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. Inner Meaning
1. 'When you will go out to war against your enemies, and HaShem*
your G-d will give them into your hand, and you will capture his
captives.' (Devorim* 21.10)
We can explain the meaning of this verse according to what I have
written elsewhere concerning the Rambam's* explanation of the
teaching of Chazal*: 'The Holy One Blessed is He does not have a
place in this world except in the four amos* of halacha*.' (This
appears in his introduction to the Mishnah.) My teacher [the Baal Shem
Tov] explained that this refers to the idea that everything that is
done in this world has a deeper inner meaning. (See what I explained
With this idea we can understand the verse.
'When you will go out to war.' This means immediately when you go out
from the house of study.
You find yourself in a war 'against your enemies.' This is because
immediately when you open your door, sin waits to entrap you. When a
person understands this, [it will be that] when he goes out to do his
work in this world, he [will realize that he] is in a war with his
enemy; The Yetzer HaRah*. Then he will make war with his Yetzer
Then 'and HaShem your G-d will give them into your hand, and you will
capture his captives.' You will find the inner meaning that applies
to all the external [revealed] actions. This is one's work in the
things of this world. [You will find the inner meaning] which is
hidden in the [actions that you do in the] external world.
'And you will see among the captives a beautiful women.' This is the
'And you will desire her.' You will have an inner desire for this
[inner meaning.] [And your inner desire will] not be joined with an
external desire. [Your desire will be only to serve HaShem according
to the inner meaning.] (p. 689 sefer Toldos Yakov Yosef teachings of
Rebbe* Yakov Yosef of Polnoye.)
* * *
II. Remembering old Sins
2. 'When you will go out to war against your enemies, and HaShem your
G-d will give them into your hand, and you will capture his
captives.' (Devorim 21.10)
We can explain this verse according to a teaching from the sefer*
Yesh Nochlin. [He says that] when you will be presented with the
[possibility of doing] some sin. You should consider all the sins
that you have already done. From this you will be able to save
yourself from falling into this sin.
This is the meaning of the verse:
'When you will go out to war against your enemies.' The main thing is
that you should desire to make war with him.
Then certainly '[He] will give them into your hand.
'And you will capture his captives.' These are the captives that you
have already had. [The sins which you have done in the past.] You
should consider the sins that you had previously fallen into and come
up with ideas [of things to do] which will keep you from falling into
them again (as we see from the sefer Yesh Nochlin.) Then you will be
saved from falling into the sin again. [You should always consider]
that it is possible for you to fall into this sin as you had been
accustomed to doing it in the past. Therefore it says 'And you will
capture his captives.' You shall make 'gates' [so that you will not
sin again.] (p. 69 sefer Razin D'Oraysa teachings of Rebbe Velvel of
* * *
III. Reward of the Mitzvos*
3. 'You shall send the mother and the children you should take for
you.' (Devorim 22.7)
The Talmud* tells us that there are two mitzvos for which HaShem
specifically explains their reward. One is called the easiest[, the
sending the mother bird.] The other is called the hardest[,
the honoring your parents.]
The sending of the mother bird refers to the person who is able to
leave over any desire for good things that he may have in this world
for the honor of HaShem. This is called the 'easiest'. This is
because every Jew is capable of doing this. [It is easy to achieve
holiness and purity of intention when doing things for which he has
no personal gain.] Every place where a person leaves over the good
things of this world, then he becomes purified.
The honor of your father refers to those mitzvos from which a person
receives personal enjoyment. These are called the 'hardest.' That is
because in the place where a person has some personal enjoyment it is
very hard for him to be pure in his motivation.
For this reason with regards to the sending of the mother it says
first, 'in order that it shall be good for you' and then 'your days
will be lengthened.' This is because here we are referring to one who
has left over all enjoyment involved in that act. For that reason
HaShem tells him first that 'it shall be good with you.' This is
certain. The person himself knows that it is true and he has trust
that HaShem will lengthen his days.
