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. Going in the proper way.
1. 'And it was on the eight day Moshe called...' (V'yikra* 9.1)
We can explain this verse with a teaching that appears in the sefer
O'lalos Ephraim. He explained the passage in the Talmud* that says:
(Eruvin* 53b) 'Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananyah said that once a boy
triumphed over him. This happened when he once came upon a place in
the road where it branched. He had a choice of going one of two ways
to arrive at the city he was going to. He saw there a young boy. He
asked the boy which way leads to the city. The boy said that they
both did. One way was short and long, and the other way was long and
short. Rabbi Yehoshua chose the way that was short and long. He
quickly arrived at the city, but the path went into thick gardens and
fields. Seeing that he couldn't go further, he turned back.'
The idea here is that there are two paths placed before every person
for him to choose. One is short and long. This is the way of the
wicked, who follow the way that is easy in the beginning. It appears
to them as if they are close to HaShem*. [However that is not the
case.] The end of this way is suffering. They find that there is a
great expanse between them and HaShem.
The second way is that of the Tzaddikim*. It is long and short. In
the beginning it appears to them as if they are very far from HaShem.
However in the end it is easy for them. It is easy for them to rise
to the place where HaShem is [and serve him.]
People want to go in the short and long way. This is because the
fulfillment of ones desires for the things of this world can be
attained by a person immediately. However the rewards of the world
to come 'no eye has ever seen.' For this reason Eve sinned when she
said, 'It [the fruit] is desirous to the eyes.' This is because the
eye only sees what is a temporary good. [They do not discern what is
So when he 'arrives at the city' he finds the gardens and fields
separating him from the city. The desires of this world are compared
to gardens and fields. They separate the person from the city and
holiness. This is because 'your sins make a separation between you
and your Father in heaven.'
Then he turned around. I.e. he did tshuva*. He carefully examined his
actions so that he should not be among those who fool themselves and
live in fantasies. Thinking that they are close to HaShem [when in
truth they are not.] As the verse says, 'the ways of men are good in
their own eyes.' They think that HaShem approves of them. They
consider all things permitted, and everything pure. (Until here are
the words of the O'lalos Ephraim)
With this we can understand the verse: 'And it was on the eight day.'
This means: woe is to the one who does not inspire himself to do
tshuva during the seven days, i.e. the 70 years of his life. Only on
the eight day 'Moshe called'. This means that it had appeared to him
for his whole life that he was serving HaShem. However when he is in
his old age he sees his error and does a sincere tshuva. (p. 296
sefer Toldos Yakov Yosef teachings of Rebbe* Yakov Yosef HaKohen of
* * *
II. Good food.
2. 'These are the creatures that you may eat' (V'yikra 11.2)
[The Midrash comments with regards to this verse:] "This is what the
verse means, 'To do Your will is what I desire, Your Torah* is within
my stomach.' The Jewish people are blessed [from HaShem] in that each
of their limbs has been given a mitzvah*."
A man has 248 limbs. Therefore we say the blessing, 'Who has formed
man ...with ... many cavities [Heb. chalulim]. The gematria* of the
word 'chalulim'  doubled [as this word appears twice in the
blessing] is equal to the number of limbs that a person has. [This
shows us that each of the 248 limbs is for one of the 248 mitzvos.
The mitzvah for] the head is 'do not round the corners [Heb. peyos]
of your head. For ones flesh there is the mitzvah 'don't make
cuttings for the dead in your flesh'. Likewise there is the mitzvah
The truth is that every Jews desires to do the will of HaShem with
learning Torah and prayer. However the Yetzer Harah* that is in him,
and the desire to fill his stomach keep him back from the service of
HaShem. The Yetzer HaRah causes him to follow after all his desires
for food and drink. [This causes him to rebel as the verse says]
'Yeshurim waxed and rebelled.' This is even more true with the person
who has (G-d forbid) stumbled by eating foods that are forbidden, and
However the Tzaddikim are like those who go on a well lit way. They
overcome their physical desires, and don't fill their stomachs [with
all manner of foods.] Therefore their hearts [i.e. their Yetzer] are
in their own hands so that they can serve HaShem with learning Torah
and good deeds.
This is what David said, 'To do Your will is what I desire.' This is
certainly my desire to do Your will. However the main thing is that
'Your Torah is within my stomach.' I.e. to observe the Torah [laws]
that deal with your stomach [i.e. the eating of only kosher* foods.]
You should not allow any chance of the power of physical pleasures in
your stomach to hold you back from going in the way of truth.
Therefore the Midrash associates this verse with the verse 'These are
the creatures that you may eat.' This is to warn against eating
impure foods, so that your souls should not become despicable to
HaShem. You should not be held back from the service of HaShem, and
the love of Him.
The impure foods are called 'assur' [forbidden], meaning that they
are bound [Aramaic assur] to the Yetzer HaRah. [By eating of them you
go into the power of the Yetzer HaRah.] There is no way that they can
be used to serve HaShem, as it says in the sefer Tanya*.
This is the meaning of what the Midrash says, 'The Jewish people are
blessed [from HaShem] in that each of their limbs has been given a
mitzvah.' The meaning is that each person should make himself holy in
each of his 248 limbs by accepting upon himself the holiness of the
248 positive mitzvos [and doing them.] If he does this HaShem will be
able dwell within him. (p. 153 sefer Avodas Yisroel teachings of
Rebbe Yisroel of Koznitz.)
