An elderly man came to Reb Israel and told him that he was on the verge of dying, he wanted Israel to recite his confession with him. The old man was yellow as wax. He supported himself on two canes. Those who had brought him had half-carried him inside. He was followed by his daughters and daughters-in-law, who lamented as if it were his funeral. Reb Abraham Gershon’s wife, the rebbetzin, feared lest the old man die in her house. But the Baal Shem said to the old man: “How do you know that you are about to die? Did you make an agreement with the Angel of Death? Were you called up to judgment, and did you watch as you were erased from the Book of Life? How old are you, may the evil eye spare you?”


“You call that old? At your age, Methuselah was still a boy. They first began offering him matches.”

“Rabbi, what shall I do?”

“Have a glass of vodka, and let us drink to life.”

Laughter broke out among the assembled. Those who had been crying just a moment before now laughed through tearful eyes. The old man himself smiled. The Baal Shem pored two glasses of aquavit, one for the old man and one for himself, and to everyone’s amazement, the old men drank his down. He even chewed along on a cookie.

from Reaches of Heaven by Isaac Bashevis Singer
about Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, called Baal Shem Tov

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