The United for Protection campaign says:

In the times of the Baal Shem Tov a terrible disease swept through his town of Mezibush. (…)
Only by uniting together in the creation of a new Torah scroll, he explained, would the town be spared. (…)
Miraculously, as the Torah was written, the community began to heal. This scroll became known as the “Miracle Sefer Torah.”

Wikipedia's list of epidemics only includes a single entry for central Europe during the 1700s, wiz. the Great Plague of 1738–1740. But Wikipedia on Medzhybizh says:

Baal Shem Tov (…) lived in Medzhybizh from about 1742 until his death in 1760.

There could have been a minor outbreak during his time there, since the plague lingered on:

Between 1701 and 1750, 37 larger and smaller epidemics were recorded in Constantinople, and 31 between 1751 and 1800.

Still, with my inability to find any other references than those pointing to the campaign, I ask:

  • What sources do we have for this story about the Baal Shem Tov?
  • "The plague lingered on"... in Constantinople? – b a Dec 9 '20 at 11:34
  • @ba That's less than a thousand kilometres away, not far for a plague. – Adám Dec 9 '20 at 11:36
  • A chizuk for the above comment - quod.lib.umich.edu/e/evans/N27531.0001.001/… from what I understood, in 1770 there was a plague in Constantinople that eventually migrated to Poland, but perhaps I misunderstood. – Harel13 Dec 9 '20 at 14:50

The version I've seen on various sites is from Igrot Kodesh of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the sixth Rebbe of Chabad, Igeret no. 1769 pgs. 319-321 on Hebrewbooks. It dates the epidemic to 1751 or 1752 (Hebrew year 5512). I'll see if I can earlier sources.

Interestingly, in the Besht's famous Igeret Hakodesh to his brother-in-law, Rabbi Avraham Gershon of Kitov, he wrote:

"...And on Rosh Hashanah 5510 I had made an aliyat neshama as is known, and I saw a great accusation, so much so that the S"M (angel of death) was almost given permission to destroy entire states and communities, and I endangered myself, and prayed to Hashem that we would fall at His hand and not by the hand of man, and they permitted me that instead there would be great weaknesses and plague, as there never was like it, in all of the states of Poland, and the other states near us, and so it was that the weakness spread immeasurably, and also the plague in other states..."

The latest date mentioned in the letter is 5510 and seems to refer to events of that year, but many sites and books I found online date the letter to around 5512. If it's from 5510, it's possible that the epidemic from two years later was related to the one from 5510. If it's from 5512 then it seems that this is referring to the exact same plague.

In the letter, he writes that he said "ketoret" one time and thus managed to reduce the radius of the plague to only Medzhibuzh, so that may be why there doesn't seem to be any records of this online, being too small an event.

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