* * *
III. Serving HaShem
3. 'Speak to the children of Israel and tell them, These are the
creatures that you may eat' (V'yikra 11.1-2)
Chazal* say that from this verse we learn that HaShem took every type
of creature by the tail and showed it to Moshe and said to him these
you may eat. We may say in explanation of this teaching that the tail
is the end of the body. This indicates the lowest spiritual levels.
This action by HaShem was a remez* to Moshe that he should raise up
everything to it's source, even those things that are on the lowest
of levels. Even those that are on the very bottom he should raise up
and use them in the service of HaShem. (p. 61 sefer Lekutei Shoshanim
teachings of Rebbe Moshe Tzvi of Savoran)
* * *
IV. Who is great?
4. 'And it was on the eight day ...' (V'yikra 9.1)
This refers to the eighth day of preparation for the dedication of
the Mishkan*. Each day Moshe would assemble the Mishkan. Then he
would disassemble it and then reassemble it again. The idea of this
assembling, disassembling and then reassembling again of the Mishkan
was to teach us that HaShem brings low the haughty and raises up
those who are lowly.
This can be understood according to what I have taught in the
'general principles'. [His collection of Chassidic explanations of
teachings of Chazal.] There is a legal principle that when 'the Torah
includes/adds something after having previously included/added, it is
only to remove/subtract something which was already included.' The
meaning of this is that the more a person considers himself great in
his eyes he is really becoming smaller and smaller. [By 'adding' to
himself he is actually subtracting. Instead of being greater he is
Likewise where they teach that when 'the Torah removes/subtracts
something after having already removed/subtracted other items, it is
only in order to include/add something that would not have been
included before.' This means the more one considers himself smaller
in his eyes, he is truly greater. [By 'removing' his personal honor
continually, he actually becomes greater.]
This is what the Zohar* teaches, 'the one who considers himself great
he is small, and the one who considers himself small, he is great.'
The same can be said with regards to the learning of Torah. [We see
this illustrated by] what I have taught with regards to the meaning
of the verse 'behold a ladder is resting on the earth and the top
reaches to heaven.' This is the Torah that is given in this world,
but it reaches up to heaven. This is because Torah that is learned
with love and fear flies up to heaven.
'And the angels of G-d'. These are the souls that are sent to this
world to learn Torah.
'Going up and down.' This is the person himself. If he considers
himself as if he was rising up because of his learning of Torah, then
he is really going down. If he considers himself smaller then he
This is the idea of the 7 days where Moshe took apart and put
together the Mishkan. If the person stands up and becomes raised up
in his eyes, he is really low and like the disassembled Mishkan.
However if he is broken hearted, then he is raised up. (p. 45 sefer
Divrei Yisroel teachings of Rebbe Yisroel of Modzitz.)
* * *
V. Trusting in HaShem
5. 'And Moshe said, this is the thing that HaShem commands for you
to do and the glory of HaShem will be revealed to you.' (V'yikra 9.6)
We need to understand what this verse is adding to what appears in
the previous verses.
It appears that there is a remez here. At that time the Jewish people
were at the pinnacle of perfection. They had just assembled the
mishkan and they were informed that HaShem would appear to them.
Moshe was the leader of the Jewish people, and Aharon was the high
priest. It was a generation great in wisdom.
[However] Moshe saw that there would come a time that they would not
have a leader who was as great [as he was.] They wouldn't have a
mishkan, and the generation would not be on such a high level as they
were [at that time. The question would be] how can a person attain
perfection [in such a generation?]
Therefore he told them, 'This is the thing that HaShem commands for
you to do.' This means that no matter what condition they find
themselves in, they should do the mitzvos of HaShem, and HaShem will
appear to them. Even if they had sinned until then and they need to
rectify their previous actions. In any case they should trust in
HaShem and do the mitzvos of HaShem.
That is what is meant by what Chazal say in Torah Kohanim* on this
verse. 'Moshe said to the Jewish people, "You should remove that
Yetzer HaRah from your hearts..."' This means that they should remove
from their hearts all those things they have done until now by
following the Yetzer HaRah. And they should have trust in HaShem.
They should improve their ways, and from now on go in the ways of
HaShem and do his mitzvos. Through that 'The glory of HaShem will be
revealed to you.' (p. 127 sefer Emunas Moshe teachings of Rebbe
Yehudah Moshe of Alexander.)
Chazal: Hebrew initials for: Chochmenu Zichrona Levaracha (Our sages
of Blessed memory) Used to refer to Rabbis of the Talmud
Eruvin: Tractate of the Talmud
gematria: Numerical value of the letters of the Hebrew words
HaShem: Noun used in place of G-d. Lit. The Name
kosher: Heb. fit. Refers to food that is permitted to eat.
mishkan: Hebrew for tabernacle
mitzvah(mitzvos): One of the commandments of the Torah.
Parshas HaChodesh: Special Parsha of the Torah read on the Shabbos
before the first of the month of Nissan.
Rebbe: Leader of a Chassidic group or a teacher
remez: A method of Biblical interpretation based on finding hints
in the Torah for various concepts.
Talmud: An ancient work of Jewish law.
Tanya: Important chassidic work By Rebbe Shneur Zalman of Liadi.
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
Tzaddik (Tzaddikim): lit. Righteous. Another name for a Chassidic
V'yikra: Hebrew for the book of Leviticus
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
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)
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