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. Learning Torah* together
1. 'He saw Israel dwelling according to their tribes.' (Bamidbar*
Rashi* comments [on this verse that the meaning is] that the doors of
one of them did not open opposite to the door of his fellow. The
Talmud* comments that 'He saw that their doors did not open one
opposed to the other means that he said that they were worthy that
the Shechina* should rest on them.'
The Baal Shem Tov explained these teachings as follows. When two
Talmidei Chochomim* are arguing a point of Torah amongst themselves,
at times they will not admit the truth of what the other person said.
One will have in mind to show the error of his friends words, even
though he is aware that his fellow is correct. His intention is to
argue in order to show off his own knowledge.
However the main purpose of Talmidei Chochomim discussing the Torah
is to arrive at the truth. With this they will fulfil what Chazal*
said in Pirkei Avos, 'Two people who sit together, and they share
words of Torah together the Shechina rests on them.'
It is known that ones 'mouth' is called a door. [This is because]
one's words go out from there [in the same manner as one goes out
from a door.] This is the meaning of 'the doors of one of them did
not open opposite to the door of his fellow.' Their intention
when discussing Torah was not to show the error of their fellow.
Their intention was that the truth of the Torah should come out. For
that reason the Talmud says that they were worthy that the Shechina
should rest on them [as Chazal said in the passage of Pirkei Avos
above.] (p. 472 sefer Baal Shem Tov teachings of the baal Shem Tov.)
* * *
II. Fear and service of HaShem
2. 'How good are your tents Yakov, and your tabernacle Yisroel.'
The verse says, 'The Nephalim were in the land... who were from old
renowned people.' [The meaning of this is] the angelic hosts of
heaven have no Yetzer HaRah*. Whatever service of HaShem* they do is
perfect according to the way they were made, and they do it without
any ulterior motives. However the hosts of this world have a Yetzer
HaRah. For this reason we see that the Tzaddikim* never feel certain
of themselves. [They always considered that] it is possible that they
have an ulterior motive [in their service of HaShem] which they have
not recognized in themselves. This is because the Yetzer Harah is
called in the Talmud 'south' [Heb Tzufon which also means hidden.]
We find the same fear with Aharon. When he went to Moshe to be
annointed with the anointing oil [to be the high priest] he was
afraid. He said maybe I have done something wrong, as is related in
the Talmud. We need to consider this matter. Didn't he believe that
Moshe was doing what HaShem commanded? [In truth] he did believe
that Moshe was commanded to anoint him. However he didn't believe in
himself that he was worthy to be annointed to greatness. Maybe there
was in him some ulterior motive, or some mixture of evil that he did
not realize. For that reason he was worried. This lasted until he
heard a heavenly voice [exhorting him to take on this post, as the
The reason for this [that the tzaddikim need to have such a fear] is
that since they have a physical nature it is possible for there to be
mixed in some foreign intentions which he would not recognize in
himself. However the heavenly hosts are not like that. They would
recognize [any foreign influence] and immediately they would
recognize this as a fault and rectify it.
This is what Bilaam said, 'Who sees the Almighty, when falling and
with covered eyes.' If he has some fault, he sees it immediately.
This is what it says in the prayer, 'They [the angels] all are lovers
[one of the other], all are purified.' Each one of them according to
his particular service is perfect.
However the hosts below are not able to have this type of recognition
because of the Yetzer HaRah which is called 'hidden' [because it can
hide in them.] They are always in fear. That they are always in fear
is what brings them to perfection. [When they have this fear] then
the Watcher of Israel will guard them [from sin.] However the wicked
Bilaam praised himself [as being on the level of angels] as the verse
above shows. Therefore his eyes are really closed [as the verse says
with] 'covered eyes'. [He really does not see anything.]
However it is not the same with the Jewish people who serve HaShem
with fear as mentioned above with regards to Aharon. Through this,
that he does not have confidence in himself and his actions that they
should be according to His will, it will be later revealed to him
that his service was [in fact] perfect and according to His desire.
Then he will give praise that he was rescued from his Yetzer HaRah
and that HaShem watched over him. [In the prayer called Nishmas] we
proclaim 'If our mouths were filled with songs as the ocean [is wide]
.. it would not be enough to praise' [You, HaShem.] Because of our
Yetzer HaRah we are afraid and Hashem guards over us, and hence we
give praise to Him. Each person according to the level of service he
Sometimes it is revealed to a person that he has done wrong, and he
does tshuva*. This inspiration [to do tshuva] has as yet not been put
into action. However with this inspiration he gets the spiritual
strength to do a mitzvah*. This inspiration [to do tshuva] is called
'Yakov'. Because he has not yet brought it into an action. [Yakov is
from the word 'ekev' which means 'in the end'. He has not yet done
anything, but the potential is now there.] Afterwards when he does a
mitzvah with love and fear it is called 'Yisroel'.
This is the meaning of the verse [above.] 'How good are your tents'
[Yakov.] His inspiration has not been established [more then in
thought] which is [temporary like] a tent. 'Your Tabernacle' refers
to when he has brought this inspiration together with mitzvos and
good deeds, which is 'Yisroel.' (p. 118 sefer Birchas Avraham
teachings of Rebbe* Avraham Elchanan of Plontch a talmid* of Rebbe
Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev.)
