher of Jewish mysticism known as Yisroel the Baal Shem Tov, the “Master of a Good Name.” The stories and teachings of the Baal  Shem Tov are filled with light, joy, and inspiration. They are gleanings of light, joy and illumination,  and are a welcoming breath of fresh air and inspirational thought.

The core philosophy of the Baal Shem Tov is that nothing happens by coincidence. The Baal Shemtov taught that everything in life has a Divinely inspired purpose and meaning, even when a leaf falls off a tree it is for a specific Divine reason. The Baal Shem Tov challenged us to search for and commit ourselves to the reason in everything that transpires in our lives. The very fact that you are reading this article and story has an important reason and calling. What's your reason?

Alessandra DeClario April 30, 2012 at 06:40 AM
I read this because of the part that said nothing happens by coincidence. I am a Nichiren Shoshu Buddhist since I was a teen - (yikes! that's nearly 40 years!). I chant NAM MYOHO RENGE KYO and I have learned and experienced many things.But what I want to express is the Law of cause and effect... this is what connected me to the part "nothing happens by coincidence"... when one makes a cause - the effect is already in the works... it's like planting a seed - eventually it will grow (needless to say with water and sun!!). So a cause is made ("water and sun") and the effect happens - eventually! Also, the Buddha teaches that everyone/thing - sentient and non-sentient - has the seed of Buddha and experiences the "10 Worlds" (Hell, Hunger, Animality, Anger, Humanity, Rapture, Learning, Realization, Bodhisattva and Buddhahood). Therefore, we should be respectful toward all life. The aspiration of the Buddha Nichiren Daishonin is Kosen Rufu (World Peace). By teaching NAM MYOHO RENGE KYO and the Buddha's writings (the highest being the Lotus Sutra) eventually one will become enlightened to the realization that all phenomena is Buddha. Hence, the respect for all life will become evident..... World Peace!! Eliezer had the compassion of the Buddha - the Buddha was also tested many times. Elijah tested Eliezer. Because of Eliezer's compassion - his cause - he got the benefit of not only a son but the famous teacher of Jewish mysticism the “Master of a Good Name.” ALL Life is One!
Rabbi Levi Cunin May 02, 2012 at 07:10 PM
Thank you for sharing your thoughts! Indeed Eliezer as a follower of Jewish mysticism was very aware of the cosmic system of cause and effect which is spoken of at great length in the teachings of Kabbalah. Eliezer's discipline was governed by the fact that even cause and effect is a system that has been put into place by a force which "no man can grasp at all" http://www.jewishmalibu.com/kabbalah/article_cdo/aid/380333/jewish/Patach-Eliyahu.htm Thus the compassion demonstrated by Eliezer was not a surrender to the state of "cause and effect" but rather a total submission to the One and only true force behind existence and that all consciousness of "self" is but a creation of temporary value. --


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