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. Prayers on the holy days
1. I heard from my teacher *ZT'L [the Baal Shem Tov] a parable about
those who lead the prayers in the *Days of Awe. [He said that] one
should not rely on them, but everyone should pray with his own
There is a parable that illustrates this. Once there were two kings
who were fighting against each other. One king was strong and
aggressive because he had a strong army dressed in their shields and
armour. The king who was fighting against him looked for some strong
men like those [he would have to fight] but he was unable to find
them. Seeing that [he could not find them] he told his men they
should not rely on strong warriors [but each of them should fight the
best he can]. (p. 605 Sefer Baal Shem Tov teachings of the Baal
Shem Tov. This is taken from Ben Pores Yosef, from *Rebbe Yaakov
Yosef HaKohen of Polnoye a *talmid from the Baal Shem Tov)
2. There is a parable I have heard from my teacher [The Baal Shem
Tov]. There was a land that had a special strong warrior. All the men
of that country relied on him. They didn't spend the time to learn
how to wage war by themselves, because they were relying on this
warrior that they had. Later when the war came they wanted the
warrior to prepare his weapons, but the enemy was smart and stole
them one by one until none of the weapons that the warrior had
prepared were left. [Not only was the warrior defeated] but all the
people who relied on him were defeated.
This is the meaning of the verse, 'Happy is the people who knows how
to blow the horn'. They do not rely on the great ones, but they know
themselves how to blow the horn. [i.e. they know the proper thoughts
for the blowing of the shofar]. Then, 'in the light of your face they
go', to meet the king. They do not rely on the strong ones alone [but
prepare for themselves for the battle]. (p. 605 Sefer Baal Shem Tov
teachings of the Baal Shem Tov. This is taken from Toldos Yaakov
Yosef, from Rebbe Yaakov Yosef HaKohen of Polnoye a talmid from the
Baal Shem Tov)
* * *
II. Rosh HaShanah effects the whole year.
3. Rosh HaShanah is like an engraving of [what will occur later
during] the whole year. The way a person acts on Rosh HaShanah, that
is the way his year will go. For that reason we don't eat sour
things on Rosh HaShanah so that we don't make our faces grimace and
become distorted, and hence [this] would be engraved [in our faces]
for the year.
Likewise he [Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz] didn't want to say anything
before the blowing of the *Shofar, perhaps he would say something
wrong and then the impression of this would last the whole year.
Therefore everyone should spend the full day of Rosh HaShanah with
learning and prayer even after the meal [so that the whole year will
be engraved with learning and prayer].
He explained that Rosh HaShanah is compared to a person who would
like to build a house. First he makes the plans on paper and then he
builds it. So the impression of the day of Rosh HaShanah effects the
One time the *Rov [Rebbe Pinchas] came into the *Beis HaMidrash and
saw a *shtender. He said that even this shtender is being judged on
Rosh HaShanah if it will last the year or break. (p. 123 Sefer Imrei
Pinchas teachings of Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz a talmid of the Baal
* * *
III. Rosh HaShanah on Shabbos
4. An explanation of what the Talmud says, 'Onus Rachmana Patra'
(*Bava Kama 28b) [Heb. 'the one who acts because he is compelled to,
the Merciful one absolves him'], was said in the name of the *Rebbe
Reb Bunim of Peshischa ZT'L. The simple meaning [of the passage in
the Talmud] is that if one does an action that is a mitzvah, but is
held back [from completing it] because something happened or some
reason [effected him so that he did not do it], he is not culpable.
The meaning is not that he is absolved from doing the *mitzvah. He is
still required to do it, but because of his having been unable to do
it, [it was as if] *HaShem does it for him.
This is the meaning of what it says (*Rosh HaShanah 24b), that on the
*Yom Tov of Rosh HaShanah that occurs on Shabbos, the Jewish people
are considered 'compelled' and they cannot blow the shofar.
