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. Following judgments
1. 'According to the Torah* they shall teach you and the judgments
they shall pronounce to you, you shall do and you shall not
deviate... ' (Devorim* 17.11)
The Baal Shem Tov said that the Taz* and the Schach* are the last of
the poskim*. For that reason we should be careful not to violate what
they have ruled except to be more stringent. We should never be more
lenient then they were unless there is reason for it that they would
have approved of. For example a case when there is a great financial
loss. However even with regards to the works that come after the Taz
and the Schach. We should not doubt their words since they have been
accepted. Since they have been approved they can be assumed to be
based on Ruach HaKodesh*. (p. 572 sefer Baal Shem Tov teachings of the
Baal Shem Tov.)
* * *
2. 'When you go out to battle against your enemy, and you will see a
horse and chariot, a people more numerous then you are, you should
not be afraid... who brought you up from the land of Egypt.' (Devorim
The Baal Tshuva* is called 'exodus from Egypt' as is known. I have
said many times this is the case because he is similar to that event.
[The reason being that the Baal Tshuva had at one time been a sinner,
just as the Jewish people in Egypt. The Midrash compares the Jewish
people in Egypt to the Egyptians. It says that 'these served idols
and those served idols.' However the Baal Tshuva has gone out of his
sins, just as the Jewish people left Egypt and entered into the
service of HaShem.]
It is known that from every sin that a person does he creates an
angel [who stands above to argue against this person.] It is possible
that a person can say, 'How can I do tshuva when I have created such
a numerous people as this? [i.e. the large army of angels from his
sins.] I have done so many sins, how is it possible for me to do
The answer to him is, 'the exodus from Egypt.' The Jewish people in
Egypt were sunk deep in the 49th level of uncleanliness [due to the
sinfulness of the people there and their idols.] But HaShem,
irregardless of this, took the children of Israel out of there.
The same is with the Baal Tshuva. 'The one who wishes to purify
himself they help him.' And he will be able after doing tshuva to
rise to the level of a Tzaddik*, just as it was with the exodus from
This is the meaning of the verse:
'When you go out to battle against your enemy.' This refers to the
battle with one's Yetzer HaRah* and his desire to do tshuva.
'And you will see a horse and chariot.' This refers to the sins that
he has done.
'A people more numerous then you are [Heb. mimcha].' This means to
say that they come specifically 'from you.' [Heb. mimcha] They were
created from you actions.
'You should not be afraid.' The Torah gives us a promise that we
should not be afraid that our tshuva will not be acceptable because
of this people [the angels created from our sins.] This is because
HaShem your G-d is with you.
'Who brought you up from the land of Egypt.' [It is just as it was
when the Jewish people] were sunk deep into the 49th level of
uncleanliness. And even so HaShem took them out of Egypt. The same
is with the Baal Tshuva. HaShem will take him out [of his sins] and
bring him to a high level of service in a single moment. (p. 133
sefer Mevasar Tzedek teachings of Rebbe* Yisachar Ber of Zlotchov.)
* * *
III. Making peace.
3. 'When you will draw near to a city [in order to wage war.]'
Rashi* explains that this verse is referring to a permitted war that
is not required. [The Torah requires the children of Israel to wage
war with certain peoples who lived at that time, all other wars were
not required but they could engage in them if needed.]
The idea here is this. Just like with regards to the sicknesses that
a person's body has, it is his responsibility to guard himself from
cold or heat, or from foods that can harm his body. It is even more
the case with his soul that it is in his hands and his
responsibility. As the verse says, 'You shall watch for your souls.'
You should watch yourself from excessive desire for physical things
and bad midos*.
For this reason the war with his Yetzer* is called a 'permissible
war.' This is because the permission and the choice [to fight it] is
given to every person. He should guard himself from [following after]
the desires of his Yetzer.
