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. Moving from level to level
1. 'When the Ark would journey, Moshe said, "Arise HaShem*..."'
The Ark [Heb. Aron] is a remez* for the Talmud Chocham* who is called
'ark.' He is called 'ark' because of the tablets [of the law] that
are in it. [Just as the ark was filled with the tablets of the law,
so the talmud chocham is filled with the law.] However the common
people shame him and call him 'arna.' [Arm. ark]
The derech* of the Tzaddikim* is that they will become closer to
HaShem each and every day. The person that HaShem wishes to bring
close, He will try with many trials to see it he will overcome them.
If he strengthens himself, and overcomes them, he will rise to a very
high and wondrous level. As the Midrash* says, '"Take the Levites"
this is what the verse says, "HaShem examines the Tzaddik." HaShem
doesn't bring a person to greatness until he has examined him.'
When he is being tried [by HaShem he] is [on the level of] 'going
down in order to rise up.' The idea is that one who is going up a
ladder, when he is about to rise up one step, he removes his foot
from the ladder. He is then standing on one foot on the ladder and
one foot in the air. At that time he needs to be very careful not to
The same is with the service of HaShem, when he is in the middle of a
trial. Even though he will rise to greater heights afterwards, at the
time of the trial he is [like one] standing on one foot. He needs a
lot of protection. [However] HaShem always protects those who wait
This is what the verse means:
'When the Ark would journey.' This means when the Talmud Chocham is
journeying from one level to another. [He is in danger of falling.]
'Moshe said.' He should pray for the Tzaddik.
'Arise HaShem.' HaShem should protect him so that he will not fall.
He should be strengthened so that he can rise higher and higher.
[The verse continues,] 'And let your foes be scattered, and your
enemies from before you.' There should not be any power of
opposition, until the people of HaShem will go over [to the higher
level.] (p 188 sefer Avodas Yisroel teachings from Rebbe* Yisroel the
Maggid* of Koznitz.)
* * *
II. Purifying oneself
2. 'And HaShem said to Moshe... If any man will be unclean because of
a dead body... ' (Bamidbar 9.10)
['If any man will be unclean because of a dead body.'] This verse
refers to the person who has made himself unclean from sins and was
not able to bring upon himself the holiness from the first Passover.
'Or on a distant road.' Rashi* explains the dot above the word [that
appears in the Hebrew text] as meaning that he was not really far
away but was outside the hall of the Beis HaMikdash*. The meaning of
these words is that he is far from HaShem. He is not able to say,
'Blessed are You' as a person says to his friend face to face.
'To them.' This means that he himself has become unclean.
'And for their generations.' This means that because of their many
sins they cause a stain on the soul of the Tzaddik [of the
generation.] This is the meaning of the verse, 'A small amount is
better for the Tzaddik then a large amount for the wicked.' The
meaning being that the good that a Tzaddik has is reduced a little
due to the many sins of the wicked. [This is because these many sins]
cause a stain for the tzaddik.
'He shall make the Passover for HaShem, in the second month on the
fourteenth day of the month in the evening.' This means that he
should bring upon himself holiness through his doing tshuva* [as is
explained in the Zohar*.] (p. 149 sefer Avodas Yisroel teachings of
Rebbe Yisroel the Maggid of Koznitz.)
* * *
III. Not giving up
3. 'And if a war shall come to your land...' (Bamidbar 10.9)
There is a person who has the will and the desire in his heart which
is good and complete with HaShem. His will is to do the will of
HaShem. However the 'leavening that is in the dough' [i.e. his Yetzer
HaRah*] holds him back from bringing his will and the desire of his
heart into an action.
However there is a person who is overcome both internally and
externally by this evil power. He does not even have the desire to do
good. [This is because] even his soul is in the power of the Yetzer
HaRah. However, even this person should not give up on himself. He
needs to prepare a war. He should consider that every Jew, no matter
who he is, [has a holy soul] which is connected to G-d above. He is
as if he is only half of a form. [Heb. Chatzi Tzirah] Therefore it is
certain that 'the one who wishes to purify himself, they will come to
help him.' HaShem will eternally be his help in the war [against his
This is the meaning of the verse:
'And if a war shall come to your land.' [The word 'land'] refers to
your will [to serve HaShem.] This means that even if the war involves
your own will [to serve HaShem,] because your will is given over to
the Yetzer HaRah.
