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. Stories of Tzaddikim*
1. 'That he will command his children and the members of his
household after him to keep the way of HaShem*, in order that HaShem
should bring upon Avraham what He had promised' (Bereishis* 18.19)
I heard an explanation of the verse, 'Then those who feared HaShem
spoke to each other; and HaShem listened and He heard, and wrote in
the book of remembrance before Him of those who fear HaShem and heed
His name.' The meaning of the words 'they spoke' cannot be understood
in this verse.
The Baal Shem Tov once explained the reason for the customs
surrounding the yortzheit (which is the anniversary of the death of
one's father or mother.) On the day of their death the souls of one's
father and mother are judged if they are worthy to ascend to a higher
level in the world above.
Each year before the soul can ascend, it is judged on lesser and
lesser significant actions that had been done by it in this world.
For this reason there is a custom for the children to fast on that
day, and to give charity in order to add merits to the soul of his
father or mother in the world above. This is because 'a son can bring
merit to his father' (Sanhedrin* 104a).
If the soul of his parents had previously purified themselves in this
world so that there is nothing else for them to be judged for in the
next world, it is not possible for them to rise to higher levels.
[Since there is nothing left over for which to judge them, they
cannot be raised higher then they merited from the previous
judgement.] The only way that they can be raised to higher levels is
if their descendants will remember their many merits, and the good
deeds that they had done in this world. Then they will be able to
rise from one level to the next.
This is the meaning of the verse.
'Then those who feared HaShem spoke one to the other'. This means
that each one spoke to the other about the actions of the those who
feared HaShem, and remembered his good deeds that were done in this
'And HaShem listened and He heard, and wrote in the book of
remembrance before Him'. This means that the deeds of those who
feared HaShem were remembered by HaShem. This happened because in
this world they told stories of the deeds of these people. And from
this their souls were raised up higher in the world above.
'Of those who ... heed His name.' This means that those people who
related these stories about the good deeds, the customs and the ways
of servicing HaShem of those who fear HaShem are considered as those
who heed His name. They are remembered before HaShem because by
recalling the merits of the Tzaddikim they cause their souls to be
raised up higher in the world above. (p. 237 Sefer Baal Shem Tov
teachings of the Baal Shem Tov. This is from the sefer Peri Chaim
from Rebbe* Avraham Chaim of Zlotchov)
* * *
II. Serving HaShem in ones youth.
2. 'And Avraham rose up in the morning' (Bereishis 22.3)
I heard it said in the name of Rabbi Yosef the Rov* of Nimerov, that
in general when one is in his younger years he spends more time with
the foolish things of this world, and with following after his
physical desires. However when he gets older he begins to regret the
evil that he did when he was young and does tshuva*.
He said that one needs to elevate those days and nights that were
spent in sin. This is done by recalling the enthusiasm that he had
when he did those sins and taking that enthusiasm and using it to
learn Torah* and serve HaShem.
It is impossible for one in his youth to fully serve HaShem only for
His sake alone without some other motive. However if one wants to do
tshuva, as I said above, then he will elevate those days when he
served for ulterior motives together with those which were for
HaShem's sake. They shall all be considered as merits, when he does
tshuva from love of HaShem.
This is what it means that 'Avraham rose up in the morning.' 'In the
morning', in his youth.
He rose up and 'and he saddled his donkey', i.e. he restrained his
physical nature and did not give in to his desires.
'And he took the two youths', i.e. the days and years of his youth he
took with him. All those days that he served HaShem he took with him
and made them merits. (p. 69 sefer Mayim Rabim teachings of Rebbe
Mechel of Zlotchov.)
* * *
III. The mitzvah* of having guests
3. 'And he stood over them, under a tree, and they ate ' (Bereishis
I heard in the name of the Yid HaKodesh ZT'L* that we need to
understand why it was that Avraham stood by the angels when they were
eating. If he wasn't eating with them, it really isn't good manners
to stand by and watch when they eat.
He explained that being an angel has an advantage and a disadvantage,
and likewise being a man has an advantage and a disadvantage.
The angels stand on one level in their service of HaShem and cannot
fall, this is an advantage for them. However it is a disadvantage in
that they cannot go from one level to a higher level in service of
A man on the other hand can rise from one level to another. But, on
the other hand, they have the disadvantage that they can fall from
their level and sin. However it is an advantage for men, to be able
to go from one level to a higher level in the service of HaShem,
which is something an angel cannot achieve.
If one fulfills the mitzvah of having guests in the proper manner,
one acquires the good midos* of the guest. We know that everyone has
good midos that his fellowman does not have. If one fulfills the
mitzvah of having guests and he serves them as is proper, he will
learn the good midos and advantages of his guests. [This is because
by observing them, one can learn from them.] That is the meaning that
'he stood above them', he acquired the midos of the angels that they
are on a single level all the time and do not ever fall from that
That is what it means, 'above them', he was at a level higher then
the angels. This was because he had the advantage of being able to
rise from one level to the other in service of HaShem, and at this
time he acquired from them the level of 'standing' and not falling
from his level of service of HaShem. Therefore he was greater then
they were, [being able to both go from one level to another, and
being able to 'stand' and not fall from that level.] (p. 114 sefer
Kedushas HaYehudi teachings of the Yid HaKodesh of Peshischa)
* * *
IV. Turn evil to good
4. 'And HaShem appeared to him by the trees of Mamre, and he sat by
the door of the tent in the heat of the day ' (Bereishis 18.1)
The verse says one should, 'turn from evil and do good.' The meaning
is that HaShem created the world that there should be both good and
evil so that people would have a choice.
There are some things in the world that are only good with no mixture
of evil, like the positive mitzvos of the Torah [i.e. those things
which HaShem has commanded to do]. Likewise, there are some things
that are evil without any mixture of good, like the negative mitzvos
of the Torah [i.e. those things which HaShem has forbidden to do].
However there are some things that can be either. It is possible to
do them and it should be 'good' and also one can do them and it will
be 'evil'. One's service of HaShem with these acts, is to remove any
'evil' that there might be in them.
For example, if one has feelings of 'love' or 'fear' he should not
use them for things that are foreign to the service of HaShem and not
associated with HaShem. He should use them to serve HaShem. The same
is with all those things one is allowed to eat or drink. He should use
them to serve HaShem, as Chazal* say, 'make yourself holy in those
things which are permitted (i.e. not commanded) for you.'
This is what David meant, 'turn from evil and DO good', i.e. that you
should turn the evil to good and elevate those actions in the service
That is what the verse says, 'And HaShem appeared to him by the trees
of Mamre'. The word 'Mamre' is similar to the word 'You are
rebellious [Heb Mamrim] to HaShem you G-d.' This means that Avraham
caused those things that could be considered 'rebellion' into a
service of HaShem. He turned them from being evil into the level of
How did he get to that level? The verse continues, 'he sat by the
door of the tent'. This is according to the meaning of the verse,
'This is the gate of HaShem only the Tzaddikim can enter.' This means
that he truthfully had faith and fear of HaShem. And from that he
merited that HaShem should be revealed to him also in the level of
'the trees of Mamre'. I.e. in those things that can also be used for
evil. He turned those acts from the level of 'turn from evil' into
'do good' (p. 25 sefer Ner Yisroel teachings of Rebbe Yisroel of
Rizhin and his children. This was from Rebbe Avraham Yaakov of
Sadagura son of the Rizhiner.)
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
midah(midos): A character trait, either good or bad.
mitzvah(mitzvos): One of the commandments of the Torah.
Rebbe: Leader of a Chassidic group
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.
Sanhedrin: Tractate in the Talmud
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
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.
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