DERECH HaBAAL SHEM TOV
Ahavas HaShem, Ahavas Yisroel, Ahavas HaTorah
THE WAY OF THE BAAL SHEM TOV
Love of G-d, Love of fellow Jews, Love of the Torah
Note: A '*' next to a word indicates that it is translated/explained
in the glossary at the end. Three '*' (* * *) in the text indicates a
break between two sections. A single '*' (*) indicates a separation
between different teachings on the same subject. Anything found
between '[' and ']' are my comments and do not appear in the source
material. Everything else is from the original as is cited at the end
of the article.
I. The greater miracle
1. 'The water return before morning to its strength.' (Shemos* 14.26)
The following story occurred with the Baal Shem Tov. There was a
person who had learned books of philosophy and science. He wanted to
go to the Baal Shem Tov with a serious question he had. According to
his understanding from his studies the sea had to open for the
children of Israel at that specific time. This was all natural and
not anything special. If this was the case why do we say it is such a
For a number of days he went around with this question bothering him.
Finally he traveled to the Baal Shem Tov. When he arrived, even
before he could ask his question to the Baal Shem Tov, the Baal Shem
Tov went to the Beis HaKnesses*. He asked that all the people in the
city be gathered together there. The Baal Shem Tov intended to give a
talk to all the people.
The Baal Shem Tov stated that there were fools and Apikorsim* who ask
why we consider the splitting of the sea such a great miracle since
it was the nature of the water to do as it did at that time. These
people, who ask this, have eyes but they are really blind. The Torah*
says, 'In the beginning G-d created.' 'G-d' [Heb elokim] has the
gematria* as the word 'nature' [Heb. HaTeivah] Nature itself was part
of the creation by HaShem*.
This is what the Midrash* says, "'to its strength.' This refers to
the condition that HaShem made with sea when he created it." [The
condition was that it should split before the children of Israel.]
From this we see that HaShem made the nature of the water that it
should split before the children of Israel. Therefore the miracle is
even greater. This is because in the beginning of the creation
HaShem made the sea should have this nature for the sake of the
children of Israel. [As Chazal* say,] "'In the beginning' [Heb.
bereishis] means because of Israel who are called 'first'" [Heb.
bereishis] he created the world and nature. If it were not that
Israel needed this miracle He would not have created the nature of
the sea to act in this way. (p. 319 sefer Baal Shem Tov, teachings of
the Baal Shem Tov.)
* * *
II. Purpose of prayer
2. 'Stand fast and see the salvation of HaShem.' (Shemos 14.13)
It appears to me that we can explain this verse according to the
verse, 'And for me my prayer is for You.' The meaning [of this verse]
is that when one prays for his needs, the main purpose should be for
HaShem's sake. This is because 'In all their suffering He suffers.'
The soul is a portion of G-d above. When a person has some trouble,
[because of this connection] it reaches to HaShem (as it were.)
Therefore the main purpose of prayer should be to correct what is
Above. A prayer such as this will have no opposition. Afterwards
[from Above] there will flow here below abundant blessings, and he
will have relief from his troubles. On the other hand. If he only
prays for his own needs. Then his prayers will be opposed above. It
will be held back from being heard.
This is the meaning of the verse:
'And for me, my prayer is for You HaShem.' The main prayer that I
have is for your great Name.
Therefore I know that with certainty it is 'at an opportune time.'
Who [among the angels] would dare to speak against such a prayer.
After this the verse says, 'G-d' [Heb. elokim] which refers to the
midah* of stern judgement. 'With your great mercy you will hear me.'
Even His midah of judgement is turned over to mercy.
Because 'In truth You will save.' Because the truth is that it is a
salvation of HaShem. When a person is helped it is as if a salvation
came to HaShem Himself. [This is because the person's soul is
attached to HaShem.]
This is then the meaning of the verse.
'Stand fast and see the salvation of HaShem, that He will do for
you.' This means as I said above. What He does for you causes a
salvation for HaShem. The first letters of the words 'That he will do
for you.' spells out the word 'For Him.' That is because the main
salvation that we are waiting for is when Moshiach* should come,
speedily and in our days. (p. 11 sefer Divrei Tzaddikim teachings of
Rebbe* Berish of Ashpetzeen)
* * *
3. 'And it will be on the sixth day when they prepare what they will
bring it will be double what they pick each day.' (Shemos 16.5)
There are four times when a person needs to examine his actions and
do tshuva to HaShem. 1. Every night 2. The day before Shabbos 3. The
day before the New Month 4. Yom Kippur.
