A wealthy man approached the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism, and asked if he could meet Elijah the Prophet, the messenger of God who rose to heaven in a chariot of fire. The man had heard rumors that Elijah wanders the earth to bless people in need of his help.
The Baal Shem Tov explained that he didn't know how to find Elijah, but the man begged and pleaded and insisted until finally, the Baal Shem Tov said to the man, "You can meet Elijah this Shabbat if you do the following: Load up your coach with a Shabbat feast. Pack challah, wine, chicken and vegetables. Pack cakes and fruit and delicacies and bring it all to a certain hut in the forest. Ask if you can spend Shabbat with whoever lives there."
On Friday afternoon, the wealthy man rode his coach through a dense forest and down a rutted road until he came upon the hut the Baal Shem Tov had described. He knocked on the door and a poor woman in tattered clothes slowly opened the door and peered out at him in surprise. The wealthy man asked if he could spend the Sabbath with her family.
The husband and his wife were overjoyed to have a Sabbath guest even though there was barely enough food to go around. Their emaciated children giggled with excitement. Then the wealthy man showed them the feast he had brought. For a moment they froze at the sight of such abundance. And then the children cheered. The wife wept with joy and her husband comforted her.
That Sabbath eve was like no other this family had ever experienced. They ate well, drank well, sang, prayed. The wealthy man kept staring at the poor father. Could this be Elijah? He asked the poor man to teach him Torah, but the man was illiterate. The father ate until his belly was full, he drank and burped and picked his teeth. This wasn't Elijah. All through that night and the next day the wealthy man waited impatiently for Elijah to appear. But there was no sign of the holy prophet anywhere.
On Saturday night, as the Sabbath came to an end, the wealthy man was fuming. "The Baal Shem Tov deceived me. He made a fool of me." And then he said his goodbyes to the family and raced outside in a huff. As he was stomping away, the wealthy man's boot got stuck in the mud. As he leaned down to pull it out, he overhead sounds of rejoicing coming from inside the window. The children were jumping up and down and squealing with joy over the most wonderful Shabbat they had ever seen.
The wife said to her husband, "Who was that man who brought us all that food?" Her husband replied, "Don't you see? It was Elijah the Prophet who came to bless us."
Suddenly the wealthy man understood. "Elijah is me," he said to himself.
The message of the Baal Shem Tov is both profound and simple. We are all Elijah and have the power to bring redemption and healing to the world. Our sages tell us that Elijah will be the one to announce the coming of the Messiah.
When we reach out to those in need, when we offer physical, emotional, and spiritual support, when we treat those who are most vulnerable with kindness and love, we are manifesting our Elijah energy. And the era of peace and understanding – the Messianic age – is all the closer.
That is my prayer for this New Year. That we all wake up, look in the
mirror and say, "Elijah is me."