The Baal Shemtov (Master of a Good Name) was a brilliant scholar and a holy man. He lived modestly and transmitted his teachings with great clarity. No wonder his message was well-received by all, from the simple unlearned farmers to esteemed scholars of his time.
The Baal Shemtov was known to use metaphor, even, and especially in the deepest of his teachings. The following is a partial adaptation of one of his many metaphors:
To what can this be compared? To two people who have traveled through a great forest where there were many dangerous gangs, known to terrorize travelers. One of the travelers was a drunkard, the other was a wise and sensible man.
When one of the hoodlum forest gangs discovered the two travelers, they beat them and stole everything, allowing them to escape with only their lives. When the two travelers emerged from the forest, they encountered other travelers who inquired whether the path of the great forest was safe.
Some travelers approached the drunkard while others sought the advice of the wise and sensible man. Those that inquired of the drunkard were told that the path was beautiful and the journey peaceful.
When they asked about his multiple wounds, he was unable to recollect how or why they were inflicted. On the other hand, those who sought advice from the wise and sensible man were warned of the dangers ahead and advised how to best navigate and obviate the robbers.
As in many of the Besh”t (Baal Shemtov) teachings, there is more than one layer of meaning. Here is one take: The great forest: Our world, like the forest, the journey of life is filled with danger. While there are so many beautiful people on our planet, some people choose to live their life in a devious way and thus don’t deserve the trust of good-hearted and well-intentioned people.
And while so many people are good and strive to be more giving and more sharing, unfortunately there are also those who are narcissistic, self-absorbed and only interested in themselves. As a whole, these people are the “gangs” of our great “forest.”
There are different types of “travelers:” Some go through life being deeply conscience about the environment, aware of dangers and certain people along the “journey.” And those who go through life oblivious and despite being "beaten and battered" are foolishly unconscious to the true dangers in their very midst. And the ultimate question this metaphor raises is -- are we receiving guidance and advice from the sound and wise ones? Those who have integrity and are well aware of the very real dangers that obstruct the good path in life?
Or are we naively listening to the "drunkards" of the past and present who in their sad and confused condition offer misguided and dangerous advice which can lead to harm for themselves and everyone else in their sphere of influence? Shabbat Shalom!