This is the meaning of the verse:
'And it will be on the sixth day when they prepare what they will
bring.' One needs to correct his actions and examine what he is
bringing, from the whole week, the day before Shabbos.
'And it will be double.' The word 'double' [Heb. Mishnah] has the
same letters as the word 'nashama*' By doing this [i.e. examining his
actions] he will merit to receive an extra soul on the Shabbos.
'What [Heb. al].' This word is similar to the word 'raised up.' [Heb.
maalah] This means that there is a great 'raising up' [of the person
because of his actions.]
'They pick each day.' He should see to it that he does tshuva each
day, and gathers mitzvos* and good deeds. He should do them [each
day] and not just wait for the day before Shabbos. (p. 122 sefer
Tzemach Tzaddik teachings of Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Viznitz.)
* * *
IV. Where is HaShem?
4. 'Is HaShem amongst us or not? And Amalek came.' (Shemos 17.7-8)
The meaning is that because they had doubts as to whether HaShem was
with them or not, Amalek, which has the same gematria as 'doubt',
[Heb. safek] came to them [to make war.]
Another meaning is: 'Is HaShem amongst us?' If you want to know if
HaShem is with you. 'Or not.' You should see if you are on the level
of 'ayan.' [lit. nothingness. You should examine and see if] you have
any arrogance. For if you do, then it is certain that He is not with
you. Because [as Chazal teach HaShem says with regards to the one who
is arrogant,] 'Me and him are not able to reside in the same place.'
(p. 122 sefer Tzemach Tzaddik teachings of Rebbe Menachem Mendel of
* * *
V. HaShem's greatness.
5. 'He is exceedingly exalted' (Shemos 14.13)
The greatness of G-d is not possible for us to comprehend. We are
only able to comprehend that he is above all that we can comprehend.
That is the meaning of 'He is exceedingly exalted.' All of our
exaltations and the greatness we can ascribe to Him is only to say
that he is greater, far above our comprehension. (p. 80 sefer Sefas
Emes teachings of Rebbe Yehudah Aryah Leib of Ger.)
Apikorsim: Heretics who reject the teachings of the Rabbis
Beis HaKnesses: Jewish house of worship
Chazal: Hebrew initials for: Chochmenu Zichrona Levaracha (Our sages
of Blessed memory) Used to refer to Rabbis of the Talmud
Chol HaMoed: Intermediate days of a holiday
Chukos: Weekly portion where the Torah is read from Bamidbar
doven(davening): Yiddish for pray.
gematria: The numerical value of the Hebrew letters.
HaRav: The Rov (see Rov).
HaShem: Noun used in place of G-d. Lit. The Name
Maggid: In Europe this was a person who would give sermons on moral
subjects. Many of the first Rebbes was Maggidim (pl. of Maggid).
midah(midos): A character trait, either good or bad.
Midrash: Rabbinical work with homiletic interpretations
mitzvah(mitzvos): One of the commandments of the Torah.
Mori: Hebrew for my teacher.
Moshiach: Heb. Messiah
nashama(nashamos): Hebrew word for soul.
Parsha (Parshos): lit. 'portion' refers to the portion of the Torah
read each week.
Rashi: The primary commentary on the Tenach.
Reb: A title added to a persons name as a sign of respect.
Rebbe: Leader of a Chassidic group or a teacher
Rov: An official rabbi who renders legal decisions. Many of the
Rebbes were both a Rebbe of Chasidim, and the Rov of the city in
which they lived.
Shemos: Second book of the Torah. Called Exodus in English
Talmid (Talmidim): Disciples of a Rebbe.
Torah: a. First 5 books of the Jewish Bible
b. Also refers to the whole of Jewish law
c. also common term for a chassidic teaching
Tshuva: Hebrew word for repentance
Yetzer: lit. Inclination. It is Jewish belief that every Jew has both
an evil and good inclination within him, that are at 'war' to see
which of them the person will follow.
Yetzer HaRah: Heb. Evil Inclination.
Yetzer Tov: Heb. Good Inclination
Z'L: Hebrew initials of the words: Zechorono LeVaracha (His memory is
Zohar: Hebrew/Aramaic Rabbinical Kabbalistical work that is one of
the most important sources for Kabbalah, and was very influential
ZT'L: Hebrew initials of the words: Zechor Tzaddik LeVaracha (The
memory of a Tzaddik - Righteous person is a blessing.)
Copyright (c) 1997 by Moshe Shulman (email@example.com)
All rights reserved.
Issur Hasugas Givil