* * *
3. 'Who can count the dust of Yakov, and the count of the quarter of
Yisroel.' (Bamidbar 23.10)
It is known that the main preparation for prayer is to humble oneself
and to recognize the greatness of HaShem and to consider himself as
if he was no more then dirt. [Then] after beginning to pray one
should throw these thoughts away and pray with a great joy. Even
though before he [felt] that he was as dirt, now he should feel
lifted up to heaven. This is the meaning of the teaching of Chazal,
'When they descend they descend to the earth, when they rise they
rise to the heavens.' [First they descend to the earth, i.e. they
feel as if they are the same as the dust of the earth. Then, because
of that, they will rise up to the highest heavens.]
This is also what Avraham said, 'Behold, I have begun to speak [to
You] I am like dust and ashes.' The meaning being, when he started
praying he [felt as though he] was dust and ashes. [He felt that he
was humble and of no worth.] This is what Hillel said, 'My greatness
is my humility.' Humility makes one great.
Likewise Moshe is praised for his humility. He was the greatest of
all men. [However] he was not able to rise up to this greatness until
he had previously lowered himself beforehand with a 'lowering in
order to [later] rise up.' This is the meaning of the verse, 'And
Moshe went down from the mountain to the people.' He did this in
order that he should be able to [afterwards] rise up to an even
We can now explan the verse. 'Who can count the dust of Yakov.' We
can understand this according to what I explained on another verse.
'Balak saw all that Yisroel did to the Amori.' The meaning of this is
that Balak saw their preparations for prayer. [Amori is similar to
the Hebrew word 'to say' amor. This speech refers to their prayers.]
They were on the level of humility before their prayers. This is the
meaning of 'Who can count the dust of Yakov.' He [Bilaam] admitted to
the great virtues of the Jewish people that they make themselves as
if they were dust before prayer.
'And the count.' [Heb. mispar This word can be divided into two.
'Mis' which has the gematria* of 100 and 'par' which has the gematria
of 280.] This refers to their bringing down into this world the 100
blessings, which is the gematria of 'mis'. And they nullify the 280
[levels of] judgments [from HaShem which is the gematria of 'par'.]
'The quarter.' This is what it says later, 'He [HaShem] saw no sin in
Yakov, and He saw no iniquity in Yisroel.' This refers to what I said
above, that during their prayers they held fast to their joy [in
their service of HaShem.] They threw from themselves any worries of
sins or iniquities that they might have had. As the verse says, 'You
shall not follow after your heart.' [His heart should not be troubled
during prayer over his sins.] One should not pass over doing any of
the mitzvos. We understand this to mean that when he does the
mitzvos he should not consider any sins he might have done, so that
he should not become depressed.
'The trumpet blast [Heb. Teruos] of the king is among them.' This is
a language denoting something joined together, and of friendship
[Heb. raos], with the Shechina. 'Strength and joy is in their
place.' 'Like a lion cub they rise up, and they are raised like a
lion.' Which means when they rise up in the morning they consider
themselves as if they were dust. Then they go on with strength and
like a lion they are raised up during their prayers. (p. 198 sefer
Tepheres Shlomoh teachings of Rebbe Shlomoh of Radomsk.)
* * *
IV. Entering holiness
4. 'G-d took them out of Egypt.' (Bamidbar 23.22)
We can explan this according to the words of the holy Rebbe of
Ropshitz ZY'A*. [He said] if a person would consider, 'How is it
possible that I should enter into holiness? Since I am a person who
is so filled with sins.' He should remember [what we say in Kiddush*]
'the beginning of the holy convocations, a remembrance of the Exodus
from Egypt.' [When the Jewish people were in Egypt] they were in a
place filled with uncleanliness[, and they had sunk down very far,
and they were far from being holy.] And even so, they rose up to the
highest levels of holiness. This remembrance will bring you to
strengthen yourself and bring you close to holiness. (Until here are
It is the way of the Yetzer HaRah to try and make the person give up
(G-d forbid.) [Even though] many times he has already strengthened
himself in the service of HaShem, he was not successful. However
through his belief in HaShem, who takes the souls of the Jewish
people out of the lowest depths, [it will happen that] just as He
took them out from Egypt [he will take him out now.] There he took
them out of the lowest levels of uncleanliness. He will do the same
for us, in all times and places. With these thoughts he will be able
to strengthen himself to rise higher and higher into the holiness.
And he will merit that HaShem will take his soul out of the lowest
This is the meaning of 'G-d took them out of Egypt.' When he will
remember the Exodus from Egypt, as was mentioned above. Then he will
merit that HaShem will come to his aid. He will be raised up and
brought close to holiness. (p. 77 sefer Divrei Emunah (II) teachings
of Rebbe Avraham Yitzchok, the Rebbe of Toldos Aharon ZT'L.)
* * *
Bamidbar: Fourth book of the Torah. Called in English Numbers
Chazal: Hebrew initials for: Chochmenu Zichrona Levaracha (Our sages
of Blessed memory) Used to refer to Rabbis of the Talmud
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'.
Kiddish: Ceremony performed on Friday night over a cup of wine.
Maggid: In Europe this was a person who would give sermons on moral
subjects. Many of the first Rebbes was Maggidim (pl. of Maggid).
mitzvah(mitzvos): One of the commandments of the Torah.
Rashi: The primary commentary on the Tenach.
Rav: 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.
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.
Shechina: Hebrew word denoting the divine presence.
shul: Yiddish word for synagogue
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.
Tehillim: Hebrew name for Psalms.
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
ZY'A: Hebrew initials for Zechiso Yugan Aleini, His merit should
Copyright (c) 1997 by Moshe Shulman
All rights reserved.
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