From the journal Material For Thought, issue number 13

© 1969 Far West Editions


The Baal Shem and the Werewolf


Among the legends of the Baal Shem Tov there is the story of The Werewolf. The protagonist is the youthful Baal Shem before he came into awareness of his place. An awesome and terrifying werewolf is threatening the school children. At a certain moment the young Baal Shem confronts the monster, who has swollen to a size greater than the forest itself. The Baal Shem enters magically into the werewolf’s body and into the creature’s dark, beating heart. There, the Baal Shem sees the immense suffering that permeates this heart and which is the cause of its evil intentions. The Baal Shem lays a gentle, loving hand on that heart, which then quietly leaves the body and descends into the earth. The werewolf is subdued and no longer threatens the children.

What a stunning idea—that deep pain and suffering lie at the source of all human evil and that only love can conquer evil. At the same time, the story tells us that it is a divinely chosen being, the Baal Shem, who has the power to give forth love which has the necessary power and penetration. Ordinary men and women do not have that power. Our wavering attempts to offer love seldom reach to the depths of the human heart where the pro-found suffering lives.

It is said of Muhammad that when his followers came to him in alarm to warn him of the numerous enemy tribes approaching, he forbade them to fight, but urged them instead inwardly to re-member God. Again and again, they ventured to beseech him, and finally, acknowledging their inner incapacity, he allowed them to fight and even to kill, but only to the degree necessary to protect themselves and their families. In one such combat, it is said, Ali, the Prophet’s nephew, overcame his opponent on the battlefield. With his sword on the enemy’s chest, Ali pulled back. “I will not kill you,” he said. “What I must kill are the enemies of God’s remembrance within myself—anger, fear, the ego.” In fury the opponent shouted, “If I had your sword, I would cut off your cursed arms and legs and kill you.” Ali handed him the sword. The enemy rose and bowed his head. “What teaching is this?” he asked.

One of the mysteries of Christianity has been that, through the ages, men have been unable to accept the love spoken of by Christ. Only a few have received this love. It is not a love which the mind alone can easily accept, even as an idea. The emotions, so closely connected to the ego, cannot understand it, because it is a love that sees and forgives the contradictions and deceptions of which the ego consists. There is an extraordinary passage in one of Meister Eckhardt’s talks of instruction where he says that, just as God has been the common savior of the whole world, so, too, we need to open ourselves to what in our individual inner world could be the savior. At issue is the acceptance by all of a man’s inner parts of a reconciling force that comes from another level in oneself.

It is not enough to be forgiven or to forgive oneself if the source of forgiveness does not have the energy to be received by the hidden parts of oneself. We do not love the whole of ourselves or the whole of another. In theory, perhaps, yes; in attitude, yes; deeply, no. The wound that is in the center of our being cannot be healed so easily.

A great force is needed to heal a great wound. How can we find that force within ourselves?

Here it may be necessary to ask a strange question. Why should we seek to heal the wound that is in the center of our being? It is a strange question because when we are suffering there is no question of why we seek to end our suffering. An addict, for example, when he yearns to be healed, does not need to ponder too deeply what he will do after he is healed. The drowning man does not worry about where he will get food after he swims to shore.

Yet the wound in the being of man is not comparable to the condition of the addict or of the drowning man. Evil may permeate the heart because of a wound that goes deeper than the deepest suffering we can see, even with the most sensitive look. We may need to know what man is in order to understand the real healing of evil. Why does man exist on earth?

The teachings of the ages tell us something about this. Man as a servant of God. Man as absorbed into the Buddhist realm of Samboga-kaya, a realm that radiates compassion upon the earth. Man who is the “Son of a King,” meant to rule. You cannot heal such a being by rendering him Wt to be a “healthy” slave. He must be a king or he is nothing. He is born in the royal line; he cannot be otherwise. His organism is designed to be the instrument of cosmic selfhood. It must serve that role or it is nothing, a failed experiment.

Is this the source of the suffering in the heart of the were-wolf—this legendary representation of a being meant to be a man who cannot be a man? Even for the monster who must kill school children, and who can only follow the evil in his heart, there is salvation. And what of men and women who are not yet “servants of God,” unaware of their royal lineage? If we are not on the way to our destined development, are we on the way to our destruction, taking others with us, perhaps the whole world?

From where will our healing come? Upon examination, there is the realization that we are not the servants of God, nor do we often aspire to be the conductors of compassion. Our kingship is mostly imaginary, and we suffer in exile. Built for the immensity of great Being, I go on doing the “evil that I hate” spoken of by St. Paul. From what great need does the werewolf stand still be-fore the Baal Shem?