'Against your enemy who oppresses you.' You yourself are made into
the enemy who oppresses you. [This is because it is the Yetzer HaRah
that is in control of your will.]
In any case, 'You shall sound trumpets.' You shall blow and fight
with the enemy who oppresses you with trumpets, [Heb. chatzotzros]
two half forms. [Heb chatzi tziros which are the same letters as the
word for trumpets] You should consider that you and HaShem are like
two half forms. [Your soul is connected to HaShem. Part is yours and
part is His.]
With this 'You will be remembered before HaShem and he will save
you.' The one who desires to purify himself, they will come to help.'
(p. 328 sefer Divrei Elimeilech teachings of Rebbe Elimeilech of
Grodzisk a grandson of the Koznitzer Maggid.)
* * *
IV. Serving for HaShem's sake
4. 'Make for yourself two silver trumpets...' (Bamidbar 10.2)
It is certain that each Jewish person should see to it that his
service to HaShem should be for His Name's sake, and he should have
no extraneous thoughts or self serving desires. It should be done for
HaShem alone, to fulfil His will.
The truth is that if a person will consider that he is only half a
form. [See above teaching.] A small portion from the source of life.
How is it possible for him to do anything with a self-serving motive?
This is like the limbs of ones body. It is not possible to say that
one of the limbs does something for itself, and not because of [the
desire] of the heart, which is the source of the strength in all the
limbs. The same thing is with the person. If he realizes that he is
only half a form. A small spark from the source of life. How is it
possible for him to do anything for a self-serving motive? He is only
a spark from the life, and HaShem is the source of life.
This is the meaning of the verse:
'Make for yourself.' You should see to it that you rectify that level
of 'yourself.' Which refers to those things that are for your own
good and your own desires. The meaning being that there should not be
mixed with your kavonos* while serving HaShem any extraneous thoughts
for your own good, or to fulfil your own desires. It should be done
for HaShem alone.
How are you able to rectify this level of 'yourself'? 'Two trumpets.'
You should know and understand that you are on the level of half a
form [as explained in the previous teaching.] You contain a portion
of G-d above. (p. 263 sefer Imrei Elimeilech teachings of Rebbe
Elimeilech of Grodzisk a grandson of the Koznitzer Maggid.)
* * *
V. Serving with fear
5. 'When the Ark would journey, Moshe said, "Arise HaShem And let
your foes be scattered"' (Bamidbar 10.35)
Rashi explains that the Talmud says that the Torah* makes signs
before [this verse] and after [this verse.] They indicate that this
is not the proper place for this verse. We need to understand why the
signs are specifically [the Hebrew letter] 'nun'. And also why this
letter is reversed. Also, what is the meaning of the explanation of
Rashi [on the words 'Arise HaShem'] "because [the ark] went before
them [for three days] Moshe said, 'stand' and don't go further." We
also need to understand the idea of 'And let your foes be scattered.'
We say [in the prayer before the blessing of the kohanim] 'May it be
pleasant before you... and there we will serve You with fear.' We
need to understand this [prayer.] It would appear that now in the
exile and [with] the sufferings [that we have,] we are more able to
serve with fear [then after the redemption.] Why does it say that
specifically when HaShem will save us and redeem us from exile, THEN
we will serve Him with fear?
[The answer is that] even though we now have fear because of the many
oppressions and sufferings [in the exile,] it is still difficult to
serve HaShem with fear. [The reason] is that they simply do not let
us live in tranquility. Also our hearts and spirits are broken. On
the other hand when HaShem will save us and we will be redeemed, we
will be able to serve Him with fear.
