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 idols.
1. 'And you turn away and serve other gods.' (Devorim* 11.16)
The meaning of this verse is that as soon as a person turns away from
his attachment to HaShem* (G-d forbid) he comes to 'serve other
gods.' (p. 100 sefer Lekutei Amorim teachings of the Rebbe Reb* Ber,
the Maggid* of Mezritch
[In sefer Tzvuos HaRivash, a collection of teachings of the Baal Shem
Tov it is taught, 'As soon as a person separates himself from HaShem,
immediately he is worshipping idols (G-d forbid.) There is nothing
in the middle.'
* * *
II. The true fear of HaSHem.
2. 'And now, Israel, what does HaShem your G-d ask of you except that
you fear HaShem your G-d.' (Devorim 10.12)
To 'fear HaShem your G-d.' The meaning is that your fear should be
like the fear that HaShem your G-d has. The fear that is usual for
men is the fear of punishment. This is not of much value. However the
fear that HaShem has is the fear of sin. HaShem is always filled with
fear that a man will sin. [This is] due to the great compassion that
He has for him, like a father for a son. The father is always afraid
that his son will go and do evil, or that he might become sick. The
same is with HaShem's fear with regards to men, which comes from his
great compassion. This is the meaning of 'What does HaShem your G-d
ask of you except that you fear HaShem your G-d.' Your fear should
also be the fear of sin just like the fear that HaShem has. They
should be the same.
There is a parable: A father warned his son not to go barefoot since
he could get a thorn in his foot. However his small son didn't listen
to him because of his small understanding. He went barefoot and a
thorn stuck him in the foot. Even though he didn't have much pain
from this, his father was afraid that his foot would swell. What did
the father do? He pulled off some of the skin around the thorn, and
removed the thorn from his son's foot. When he was removing the thorn
his son had much pain, and cried bitterly. However the father
understood that these pains were really what was needed to heal him.
He ignored the cries and did what he had to.
Another time the son wanted to go out without shoes. The father was
upset at him and reminded him about the pain and suffering he had
when the thorn was being removed from his foot. He warned him not to
go out again barefoot since he could come to have suffering from
removing a thorn.
The father did not warn his son that he might step on a thorn. He
didn't feel any pain from that. The main source of his suffering was
when the thorn was being removed. Therefore the father warned him
with something which caused him suffering. However the truth is that
the father was not afraid and worried about the removal of the thorn.
He understood that this was the cure. We see that the fears of the
father and the son are not the same.
The meaning of this parable is as follows: The fear that HaShem has
and men have are not the same. A man has fear of the suffering that
the sin will bring, but not from the sin itself. But HaShem is afraid
that the man might sin. However the punishment afterwards, He is not
afraid of. The opposite is the case. This [punishment is a sign of]
His compassion, and it is the cure. HaShem brings suffering to him in
order to purify him from the sin.
That is the meaning of the verse: 'And now, Israel, what does HaShem
your G-d ask of you except that you fear HaShem your G-d.' It should
be that your fear, is the same as His fear as I explained above. (p.
75b sefer Lekutim Yikorim teachings of the Rebbe Reb Ber, the maggid
* * *
3. 'And it will be, if forgetting, you will forget HaShem your G-d.'
The word 'And it will be' [Heb v'haya] is a language [which Chazal*
tells us] implies joy. The Torah is warning us, 'And it will be,
forgetting.' If you will become gloomy and depressed, and forget the
midah* of joy. You should know that it will bring you to 'forget
HaShem your G-d.' This is because 'strength and joy are in His
place.' The one who is depressed is not able to appear before Him.
[By not being joyful he will come to forget G-d.]
Or we can say: 'And it will be, if forgetting.' [The meaning is] if
it will be that you will be joyful that you have forgotten HaShem.
It is not enough that you have forgotten HaShem. But you are also
(G-d forbid) happy [with that.] This will cause you to 'forget from
HaShem your G-d' completely. (p. 153 sefer Ner Yisroel, teachings of
Rebbe* Yisroel of Rizhin and his descendants. This is from the holy
* * *
IV. Haste and Laziness
4. 'They will be quickly wiped out from the good land that HaShem
gave to them.' (Devorim 8.19)
It is well known the great quality of the midah of haste which is the
opposite of the midah of laziness. However sometimes 'haste' is not
such a great quality. Also its opposite laziness is [at times] good.
When a person has to occupy himself with physical affairs, he should
not do them with haste. [He should not] grab at everything that comes
into his hand, and consume all things. He should at that time act
calmly, with tranquillity of mind. The reason being that if he should
act with haste it is easy for him to forget that everything is under
the control and observation of HaShem. Everything that belongs to
him, will come to him, and no one can take it from him. Through
tranquillity of mind he can reach that level [of understanding.]
This is the meaning of the verse:
'They will be quickly wiped out from the land.' You should see to it
that you wipe out 'quickness' in all activities involving this
'Good.' What good will come to you from doing this?
'That HaShem gave to them.' [From doing this] you will recognize and
understand that it is HaShem who gives you the strength, and a man is
not responsible for it at all. (p. 154 sefer Ner Yisroel, teachings
of Rebbe Yisroel of Rizhin and his descendants. This is from Rebbe
Avraham Yakov of Sadigora.)
* * *
V. Final Results
5. 'And it will be in the end when you shall listen to these
ordinances, And you will observe and do them.' (Devorim 7.12)
The verse says, 'The sum of the matter is that everything is heard,
fear G-d...' The meaning of this verse is that a person has to always
look to see what the end result will be for everything of this world
and their enjoyments. This is because everything [of this world] is
like nothing and worthless. The same is with the end of man. When he
will look at this his heart will be humbled and he will come to the
fear of HaShem. As it says, 'The end result of humility is the fear
However it is possible that from this he will consider himself far
from HaShem. He will consider himself so small in his own eyes that
he will be fearful, and come to hold back from doing the mitzvos* of
HaShem. Certainly that is not the true way. So what can he do? The
answer is that he should have the true inner fear, the higher fear.
This fear brings him to more and more mitzvos. As the verse says,
'The beginning of wisdom is the fear of HaShem.' Through the fear of
HaShem he can reach the beginning of wisdom, which is the wisdom of
the Torah and the fulfilling of the mitzvos.
This is the meaning of the verse:
'And it will be in the end when you shall listen.' i.e. 'The sum of
the matter is that everything is heard.' By looking at what will be
at the end you will come to the midos of humility and fear.
But this is only on the condition that 'You will observe and do
them.' You should reach that level of fear that causes you to want to
fulfill the mitzvos and learn Torah. This is through the higher level
of fear that brings you to the beginning of wisdom, as I said above.
(p. 62 sefer Ner Yisroel vol 3, teachings of Rebbe Yisroel of Rizhin
and his descendants. This is from the holy Rizhiner.)
Chazal: Hebrew initials for: Chochmenu Zichrona Levaracha (Our sages
of Blessed memory) Used to refer to Rabbis of the Talmud
Devorim: Fifth book of the Torah. Called in English 'Deuteronomy'.
HaShem: Noun used in place of G-d. Lit. The Name
Maggid: In Europe this was a person who would give sermons on moral
subjects. Many of the first Rebbes was Maggidim (pl. of Maggid).
midah(midos): A character trait, either good or bad.
mitzvah(mitzvos): One of the commandments of the Torah.
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.
sefer(seforim): A Jewish religious book.
Talmid (Talmidim): Disciples of a Rebbe.
Copyright (c) 1997 by Moshe Shulman (email@example.com)
All rights reserved.
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