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.
1. 'And the souls they had acquired in Charon' (Bereishis* 12.5)
From my teacher the Baal Shem Tov I heard a parable about two people
who were traveling in a forest which was inhabited by robbers.
The forest presented dangers for all the people who passed through
it. One of those who went in the forest was drunk, and the other was
sober and of clear mind. They both ran into robbers who beat them and
stole all their money. They were barely able to escape with their
When they had passed through the forest they ran into some people who
asked them about their passage through the forest. They first asked
the man who was drunk. He said that there was no problem at all with
the way. There was absolutely no danger at all. So they asked him
what were all those bruises, bumps, and blood all over his body? He
couldn't answer them at all. [He was totally unaware of what had
They then asked the other person. He told them of the robbers and the
danger involved with going into the forest. He warned them not to go
into the forest unless they were well armed.
This is the way it is with the Tzaddik* who serves HaShem*. He is
aware of the danger that exists from the Yetzer HaRah*. The Yetzer
HaRah is like the robbers who are to be found on the way of those who
serve HaShem. He is always preparing himself to avoid his nets, and
he knows how to warn others of the dangers of the robbers [i.e. the
This is not the case with the wicked man who celebrates with the
Yetzer HaRah. He tells himself that all is well with him, and there
is no danger in this world. (p. 204 Sefer Baal Shem Tov teachings of
the Baal Shem Tov. This is taken from Toldos Yaakov Yosef, from
Rebbe Yaakov Yosef HaKohen of Polnoye a talmid from the Baal Shem
* * *
II. Rising in Levels of Service to HaShem
2. 'Go out from your land ' (Bereishis 12.1)
The Midrash* teaches that this verse is related to the verse that
says, 'We have a small sister.' We need to understand what this verse
has to do with the other verse.
The answer is that it is well known that a person must first serve
HaShem from an inspiration that comes from himself. With regards to
those who do this Chazal* say 'the one who desires to purify himself
will be helped'. He will receive an inspiration from Above, and
progress from level to level in the service of HaShem.
It was the same way with Avraham Aveinu*. He first inspired himself
to serve HaShem. Chazal say 'Avraham by himself went in the way of
righteousness.' Because of this HaShem told him to 'go out' i.e. to
rise from level to level in the service of HaShem. ('Going' means
rising from one level to another in the service of HaShem as it is
stated in the Or HaChaim* on the verse, 'If you will go in my
When a person attains a higher level of service the previous one is
called 'small' in relationship to his present level. This is the
meaning of the Midrash which relates the verse 'we have a small
sister' to the verse 'Go out'. [The Midrash means to say that by
'going out', i.e. rising from one level to another, he will have a
'small sister' which means refers to previous level of service of
HaShem he had been on. This was the level of service of Avraham.] (p.
13 Sefer Ahavas Shalom teachings of Rebbe* Menachem Mendel of Kosov)
* * *
3. 'Go out from your land ' (Bereishis 12.1)
This verse is a remez* about Shabbos. The Midrash says, 'Did I give
the Shabbos to you in order to do evil to you? No, I gave it to you
for your own good.' This is the meaning of 'go out.' Your mind should
become settled on the Holy Shabbos and you should rest from your
I heard from my Holy Rebbe [The Ropshitzer Rov*] concerning what we
say in Kiddish*, 'The beginning of the holy celebrations'. The Holy
Shabbos is the beginning for one wishes to be called 'holy'.
The prayer continues, 'A remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt'. You
should remember that when the Jews left Egypt they were on a very low
level, but that in a single minute they went out of the uncleanliness
of the land of Egypt into the holiness of HaShem. It should be even
more the case on Shabbos that he should in a single minute be able to
leave any uncleanliness and enter the side of holiness.
Even though we celebrate the Holy Shabbos by eating and drinking
[which one would think would not be conducive to holiness.] It is
really through this eating and drinking that we go out of all of our
bad midos *on Shabbos. That is the meaning of 'Go out.' Rashi* adds
that this means 'for your own enjoyment and for your own good.' This
refers to the Holy Shabbos where we eat for our own enjoyment and it
is also good for our souls. (p. 4b Sefer Ravid HaZahav teachings of
Rebbe Yisroel Dov of Yashnitzah a Talmid* of Rebbe Naftuli of
* * *
IV. How to serve HaShem
4. 'And Avram went, according to what HaShem told him ' (Bereishis
I will first explain the verse, 'You should be careful with what you
say, and you should do according to what you have sworn.' This verse
is warning us that we should have the same desire when we are
fulfilling our vows as we had when we first made the vow. That is
what it means when it says, 'You should be careful with what you
say'. I.e. that it should be done on the level of desire, 'according
to what you have sworn.' With the same strong desire you had when you
made the oath. And if you do not do it with the same desire, it is
better that you had never made the oath.
With this idea we can understand the verse, 'You should observe the
Shabbos according to all that HaShem has commanded to you.' 'You
should honor your father and your mother as HaShem has commanded to
you.' The verse is warning us that we should perform these mitzvos*
on the same level and with the same desire as at the time they were
commanded by HaShem on mount Sinai.
This is also what is meant when the verse says, 'And Avraham
circumcised his son Yitzchok according to what G-d had commanded
him.' He did it with the same strong desire he had when he was first
commanded by HaShem. This was the case even though it was quite a
long time between the command and the actual action. When Avraham
Aveinu circumcised himself for the first time he did it immediately
with a great desire. Likewise, with Yitzchok, even though it was a
long time after that, he was still on the same level of desire as the
first time when he circumcised himself.
The same is with the Akeida* where it says, 'And he went to the place
that G-d told him to.' Which means to that level he was on when he
was first commanded. Therefore it says 'and he saw the place from far
away.' He saw that he was far from that level because those people
who were with him were disturbing his thoughts and causing him to
fall from that level. Therefore he told them, 'Stay here with the
donkey...' Then when they (Avraham and Yitzchok) were alone and they
went to the place that G-d commanded, they were on the same level of
desire as they had been when first commanded.
This is also the meaning of 'And Avram went, according to what HaShem
told him'. He stayed with the same desire the whole time he was
traveling as he had when he first heard the command from HaShem. (p.
23 Sefer Tepheres Shlomo teachings of Rebbe Shlomo of Radomsk).
Akeida: Hebrew literally 'binding' Refers to the binding of Yitzchok
on the alter.
Avraham Aveinu: Hebrew name of Abraham
Bereishis: First book of the Torah. Called Genesis in English
Chazal: Hebrew initials for: Chochmenu Zichrona Levaracha (Our sages
of Blessed memory) Used to refer to Rabbis of the Talmud
HaShem: Noun used in place of G-d. Lit. The Name
Kiddish: Ceremony performed on Friday night over a cup of wine.
midah(midos): A character trait, either good or bad.
Midrash: Rabbinical work with homiletic interpretations
mitzvah(mitzvos): One of the commandments of the Torah.
Or HaChaim: Jewish Torah commentary
Rashi: The primary commentary on the Tenach.
Rebbe: Leader of a Chassidic group
remez: A method of Biblical interpretation based on finding hints
in the Torah for various concepts.
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.
Talmid (Talmidim): Disciples of a Rebbe.
Tzaddik (Tzaddikim): lit. Righteous. Another name for a Chassidic
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.
Copyright (c) 1997 by Moshe Shulman (email@example.com)
All rights reserved.
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