The person who, even in his suffering, serves HaShem as much as he is
able. Due to his desire, HaShem will help him with his burdens, and
he will then be able to serve Him more. His desire helps him, so that
he turns over [HaShem's] anger to compassion. And this brings upon
him help [from HaShem. The reason for this is that] the Jewish people
bless the name of HaShem in both a revealed and hidden language. As
we say in every blessing, 'Blessed are you HaShem' which is a
revealed language. 'Who has sanctified us' which is a hidden
language. [It is hidden because the prayer doesn't say explicitly who
is sanctifying. While in the first case HaShem is specifically
mentioned.] 'Blessed is He' that we say in the blessing Baruch
Sh'omar is a hidden language. And the 'Blessed are You' [said later
in that prayer] is a revealed language. However the angels bless
only in a hidden language. [They say] 'Holy Holy Holy...' 'Blessed is
the glory of HaShem from His place.' Both of which are in a hidden
The reason for this [difference] is that 'Israel rises up in His
thought' i.e. they are hidden. They are also revealed, in this world
of action. Therefore they bless HaShem, who is above all
understanding, in a hidden language. Also when he is revealed in
action [they bless Him.]
However the angels are only on one level, on the level that is higher
then revelation. [Therefore the angels] bless him in a hidden
This is also [the source] of the power of the Jewish people to turn
compassion to anger on the wicked, and from anger to compassion on
the Jewish people. i.e. to make from what is revealed to what is
hidden, and from what is hidden to what is revealed. [Anger from
HaShem is really the withholding of his compassion. His compassion is
hidden.] The reason is that they are both hidden and revealed.
When Moshe went up to receive the Torah [Chazal* teach us] that he
argued with the angels. [In the end] they became friends of his and
gave to him gifts. Had it been that they were forced to agree to have
the Torah given why did they give to him presents? However with the
princes of the nations it is different. They considered the receiving
of the Torah as something that is not good for the Jewish people.
However the angels did not consider it as bad for the Jewish people.
Therefore they had so much love [towards them] that they gave
presents. In fact the argument that they had [with Moshe] was over
the greatness of the Jewish people. [It was with regards to their
being on a level] that they are able to turn anger to compassion,
even for the angels, who ended up giving them gifts.
Let us return to what I said above. 'And then we will serve Him with
fear.' Now, even though we have fear, it is still hard for us to
serve Him with complete fear.
This is the meaning of the verse:
'When the Ark would journey...' This is to say that it is not in it's
place. Not just this, but it is a remez for the other place.
[Therefore] the Torah makes signs with the reversed [Heb. hafchios]
'nun.' As the Talmud* says, 'A bent over [Heb. kafifah] nun [means]
forced [Heb. kofif] faith.' This means when the Jewish people will
have all good in this world and they will be in submission to the
service of HaShem. However if they are forced due to their
sufferings, that is the level of a reversed 'nun.' Then the ark and
the Torah are hidden from Israel.
For this reason Moshe prayed, 'Arise HaShem And let your foes be
scattered and your enemies from before you.' These are the enemies of
the Jewish people. Then the Ark and the Torah are not hidden. The
'nun' is not reversed. Their service to HaShem is with joy. (p. 53
sefer Aish Kodesh teachings of Rebbe Kolonymus Kalman HY'D* of
Piasatzna, the son of Rebbe Elimeilech of Grodzisk)
Bamidbar: Fourth book of the Torah. Called in English Numbers
Beis HaMikdash: Heb. The Holy Temple
Chazal: Hebrew initials for: Chochmenu Zichrona Levaracha (Our sages
of Blessed memory) Used to refer to Rabbis of the Talmud
derech: Heb 'way' refers to a path in serving HaShem
HaShem: Noun used in place of G-d. Lit. The Name
HY'D: Heb. HaShem Yimkom Domov: HaShem should avenge their blood.
Kavanah(Kavanos): Hebrew word for 'intention'.
Maggid: In Europe this was a person who would give sermons on moral
subjects. Many of the first Rebbes was Maggidim (pl. of Maggid).
Midrash: Rabbinical work with homiletic interpretations
mitzvah(mitzvos): One of the commandments of the Torah.
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.
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.
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
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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