Just as with sicknesses of the body there are times when he is not
able to watch himself [from things that are dangerous.] For example
when he is travelling he is not able to protect himself from cold and
chose the types of food he eats. It is even more the case with the
sicknesses of the soul. From time to time the Yetzer will overcome
him until it is almost impossible for him to prevail. Specifically
[as Chazal* say] 'The one who is greater then his fellow his Yetzer
Therefore it is suggested that he should 'try to make peace.' He
should ask of his Yetzer, 'Why are you running after me?' He should
also pour out his words in prayer before HaShem. He should say,
'Master of the Universe. You know the thoughts that are in the hearts
of all people. That my strongest desire is to overcome my Yetzer
HaRah. But what can I do since my Yetzer is greater then I am? I am
not able to stand up against it. Therefore You should hear and accept
my prayer and cries. And You should help me so that I will be able to
overcome my Yetzer HaRah.' With this prayer you will merit that your
enemy [the Yetzer HaRah] will make peace with you. (p. 166 sefer
Mogan Avraham teachings of Rebbe Avraham, the Trisker Maggid*.)
* * *
IV. Faith and trust
4. 'Hear Israel, today you are coming near to the battle...' (Devorim
The Talmud* in Sotah* teaches, '"Hear Israel." Even if you have only
performed the mitzvah* of saying Krias Shema* in the morning and the
evening you will not be given over into their hands.' We need to
understand why is it specifically Krias Shema and not any other
The idea here is that Krias Shema is the acceptance of the yoke of
the Kingship of HaShem. In a war one needs to understand that it is
not our own strength, and the power of our hands that cause the
victory. It is the help of HaShem.
This is the idea behind the placing of the blessing for redemption
[from exile] next to the silent prayer. [This is to show us] that the
victory and the redemption that we will have comes only through the
prayers that we pray to HaShem with trust in His help. For this
reason when they approached the battle the kohen* would speak to the
people. He would then start with 'Hear Israel' to be a remez* to them
about accepting upon themselves the yoke of the Kingship of HaShem.
With this we can understand what the Talmud says, 'If one speaks
between putting on the tephilin* of the hand and the tephilin of the
head, he has a sin and he returns [home] from the field of battle'
[and does not take part in the war.]
The question is, 'Why specifically this mitzvah?' [The reason is]
that the mitzvah of tephilin is to bind the arm together with the
head. This is to teach us that any success that we have depends upon
the faith and trust in our head [mind] to make the desires and
thoughts of our hearts to be used for the service of HaShem. One who
separates between his hand [i.e. his own actions] and his head [i.e.
his faith and trust in HaShem], and he talks between the tephilin of
the hand and the tephilin of the head. He [shows that he] considers
that the strength of his hands alone have given him his success. He
has sinned and he is returned from the field of battle. The hosts of
Israel are supposed to be faithful men and Tzaddikim. [Then] to them
HaShem sends His help.
This is also the meaning of what the Talmud says, '"All the people of
the land will see that the name of HaShem is on you and they will
fear you." This refers to the tephilin on the head.' This is as we
have said above that the victory depends on ones faith and trust [in
HaShem.] (p. 231 sefer Beis Aharon teachings of Rebbe Shlomoh Zalman
Baal Tshuva (Baalei Tshuva): Hebrew for someone who is a repentant
Chazal: Hebrew initials for: Chochmenu Zichrona Levaracha (Our sages
of Blessed memory) Used to refer to Rabbis of the Talmud
Devorim: Fifth book of the Torah. Called in English 'Deuteronomy'.
halacha: Hebrew word meaning 'law'
Kohen(Kohanim): Hebrew for 'the Priest' refers to someone who is a direct
paternal descendant from Aaron in the Torah
Krias Shema: Recitation of the main Jewish prayer of the confession
of faith. Contains 3 parshas. Devorim 6.5-9; 11.13-21 and Bamidbar
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.
mitzvah(mitzvos): One of the commandments of the Torah.
nashama(nashamos): Hebrew word for soul.
Pesachim:One of the Tractates of the Talmud
poskim: Men who decide questions of Jewish law.
Rashi: The primary commentary on the Tenach.
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.
Ruach HaKodesh: Heb spirit of holiness. Refers to one who can see
events, and understand things that are not apparent to the human
Schach:One of the major commentators on the Shulchan Aruch
Sotah: A tractate of the Talmud
Talmid (Talmidim): Disciples of a Rebbe.
Talmud: An ancient work of Jewish law.
Tanna(Tannaim): Rabbis of the Talmud
Taz:One of the major commentators on the Shulchan Aruch
tephilin: Special boxes that contain passages of the Torah which are
worn by men in daily prayer.
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
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
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