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. Serving HaShem*
1. 'Now I know that HaShem is greater then all the gods, for in the
very thing that they sinned.' (Shemos* 18.11)
This verse is very hard to understand as the main point of the verse
is missing. [What happened to them because of how they had sinned?]
It appears to me that we can answer this according to the musar* I
have taught in another place based on another verse. 'And to You,
Lord, is mercy, for you reward to each person according to his
deeds.' The Talmud* asks a question. It would appear that it is in
accord with strictness of justice to reward a person according to his
deeds. [And that it is not an act of mercy. However] it is [a true
example of the] mercy of HaShem. [It is really an act of mercy for
HaShem to act according to the principle of justice, and not the
opposite as one would think.]
This can be the meaning of the verse:
'Now I know that HaShem is greater then all the gods.' [Heb. elohim]
The meaning is that He draws His mercy [the name HaShem is a remez*
for midah* of Chesed* ] from the level of 'elohim.' [Which is a remez
for HaShem's midah of strict justice.]
'For in the very thing that they sinned.' This means that by His
rewarding a person according to his actions, he is acting midah
kenegid midah*. The person will know from this that he needs to do
tshuva* and bring himself close to HaShem. This is the mercy of
HaShem which is called 'great.' [Heb. gadol]
[Therefore the verse] spoke well [when it said] 'HaShem is greater.'
[This greatness] is drawn from 'all the gods.' [HaShem's midah of
mercy comes from his acting according to his midah of justice.] This
can be understood by what I said in another place on the verse, 'And
Pharaoh approached.' Look there [where he explains that according to
the Zohar* the meaning is not that 'Pharaoh approached', but that
'Pharaoh made the Jewish people to become close to HaShem.' When he
appeared they did tshuva.]
According to this we can understand what the Talmud says. 'A person
is required to drink on Purim* until he does not know the difference
between 'Cursed is Haman' and 'Blessed is Mordechai.' As the Talmud
says, 'The removal of the ring [of Haman] was greater then 48
prophets.' [When Haman removed his ring he caused the Jewish people
to do tshuva more then any of the prophets.] From this we understand
that from 'Cursed is Haman' is drawn out 'Blessed is Mordechai.'
With this we can also understand what the Talmud says: [The verse
says,] '"To do the desire of each man." Rava says that this refers to
Haman and Mordechai.' It is difficult to understand this as the
desire of the one is the opposite of the other. [However the meaning
is that] the desire of Haman causes the desire of Mordechai [to be
actualized.] This [can be understood] according to what I heard from
my teacher [the Baal Shem Tov] ZT'L* on the verse, 'And capture its
captivity.' [He explains in another place that the meaning of this
verse is that according to the complaint of the Yetzer HaRah* itself,
a person learns how to overcome the Yetzer HaRah.] Therefore from the
desire of Haman one can know how to do the desire of Mordechai with a
strong desire and without laziness. (p. 248 sefer Tzifonis Peneach
teachings of Rebbe* Yakov Yosef of Polnoye]
* * *
II. Attachment to HaShem
2. 'And G-d spoke all these things, saying...' (Shemos 20.1)
Through the Torah a person can come to attachment [to HaShem.] That
is the meaning of 'All these things.' [The reason that HaShem spoke
these things was:] 'saying, I am HaShem.' This refers to attachment
to HaShem. [The commandments were said in order that a person should
be able to attach themselves to HaShem.] (p. 43 sefer Noam Elimeilech
teachings of the Rebbe Reb* Elimeilech of Lizensk.)
* * *
III. HaShem's special people.
3. 'And now, if you will harken to My voice... And you will be a
treasure to me more then all the other peoples.' (Shemos 19.5)
The Zohar says that the 613 mitzvos* are 'advice from the Torah.'
Through them we are able to come to attachment to HaShem. [By
observing the 613 mitzvos one can become attached to HaShem.]
An example [of this idea is as follows.] With regards to medicines
and healing. When there is a particular medicine for a particular
illness there is usually someone who understands the reason that this
particular medicine works for this illness. There are however some
medicines that are effective and there is no one who understands the
reason why this medicine works. It's only that we see it works, and
there is nothing anyone can answer [when asked why.]
This is the meaning of the verse:
'And now, if you will harken to My voice.' If you shall do the
mitzvos of HaShem.
You will cause that 'You will be a treasure [Heb. segulah] to me more
then all the other peoples.' According to this treasure [the mitzvos]
you will be called 'My people.' Then there can be no answer to me.