With regards to honoring your father it first says 'in order to
lengthen your days' and then 'in order that it should be good for
you.' Even though you already have enjoyment from this world it will
be good for you in the future [in the world to come.] (p. 190 sefer
Mi Hashiloach teachings of Rebbe Mordechai Yosef of Izbitza)
* * *
IV. Relying on HaShem
4. 'When you will go out to war against your enemies, and HaShem your
G-d will give them into your hand, and you will capture his
captives.' (Devorim 21.10)
The verse says, 'In all your ways you should know Him and he will
make straight your ways.' The meaning of this is that in all of your
actions you should see to it that you join yourself to HaShem and
become attached to Him [in thought] always. And through this
attachment 'He will make straight your ways.'
The reason is that it is not possible for a person to rely upon
himself and his own understanding for any action that is done in the
service of HaShem. [The verse says,] 'With this you shall go into the
Holy [area.' This refers to] when you will join yourself to HaShem.
And if HaShem is with you then you will certainly not be lacking in
The main thing is that a person should never say that 'my strength
and the strength of my hands has made me wealthy.' Or that I have the
strength to succeed in the war with the Yetzer HaRah.
It says in the sefer Chovos Lavovos that the main service [of HaShem]
that a person must do in this world is to prepare himself with all of
his limbs so that he should always be ready to do the will of HaShem.
He need only do the preparation [for the mitzvah.]
To take this from being something that is contained in his thoughts
and in his will and make it into a completed action requires the help
of HaShem. HaShem has to help him so that he could do this good deed.
The main desire of HaShem with regards to the person is concerning
his preparation [to do the mitzvah.] HaShem wants him to be ready to
do the will of HaShem [at all times.]
The person who has attained the understanding of this idea is worthy
to be called a 'Chocham*.' The verse says, 'The Chocham should not
praise himself with his wisdom... with this he shall praise himself,
with his knowledge and understanding of Me.' The meaning is that the
person who HaShem has bestowed intelligence to understand, with a
purified understanding, that everything is from HaShem. This person
is worthy to be praised for his clear understanding [that everything
is from HaShem. 'Understanding of Me' means that he understands that
everything is from HaShem.] From this [understanding] he will be
saved from arrogance. This is because he has no reason to be
arrogant since [he recognizes that] even his knowledge is not his
own, but was bestowed on him by HaShem.
This is what the verse means:
'When you will go out to war against your enemies.' The main thing to
remember [with regards to this war] is ...
'And HaShem your G-d will give them into your hand.' HaShem comes to
the help of the soldiers.
When you will understand this with a clear understanding then you
will be successful in the war, 'and you will capture his captives.'
(p. 180 sefer Avodos Yisaschar teachings of Rebbe Yisachar Ber of
amos: A measurement of length. Approx. 2 feet.
Baal Tshuva (Baalei Tshuva): Hebrew for someone who is a repentant
Beis HaMedrash: Jewish house of study
bekesha: Type of garment worn by Chasidim on Shabbos. Usually made of
Chazal: Hebrew initials for: Chochmenu Zichrona Levaracha (Our sages
of Blessed memory) Used to refer to Rabbis of the Talmud
Chocham(Chochomim): Hebrew for 'sage' or scholar
derech: Heb 'way' refers to a path in serving HaShem
Devorim: Fifth book of the Torah. Called in English 'Deuteronomy'.
halacha: Hebrew word meaning 'law'
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).
mitzvah(mitzvos): One of the commandments of the Torah.
musar: Hebrew for moral instruction.
Parsha (Parshos): lit. 'portion' refers to the portion of the Torah
read each week.
Rambam: Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon also called Maimonides
Rebbe: Leader of a Chassidic group or a teacher
Rebbe Reb: A title added to a few special Rebbes as a sign of their
higher spiritual stature.
sefer(seforim): A Jewish religious book.
Talmid (Talmidim): Disciples of a Rebbe.
Talmud: An ancient work of Jewish law.
Tehillim: Hebrew name for Psalms.
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
Yom Kippur: The Day of Atonement, the most holy day of the Jewish
Zohar: Hebrew/Aramaic Rabbinical Kabbalistical work that is one of
the most important sources for Kabbalah, and was very influential
Copyright (c) 1997 by Moshe Shulman (email@example.com)
All rights reserved.
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