[Therefore] HaShem is considered as if he blew the shofar for them.
This means that the Yom Tov of Rosh HaShanah when it occurs on
Shabbos, because HaShem is considered to be the one to blow the
shofar for the whole Jewish people, He does it with all the proper
intentions that belong to the mitzvah and causes the Jewish people to
be remembered for good. (Sefer Siach Sarfei Kodesh, teachings of the
Rebbe Reb Bunim of Peshischa and his talmidim)
* * *
5. The *payyut for Rosh HaShanah and *Yom Kippur says, 'He treats
simply those who [serve Him] simply'. We can explain this according
to an *Ivdah [that occurred with the Rebbe Reb Zushya]. Once during
the days of Repentance the Holy Rabbi, the pure light, the man of
G-d, Rebbe Zushya of Anapoli was sitting on his chair. The whole day,
from morning to night, people were coming to him. He turned his eyes
upwards and concentrated his heart towards heaven and sat there with
his mind attached to HaShem, separating his thoughts from the
physical world (as he did many times).
One of his talmidim while seeing this began to have thoughts of
repentance, and while doing so tears [of repentance] started to
stream from his eyes. When the others saw this, they too began to
have such thoughts, and just like one coal lights the other, they
began to [become enflamed and to] repent of their actions. Their
souls became enflamed and they stood with fear.
When the Holy Rebbe saw this he lifted his eyes to heaven, and said
before the Master of the world, "Certainly this is a propitious time
for us to repent. But You know the truth that I don't have the
strength to do tshuva [Heb. repentance].
"But what can Zushya do? I will raise up to You the letters of the
word tshuva. Those verses whose first letters spell tshuva. The 'tof'
is for 'You shall be simple [Heb. Tamim] with HaShem your G-d.' The
'shin' is for, 'I have set [Heb. Shevisi] HaShem before me always.
The 'vov' is for 'And you shall love [Heb. V'Ahavta] your neighbor as
yourself. The 'beis' is for 'In all [Heb. bekol] your ways you shall
know him, and he shall set right your paths.' And the 'heh' is for,
'Modestly [Heb. H'tznei] you shall go with HaShem you G-d.' Zushya
will serve You with these." (p. 129 sefer Manoras Zahav teachings of
the Rebbe Reb Zushya a talmid of the Rebbe Reb Ber, *Maggid of
I. Finding HaShem
1. Once the Baal Shem Tov said, [The verse says,] 'You should search
for *HaShem when he can be found'. *Chazal say this refers to the ten
days of repentance [between *Rosh HaShanah and *Yom Kippur]. He also
once said, 'You will seek HaShem from where you are and you will find
Him because you are seeking Him.' From this we understand that any
time the Jewish people seek Him they will find Him as it says, [who
is it that] 'has a god that is close to them like HaShem our G-d is
close to us whenever we call to Him.'
The meaning is that now that we are in exile it is easier to be heard
in prayer and to attain *Ruach HaKodesh then it was in the times of
There is a parable [which explains this]: When a king is in his house
it is not as possible for everyone to approach to him. However when
he is traveling then anyone can approach him who wishes to, even
those who live in the smallest village and who would never have been
allowed to see the king in his own palace. When the king is at the
villager's inn, he is able to approach him and talk with him. [Which
he could never have done in the palace]
It is the same way now in exile. When a person desires to be united
with HaShem in thought, immediately He permits him, and He rests upon
him, and dwells with him.
For this reason a person should separate himself from evil thoughts
and desires in order that HaShem should not separate from him. He
should do his actions for HaShem's sake. This is the meaning of
'separate yourself from a bad neighbor'. From that which dwells by
you [i.e. your thoughts and *midos, you should] separate the bad.
[i.e. separate yourself from bad thoughts and desires.] ( #212 sefer
Keser Shem Tov, teachings of the Baal Shem Tov.)
