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. Rising higher and higher in the service of *HaShem.
1. 'And HaShem blessed Avraham in all things' (*Bereishis 24.1)
There are two opinions about the meaning of this verse. One says that
since the word 'in all things' [Heb. bekol] has the *gematria of 52
which is the same as 'son' [Heb. ben], this means that he had a son.
The other says that this refers to his having a daughter, and that
her name was 'bekol'. We can explain these opinions so that they
don't really disagree, but that each one is explaining the other's
point of view.
In the works of the great scholar *Rebbe Yaakov Yosef *HaKohen of
Polnoye in the name of Rebbe Nachman of Horodenka *Z'L there is an
explanation of the statement of *Chazal that 'if a girl is born first
it is a good sign for sons'. He states that 'daughter' is the level
of one who has yet to reach any level in service, but only has a
desire to serve HaShem. This is called the 'feminine' principle of
service. When he has reached a level of service to HaShem this is
called 'son', the 'masculine' principle.
No matter which level one attains, one should always consider oneself
on the level of 'daughter' the feminine principle, and that he has
yet to achieve any level of service of HaShem at all. This is because
since HaShem is without limit, the levels of serving him are likewise
without limit. By serving HaShem this way one is then able to go from
level to level rising higher and higher.
This is the meaning of 'if a girl is born first', i.e. if one serves
HaShem with this feminine principle, [i.e. with a recognition that he
has yet to achieve any level of service, but has a desire to serve
HaShem]. This is a 'good sign for the sons' i.e. this indicates
that one will progress from level to level in the service of HaShem,
and achieve the level of 'son'.
According to his holy words we can understand this disagreement here.
One says that 'bekol' is the gematria of 'son', i.e. that he should
strive to achieve higher and higher levels of service, (which is the
level of 'son'.) The other said that he had a daughter, i.e. that it
is necessary that even if he achieves a high level of service he
should consider it as if he has yet to achieve any level, and hence
desire to rise even higher.
This idea agrees with what my grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov *ZT'L
taught with regards to the teaching of Chazal in the *Mishnah of
*Pirkei Avos, 'Anyone who possesses these three things is of the
*talmidim of *Avraham Aveinu ... he has a 'good eye' [Heb. Ayan tov -
which means he looks favorably on others] ... and these three other
things [is of the talmidim of Baalim the wicked] he has an 'evil eye'
[Heb. Ayan rah - which means he looks unfavorably on others] ...'
He explained this by saying that the one who is a servant of HaShem
needs to have ALL of these *midos, even the bad ones to use in his
service of HaShem. For example when serving HaShem he should have an
'evil eye', i.e. he should not be satisfied with the level he is on,
but proceed from level to level and add perfection to his soul day by
day. He should consider all the service to HaShem that he has done
until this day as nothing compared to what he still has to do.
He should also have a 'good eye' with regards to this world, and be
satisfied with all that he has here. He should consider as nothing
all the pleasures of this world, and be satisfied with whatever he
has, and not run after more then he needs. (p. 22 Degel Machina
Ephraim, teachings of Rebbe Ephraim Moshe of Sedelkov grandson of the
Baal Shem Tov)
* * *
II. Two levels of service
2. 'And Sarah lived...' (Bereishis 23.1)
*Rashi explained that this means that 'at 100 she was like she was at
20 without sin, and at 20 she was as pretty as she was at age 7.' We
have to understand what difference does it make that she was as
pretty as she was at 7? It appears that Rashi wants to give a *remez
on the two types of service that one needs to be careful to fulfil in
The first is that he should be very careful of any sin. He should
keep himself from violating any of the positive or negative *mitzvos
of the *Torah. The second is that in those things that one is
allowed to do, like eating, drinking etc, they should be brought into
the realm of holiness. This is done by doing these things for
HaShem's sake. [i.e. when he does these things he should have in
mind how they should further his service of HaShem.] Everything that
he does in this world should be for HaShem's sake.
Should he act this way then no matter what he has, whether with
regards to money or to clothing, he will always be satisfied with it.
He will be happy with them, and his life will be fulfilling. However
if he does not have in mind the service of HaShem then he will always
feel that he lacks something. And in the end he will never achieve
what he needs. He will then find that he is not satisfied with his
This is the remez. 'At 100 she was like 20 without sin', this is the
first level, i.e. she had not sinned in any of the positive or
negative mitzvos. 'At 20 she was like 7' is the second level we
mentioned. Just like a child is satisfied with what he has and does
not desire to have things that are more expensive, so it was with
Sarah when she was 20, which is the time when the desires for
possessions strengthen themselves. However all of her thoughts at
that time were for the sake of HaShem. (p. 10 sefer Noam Elemeilech
from the *Rebbe Reb Elimeilech of Lizensk)
* * *
III. Serving with love and fear
3. 'And Avraham was old, advanced in years ' (Bereishis 24.1)
The *Zohar says, 'He did not reach this level in one hour, or at one
time, or one day, but through many days of perfection.... Fortunate
are those *Baalei Tshuva who in a single moment become close to the
King.' We need to understand, it appears that Avraham didn't reach
the level of the Baalei Tshuva but was at a lower level.