[Just as there are medicines that no one can say anything about,
except that they work.] It is a 'treasure' for Me that you should be
called My people.
'Because all the world is Mine.' Even though all of the world belongs
to Me, I have chosen the Jewish people, the smallest of the nations.
That is because they are a 'treasure' and no one is allowed to
question this. (p. 39 sefer Mevasar Tzedek teachings of Rebbe
Yissachar Dov of Zlotchov.)
* * *
IV. Avoiding temptation
4. 'You shall not bow down to them and you shall not worship them.'
'You shall not bow down.' This means that you should not make
yourself a subject to anything that is contrary to the will of
HaShem. Instead you should strengthen yourself over these things,
which are foreign powers and foreign desires.
'And you shall not worship them.' This means that you should not make
from them a 'service' to HaShem. You should not bring yourself into a
trial [with your Yetzer HaRah] in order that you should overcome
your Yetzer HaRah. Against this the verse warns us, 'And you shall
not worship them.' [You should not act in this manner as a way of
The Talmud addresses this when it relates that one Amora*, 'passed by
the door of a house of prostitution in order to overcome the desire
of his Yetzer* and from this gain a reward.' The Talmud asks, 'How
can he do that?' Rashi* explains that it means, 'How can he rely on
himself to go there and not fall into the hands of his Yetzer HaRah?'
>From this we see that a person is forbidden to bring himself into a
trial. This is true even if his intention was to increase the honor
of HaShem by his overcoming his Yetzer HaRah. This is 'and you shall
not worship them.' (p. 51 Vol. 2 Sefer Mi Hashiloach teachings of
Rebbe Mordechai Yosef of Izbitza.)
* * *
V. Winning over the Yetzer HaRah.
5. 'And Yisro heard.' (Shemos 18.1)
There are three things, according to the teachings of Chazal*, that
can help a person to counter the Yetzer HaRah. 1. Learning Torah*.
2. Saying Krias Shema* 3. Remembering the day he will die. With these
three things one can overcome his Yetzer HaRah.
This is what it says [in Rashi,] 'What did he hear? He heard the
splitting of the sea and the war with Amalek'. Some Midrashim [like
the Mechilta*] add [he heard about] the giving of the Torah [on Mount
The splitting of the sea is the sod* of Krias Shema as is explained
in seforim. Split [the word] 'sea' [Heb. yom] in two. Half [of the
word 'sea'] is 25. This is the mystery of the 25 letters that are in
the verse of Krias Shema.
The war with Amalek is a remez that in the future Amalek will be
destroyed, which is a remez to the day of one's death. And [with
regards to the Midrash] who says the giving of the Torah [we have
learning Torah. We see that] there is a remez to all three of these
ideas [in this verse.] And by overcoming his Yetzer HaRah, Yisro came
and converted. (p. 70b sefer Ateres Yeshua teachings of Rebbe
Yehoshua of Dzikov.)
Amora(Amoraim): Rabbis of the period of the Mishnah
Challah: Special bread eaten on Shabbos and Yom Tov
Chazal: Hebrew initials for: Chochmenu Zichrona Levaracha (Our sages
of Blessed memory) Used to refer to Rabbis of the Talmud
Chesed: Hebrew word meaning acts of mercy
gematria: Numerical value of the letters of the Hebrew words
HaShem: Noun used in place of G-d. Lit. The Name
Kavanah(Kavanos): Hebrew word for 'intention'.
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
Mechilta: A midrashic commentary on the book of Shemos
midah(midos): A character trait, either good or bad.
midah kenegid midah: Heb. measure for measure
Midrash: Rabbinical work with homiletic interpretations
mikvah: Hebrew word referring to a ritual bath used for purification
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.
Purim: Minor Jewish holiday that celebrates the salvation of the
Jewish people in Persia from danger.
Rashi: The primary commentary on the Tenach.
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.
remez: A method of Biblical interpretation based on finding hints
in the Torah for various concepts.
Shemos: Second book of the Torah. Called Exodus in English
sod: A method of Biblical interpretation based on describing secret
teachings in the Torah.
Talmid (Talmidim): Disciples of a Rebbe.
Talmud: An ancient work of Jewish law.
Talmud Chocham(Talmidei Chochomim): Hebrew for Talmud sage, refers to
one who is learned in Jewish legal texts.
tisch: Yiddish for 'table' Refers to a meal eaten by a Rebbe with his
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
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
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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