* * *
II. HaShem's sons
2. The *Rebbe Emanuel of Peshdeborz was once sitting at the third
meal of Shabbos Tshuva and he told the following story:
There was once a simple villager who came for the *Days of Awe to one
of the great Chassidic Rebbes. When he went in to speak with the
Rebbe he said to him, 'Rebbe please hear what I have to say. It says
in the *Slichos, "Im Avonenu Anu Banu" [Heb. if our sins separate
us]. This means that even if we have sinned before our Father in
Heaven we are worthy that he should forgive us, because 'we are his
sons'. [By changing the letters, without changing the pronunciation
the words Anu Banu can mean 'we are Your sons'. This person misread
it as saying: If we have sinned (in any case) we are still your sons.
The passage continues] 'and have mercy on us as a father has mercy on
The Rebbe repeated this a number of times and sighed from deep within
his heart. (p. 21 part 1 of sefer Dibros Chaim teachings of Rebbe
Yeshaya of Peshdeborz and his descendants.)
* * *
III. The meaning of *Tshuva
3. One time Rebbe Yissachar Dov of Belz *ZT'L was asked to give an
example of true remorse for one's sins and errors. He explained with
the following parable:
One time when there was a *Yarid it was raining very hard. Many
businessman had been gathered there with their wares to sell, but due
to the rain each one decided to pack up and go. However one
businessman decided to stick it out in his stand with his goods. As
can be easily understood there were a lot of people around him since
he was the only one selling anything.
The value of his goods started to rise higher and higher, but he
didn't want to sell them as he wanted to wait until the price went
higher still. Even though the people were begging him to sell, and
offering large amounts of money he still held his own and said he
would wait until the price would get even higher.
Suddenly the rain stopped and the sun came out. In a short time all
the other businessmen came to the marketplace. Then the businessman
saw the foolishness of his actions as the prices dropped
precipitously in a few minutes. His heart was full of remorse for not
selling his goods when he could have gotten for them a high price.
The Rebbe ended, 'remorse like that is what one should have in his
heart when one wants to do Tshuva on his many sins.' (p.49 sefer
Yirach H'Aysunim teachings of the Rebbes of Belz)
Kesiva V'Chasima Tova
Bava Kama: Tractate of the Talmud
Beis HaMedrash: Jewish house of study
Chazal: Hebrew initials for: Chochmenu Zichrona Levaracha (Our sages
of Blessed memory) Used to refer to Rabbis of the Talmud
Days of Awe: The days around the holidays of Rosh HaShanah and Yom
Kippur, so called because they are days of judgement.
HaShem: Noun used in place of G-d. Lit. The Name
Ivdah: A story that shows or teaches a specific method of serving
Kavanah: 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).
midah(midos): A character trait, either good or bad.
mitzvah(mitzvos): One of the commandments of the Torah.
payyut: A type of prayer similar to a poem said on Jewish holidays
Rebbe: Leader of a Chassidic group
Rebbe Reb: A title added to a few special Rebbes as a sign of their
higher spiritual stature.
Rosh HaShanah: 1. Heb. New Year Holiday at the beginning of the year.
2. A tractate of the Talmud
Rov: 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.
Ruach HaKodesh: Heb spirit of holiness. Refers to one who can see
events, and understand things that are not apparent to the human
Shabbos Tshuva: Shabbos between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur
Shofar: A ram's horn blown on Rosh HaShanah
shtender: A stand of lectern, where books were placed during
learning, or where a prayer book was placed by prayers.
Slichos: Penitential prayers said on the days before Rosh HaShanah
and Yom KIppur
Talmid (Talmidim): Disciples of a Rebbe.
Tshuva: Hebrew word for repentance
Yarid:a large bazaar where many people used to sell their goods which was how
they made their livelihood]
Yom Kippur: The Day of Atonement, the most holy day of the Jewish year.
Yom Tov: Hebrew name for 'holiday'
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)
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