The explanation is this. When one starts to serve HaShem he must
start out with the level of 'fear of HaShem' and then progress to the
level of 'love of HaShem' as it says in the Zohar and the other holy
*seforim. However someone who has sinned many times and desires to
return to HaShem if he would start off with the level of 'fear' he
could easily come to depression.
The way to avoid this is for him to start off first on the level
which is higher, i.e. that of 'love'. This follows the teachings of
the *Tzaddikim who asked why is the letter 'heh' wide open at the
bottom, but has a little opening at the top? They answer that this
opening is for the Baalei Tshuva to return through after they have
sinned. [i.e. if they have fallen through the bottom where it is
open they can return through this opening on the top.] Since they
cannot return through the way they have fallen, this opening is
available for them. This agrees to what I have said, that the Baal
Tshuva has to begin his service on a higher level.
This is what the verse says, 'Your words are pure, therefore your
servant loves them'. This means that the words of HaShem from the
holy Torah are very pure, and it is difficult for those who have
sinned to approach. Therefore your servant will start with the midah
of 'love'. This is also the meaning of the Zohar when it says that,
'the Baalei Tshuva in a moment become close to the King.' This is
through the midah of 'love' with which they start their service of
However when they have started to purify themselves a little, then
they have to return and start to serve HaShem according to the proper
order, where 'fear' is before 'love'. Avraham, who was a Tzaddik, his
method of serving HaShem was according to the proper order, which is
a long journey, and is not achieved in a single time. (p. 45 sefer
Toras Avos, teachings of the Rebbes of Lechovitz, Kobrin and Solonim.
This teaching was from Rebbe Avraham of Solonim.)
* * *
IV. Dedicating yourself to Torah study
4. 'And she said to him, "there is much straw and also food, and also
a place to sleep.' (Bereishis 24.25)
It appears to me that we can explain this in the following manner.
The wicked keep themselves from learning Torah with the excuse that
those who are learned do not have a livelihood. Since their only
desire is to fulfil their desires with food and drink they choose not
I saw in the sefer Betzinah D'Nihorah from my great grandfather Rebbe
Baruch of Mezbuz (the grandson of the Baal Shem Tov), an explanation
of the verse, 'Fear HaShem, His holy ones, because there is nothing
that those who fear Him lack.' He explained it this way: There are
those who feel that if someone fears HaShem and concentrates on
spiritual things, then he will always lack food. Therefore the verse
says, 'fear HaShem, His holy ones, because there is nothing that
those who fear Him lack.'
The proof that one should fear Him is that it says after that, 'the
young lions lack, and are hungry,' i.e. the wicked also lack and are
hungry. 'And those who seek HaShem will not want any good thing.' So
the question is why don't they fear HaShem? [Why do they make the
excuse that the Tzaddik lacks food?] Since this is not the case, you
should fear HaShem because those who fear HaShem do not lack
anything. (Look there for his holy words.)
This is then the meaning of the verse, 'And she said to him there is
straw.' The word in Hebrew tavan is similar to the Hebrew word for
understanding [Heb tevenah] i.e knowledge of the Torah. 'And there is
also food', i.e. it is the opposite of the claim of the wicked. Even
though we have knowledge of the Torah there is also abundant food.
And if you will say that some people who don't have Torah also have a
good livelihood. The verse continues, 'and there is place to sleep,'
which is a remez that after a person dies and leaves this world he
needs a secure place to sleep in the world to come. This is because
the Tzaddikim eat of this world and inherit the world to come, which
is not the case of the wicked. [So even if it appears that the wicked
man and the Tzaddik have the same situation in this world, it is not
the same in the world to come.] (p. 58b sefer Tzmach Dovid teachings
of Rebbe Dovid Yitzchok Isaak of Skoliya)
Avraham Aveinu: Hebrew name of Abraham
Baal Tshuva (Baalei Tshuva): Hebrew for someone who is a repentant
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
gematria: Numerical value of the letters of the Hebrew words
HaKohen: Hebrew for 'the Priest' refers to someone who is a direct patern
descendant from Aaron in the Torah
HaShem: Noun used in place of G-d. Lit. The Name
midah(midos): A character trait, either good or bad.
Mishnah: An ancient Jewish work made of specific laws.
mitzvah(mitzvos): One of the commandments of the Torah.
Pirkei Avos: A Tractate of the Mishnah
Rashi: The primary commentary on the Tenach.
Rebbe: Leader of a Chassidic group
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.
sefer(seforim): A Jewish religious book.
Talmid (Talmidim): Disciples of a Rebbe.
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
Tzaddik (Tzaddikim): lit. Righteous. Another name for a Chassidic
Z'L: Hebrew initials of the words: Zechorono LeVaracha (His memory is
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) 1996 by Moshe Shulman (email@example.com
All rights reserved.
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